Historically, Big Sky is known as being mostly undiscovered. The community (population 2,308) is located in southwest Montana, just off a winding two-lane canyon road between West Yellowstone (the northwest entrance to Yellowstone National Park) and bustling Bozeman.
Those who do make the trip are rewarded with jaw dropping in-bounds ski terrain at Big Sky Resort, breathtaking scenery, plentiful wildlife sightings and endless year-round outdoor recreation.
The winter days are short in Montana, the nights are long and the monotone winter landscape can lull visitors into lazy indoor lounging – but it's advised to get outside no matter how low the thermometer drops. There's more than enough to do during daylight hours and plenty of established and new restaurants and shops when the sun sets in the early afternoon.
The easiet way to get here is to fly into Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport (BZN). Seven major carriers fly direct into the airport including, most recently, a JetBlue flight direct from California’s Long Beach airport. Big Sky is an hour drive south on Highway 191, a narrow, heavily-trafficked, two-lane road that winds along the Gallatin River. In the winter, the road can be a white-knuckle driving experience, so plan for that as well as booking a four-wheel drive car or reserving an airport shuttle with Karst Stage.
Where To Stay
There are three distinct lodging areas in Big Sky spanning the four miles from Gallatin canyon, through the meadow village and up to the mountain village. In the canyon, stay at Bucks T-4 Lodge, with bold western décor, including taxidermy in the main dining area and bar. The hotel is on the free local Skyline bus route for accessing the mountain and meadow village.
If you're interested in staying closer to the action (relatively speaking), the River Rock Lodge is centrally located around the restaurants and shopping of Big Sky town center. A new option, The Wilson Hotel will also open mid-summer 2019 for those planning ahead for next winter.
Big Sky Resort manages the majority of lodging up at the mountain including the Huntley Lodge, which is the go-to for most visitors. The Huntley includes a slopeside buffet breakfast, heated pool and a movie theater with nightly movie showings including current ski and snowboard films.
Check into your hotel, rent skis or snowboard equipment, drink a bunch of water and get acclimated to Big Sky’s 7,200-foot elevation.
7:30 a.m. Today we hit the slopes. Get caffeinated at Caliber Coffee in Big Sky Town Center. In addition to excellent lattes and coffee, this locally-owned roaster also offers grab-and-go breakfast burritos.
9 a.m. – noon Hit the lifts at Big Sky Resort, featuring the biggest skiing in the Rockies, on one of the most stunning peak profiles outside of the European alps.
The resort is partnered with both the Ikon and Mountain Collective pass programs; otherwise purchase your day lift ticket in advance online for the best pricing. Kick off your morning with a ride up the Ramcharger 8, Big Sky Resort's newest 8-seater lift accessing Andesite, a lower-elevation mountain featuring long wide-open, uncrowded groomers and nicely-spaced tree runs.
Noon – 12:30 p.m. After exploring Andesite, grab a Yeti Dog for lunch in the mountain village plaza or grab-and-go sandwiches, snacks and drinks at the Hungry Moose Market & Deli in the Mountain Mall.
Have a seat on the benches and take in the local scene. Are there more sophisticated places to have a civilized sit-down lunch? Yes there are, but there's still a lot of terrain to cover out there—4,800 acres and more than 245 trails to be exact. Let's be quick about it.
12:30 – 4 p.m. It's go time again! Next stop is Lone Peak. Head up the Swift Current lift to the new Powder Seeker bowl chair. Take in the views of Big Couloir descending from the peak—this is Big Sky's answer to Jackson Hole's iconic Corbet's Couloir. And yes, you can ride it if you have avalanche safety gear, and sign out with the ski patrol at the top of the tram.
Regardless of your objectives for the afternoon, no visit to Big Sky is complete without a trip up the tram. On a clear day, the routes down are fairly decipherable; on a low-visibility day don't even consider it without a local guide. The tram is open to all guests for scenic rides, so take a ride to the top and back down.
If you've got the urge to explore, continue from the tram base around the north side of the mountain to Moonlight Basin, a less-visited secondary resort (it used to be a standalone resort before being absorbed into Big Sky Resort). Enjoy groomers all to yourself or tackle the steep chutes of the Moonlight Headwall.
4 – 5:30 p.m. What a day! Time to unwind at Scissorbills for après ski. Dive into a huge plate of nachos and enjoy the live music at this locally-owned saloon. It's tucked away slopeside on the third floor of the Arrowhead Mall, ask around in the resort base area and you'll find it.
5:30 – 7 p.m. Head back to your lodging utilizing the free Skyline bus service. Kick off your ski or snowboard boots, soak those bones and grab a quick nap.
7 – 8:30 p.m. We're in Montana, so obviously we're having authentic Thai food for dinner at the Lotus Pad. Just believe me when I say that nothing tastes as good as a big bowl of spicy curry or a plate of drunken noodles after a day on the slopes. The restaurant – located in the Big Sky Town Center – offers a full bar including four different styles of Mules – I can recommend them all.
8:30 – 9:30 p.m. Is it snowing or are the bright stars shining through the crystal clear, sub-zero skies? Either way, now is a great time to take a few laps around Big Sky's new, free ice skating rink in Big Sky Town Center.
The lighted rink offers open skating from 7–11:00 p.m. most nights. Bring your own skates or rent a pair from East Slope Outdoors across the street from the rink.
9:30 p.m. Call it a night or get in on the somewhat-limited Big Sky nightlife. Nearby Choppers Pub & Grub is a good choice for occasional live music, pool and a few rounds of Big Buck Hunter.
It's also curiously a popular hangout for members of the nearby private Yellowstone Club looking to hang among the locals. If that guy at the end of the bar looks like Justin Timberlake or Tom Brady, it probably is.
8 – 9 a.m. Start your day off right at the Blue Moon Bakery. This little establishment cranks out delicious and affordable bagel sandwiches and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, along with coffee and lattes.
9 a.m. – noon While Big Sky's reputation was built on downhill skiing, it's also a top Nordic ski destination thanks to the 85 kilometers of groomed trails at Lone Mountain Ranch.
Forty bucks will get you a full-day trail access, plus rentals. The historic ranch itself is a magical setting deep in the woods, with quaint cabins and horses treading through the snowy pasture. You can opt to book a two hour group lesson or just pocket a trail map and shuffle along the beginner and intermediate trails including the Silverbow Loop with mountain views and plenty of opportunities for moose sightings (yikes!).
Noon – 1 p.m. Congratulations, you must be starving. Fortunately you only need to click out of your skis and amble into the Horn & Cantle saloon at Lone Mountain Ranch. Pony up to the bar or settle into a high top by the windows.
Everything about the décor and setting is Montana. Enjoy local draft beers, wine and spirits as well as a selection of craft food including the H and C burger, Korean chicken wings and Montana trout spread while you soak in this one-of-a-kind setting.
1 – 2 p.m. Relax with some shopping in Big Sky Town Center. The brilliant window displays of Montana Supply will draw you in. This store features a curated selection of "sound goods for the modern explorer."
But really, it's a great selection of relevant clothing brands including Frye, Fjallraven, Bridge & Burn and Gentle Fawn tastefully mixed with outdoor goods, local keepsakes and accessories.
Grizzly Outfitters is another stocked store with a huge selection of mountain footwear and clothing, backcountry gear and ski and snowboard hardgoods with an expert staff to guide you into the right gear.
2 – 4:30 p.m. Continue your shopping excursion at Gallatin Alpine Sports, and then head into the rental department to check out their fleet of fat tire snow bikes.
You can pedal right out the door into Big Sky meadow and a network of fat tire bike trails, which are detailed on the free maps that come with your bike rental. There are trail options that circle around the meadows as well as legit leg burners that gain elevation in the foothills.
If fat biking isn't your thing, you can still opt outside with a quickie hike to Ousel Falls. This popular trail originates just south of Big Sky town center, and is a 1.6-mile round-trip hike down a wide, maintained trail into a steep ravine to the stunning 100-foot waterfall that flows into the Gallatin River.
4:30 – 6 p.m. It’s Aprés time again, this time at Beehive Basin Brewery in Big Sky town center. Cozy up to the bar and choose from the constantly rotating fresh-brewed beers on tap. Enjoy the mountain views or watch the brewers mixing up the magic in the brewery. Don't be surprised to see Coletrane, the brewery's famous four-legged ambassador, woofing around.
7 p.m. – closing The Gallatin Riverhouse Grill, located on the banks of the Gallatin River along highway 191 just south of Big Sky, is where the locals and tourists, river guides and construction workers, snowmobilers and skiers all go.
It's a local gathering place thanks to friendly owners who serve up delicious BBQ at reasonable costs. The Riverhouse plates include brisket, racks of ribs and pulled pork, although many locals never veer from the popular three-piece fried chicken dinner with beans, corn, coleslaw and cornbread for $7. Done.
Beyond the dining room, The Riverhouse has a full bar with views of the Gallatin River featuring free late-night music and a dancefloor. The bar menu includes a popular spirited slushie drink appropriately dubbed a "Shenanigan." Guaranteed this combination is your best bet for entertainment on a Sunday night in Big Sky. Enjoy!
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