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Montana Stops on the Way

Big Sky

Born next to a ski area, the town of Big Sky offers music, food and miles of trails under its piece of the enormous Montana sky.

If there was ever a town that truly lived up to its name, it’s Big Sky. It’s tucked in the flanks of the green mountains that roll up to Big Sky Resort, a huge ski area with 39 chairlifts and nearly 6,000 skiable acres. Born in 1973 when the ski resort was created, Big Sky is a relatively new town where you’ll find easy-going people who love sharing where they live with people who visit.

You come here for the two Rs, say locals. The first is recreation like hiking, biking, rafting and in the winter, skiing. The other R is relaxation. You recharge. You rejuvenate before you go home.

The lodge bar at Lone Mountain Ranch
The lodge bar at Lone Mountain Ranch (Photo: Visit Big Sky)

Big Sky is situated perfectly between Yellowstone National Park and Bozeman, Mont., the latter being a major hub for Yellowstone travelers to fly in and out of. Just 45 minutes from Bozeman and under an hour’s scenic drive from the park, Big Sky offers a range of restaurants, outdoor activities and unparalleled lodging accommodations, the higher end of which you cannot always find closer to Yellowstone.

The pool at the Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana
The pool at the Wilson Hotel (Photo: by The Wilson Hotel and Residence Inn by Marriott courtesy of Visit Big Sky)

But the town of Big Sky is no Aspen or Vail. You won’t find a Ritz-Carlton Hotel or high-end designer shops like Gucci in this low-key town. You will find trendy hot spots like Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge, Copper, a whiskey bar and grill and Pinky Gs, a great spot for pizza and casual food. And The Wilson Hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, is within walking distance of food and shops right in the heart of town center.

Get Outside in Big Sky

There are fewer places to reconnect with yourself and family than in the great outdoors, so hit the trails when you are in Big Sky. Get insider tips and use the public restrooms at the Big Sky Visitor Center located at 88 Ousel Falls Rd Unit A1. Just as in Yellowstone and Glacier, bring bear spray with you every time you hike as bears inhabit the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, of which Big Sky is a part. While hiking, make noise, so that wildlife can hear you coming and not be surprised to see you on the trail.

Ousel Falls near Big Sky
Ousel Falls (Photo: Visit Big Sky)

For an easy but pretty hike, head to Ousel Falls. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the falls, depending on how often you slow down to smell the amazing wildflowers along the trail. It’s 1.6 miles out and back. If you stop first at the Hungry Moose Market & Deli, 209 Aspen Leaf Dr., before you drive to the Ousel Falls trailhead, you can buy pre-packaged sandwiches and killer breakfast burritos to enjoy later on at the falls. Roxy’s Market, 20 Huntley Dr., also sells pre-packaged foods that you can put in your backpack and enjoy on the trail.

Hiker in Montana's Beehive Basin
Hiker in Montana’s Beehive Basin (Photo: Visit Big Sky)

For a longer hike, do the Beehive Basin Trail that’s 6.6 miles round-trip. It’s an uphill hike to the top with 1,600 feet of elevation gain. But it’s well worth every step. After just over 3 miles, you’ll enter Beehive Basin with a clear lake with views of Lone Peak. Pack a lunch and eat at the alpine lake. Find the trailhead on Beehive Basin Road.

In the Gallatin Canyon, you can hike to Lava Lake, a 6-mile round-trip hike that climbs 1,600 feet above the canyon floor. It’s popular and gorgeous. The trail head is 15 miles north of Big Sky off of US Hwy. 191 at the Cascade Creek Bridge.

Raft or Ride in a Hot Air Balloon in Big Sky

Rafting near Big Sky with Montana Whitewater
Rafting near Big Sky with Montana Whitewater (Photo: Visit Big Sky)

Tired of hiking? Then hit some of the best whitewater rafting or float trips in the West. Raft the Gallatin or float the Madison by rented inner tube complete with a floating cooler. Or experience the rivers in a different way by buying a fishing license, getting out your fly fishing rod and fishing at the headwaters of the Gallatin River.

Or go on a trail ride with Canyon Adventures or  Jake’s Horses.  And then there’s Yellowstone, just under an hour’s drive down the road, where you can explore the world’s first national park. It’s close enough that you can head to the northern part of the park for the day and  return to Big Sky in time for a late dinner- or at least dessert.

Where to Eat in Big Sky

A down-home place to hit after a day out on the trails that’s family friendly is the Riverhouse BBQ & Events, formerly known as the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill. You can eat onion rings or fried okra, play corn hole, sit by the outdoor firepit and listen to live music. Known for its exas Hill Country-style BBQ, it’s got beef brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork, burgers and more. When you pair the food with the views of the river, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in paradise. It’s at 45130 Gallatin Rd.

Looking for a Montana breakfast spot with a creative flair? Head to The Corral Bar, Steakhouse & Motel 5 miles down Hwy. 191 from Big Sky. Dave, the owner, will most likely be pouring your coffee. You’ll find buffalo sausage and eggs, along with your standard greasy spoon fare. Knotty pine chairs and tables line the room and an outdoor patio allows you to breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Horn & Cantle in Big Sky
Horn & Cantle in Big Sky (Photo: by Teri B Photography courtesy of Visit Big Sky)

Treat yourself at the Horn and Cantle. Looking for a more upscale meal in a gorgeous setting? Think beautiful wood-hewn bar, floor-to-ceiling windows and leather bound stools. The Horn and Cantle Restaurant is located at the Lone Mountain Ranch and is open to the public for breakfast and lunch and dinner.

Dine on the deck overlooking the river at Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Big Sky
Dine on the deck overlooking the river at Rainbow Ranch Lodge (Photo: Visit Big Sky)

At Rainbow Ranch Lodge along the Gallatin River, you can also have an upscale Montana experience, enjoying contemporary cuisine on a ranch resort first settled in 1919. Its wine selection is one of the best in the state, earning it “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator from 2003-17. For an appetizer, try the wild boar roasted red pepper ravioli followed by bison tenderloin for an entree. Then pair it with one of the lodge’s Montana Mules made with huckleberry vodka.

After your meal, you can sit back and enjoy the dark, clear skies and being in the moment.

For more information:
Visit Big Sky
(406) 995-3000
55 Lone Mountain Trail, Big Sky, Mont. 59716
visitbigsky.com