Big Sky is a popular Southwest Montana destination halfway between Bozeman and West Yellowstone.
Big Sky is home to the most expansive landscape in the entire country when it comes to skiing, and although there’s more to this Montana resort town than endless views and wide-open skies–that’s why most people come here for sure.
With close to 6,000 acres of highly-skiable terrain spread across four mountains, not to mention the biggest vertical drop in the country, it’s no surprise that the small Montana ski town attracts visitors from around the globe.
If you are driving in you’ll come through high alpine meadows descending into the rocky Gallatin Canyon along the amazingly scenic Gallatin River to get here, whichever direction you are approaching from.
Homesteader Augustus Franklin Crail is largely credited with the initial formation of the town in 1902. The growing community remained pretty much the domain of ranchers for 70 years or so after that, at least until 1973 when the Big Sky Ski Resort opened up on Lone Mountain.
This is the largest peak and most dominant landmark at the Big Sky Ski Resort and locally. At 11,166 feet, it towers majestically over the entire area, and the mountain is one of the first things that most drivers coming into the area notice from the distance.
The resort remained mostly unknown compared to the beaten paths of Utah and Colorado, although growing numbers of visitors were coming to explore its sprawling terrain.
When the owner died in 1976 it was bought by Boyne USA Resorts, and this was the time the resort began to take shape properly in terms of what it has become today.
These days Lone Peak is reached by a 15-passenger tram with breath-taking 360-degree views of the most expert terrain that Big Sky classifies as ‘triple black’.
On the southernmost side of the resort, you can ski from the Lewis & Clark lift to Horseshoe, along a winding ‘blue run’ comparable to skiing the network of resorts and villages that comprise the European Alps.
So the small resort town of Big Sky, with its population not much above the 2,000-mark, is undoubtedly most renowned for skiing. Yet the miles of surrounding national forest in this region give way to endless landscape and terrain ideal for other such pursuits as horseback riding, hiking, camping, and fall hunting.
The plentiful amenities include restaurants and lodging, which all benefit from the convenience of exploring the region.
Amazing natural scenery and wildlife abound in Big Sky, not to mention more than enough space to stretch your legs in any direction.
Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Big Sky
Aside from the obvious outdoor recreation heaven that is Big Sky, you can also sample a great taste of small-town community flavor by way of the Big Sky Farmers Market.
Under normal conditions, the market operates in Town Center Plaza every Wednesday between early June and late August.
Much of the produce in the market is from farms within a short driving distance and is seasonal. The market is also known as a place for a variety of artisan crafts and goods, and it’s not uncommon for some live music to provide a lively soundtrack as the warm glow of a summer evening begins to fade.
The memory of the first rancher in the region and a key instigator behind the formation of the town is served these days by the use of his former ranch as a historic monument to that time.
This is the only museum of any kind in the town, and it gives some insights into the history of the homestead era with a tour of the mansion.
Big Sky offers seemingly unlimited access to some amazing outdoor recreation as well as world-class skiing, including awesome white-water experiences, blue-ribbon trout streams, backcountry hikes, widespread wildlife populations, and wildflowers everywhere.
After the snow melts, the chairlifts at Big Sky Resort are more akin to servicing hikers and mountain bikers throughout the summer.
On top of that, the Big Sky community is also something of a gateway to further exploration and adventure in Yellowstone National Park, with the West Entrance of the park just an hour’s drive away.
The hike to Ousel Falls near Big Sky is one of the stand-out trails in terms of popularity and accessibility.
The hike’s proximity to the town center adds to this, as does the family-friendly nature of the 1.6-mile trek, and the 100-foot Ousel Falls and the spectacular scenery experienced along the way are the main draws.
The official Park and Trailhead are just outside the center of town. Along the short route, hikers cross three scenic bridges across the South and West Forks of the Gallatin River.
Alternatively, hikers can undertake a 5.6-mile round trip route from the city center along a five-foot-wide gravel trail next to Ousel Falls Road.
The waterfall hike is accessible year-round weather permitting, although visitors in winter will need to allow for slippery conditions. Dogs are welcome on leashes throughout the park. Check out more public trails in the region HERE.
The 6.6-mile round trip to Beehive Basin is one of the most iconic in the area and features its share of big mountain views the whole way. The trailhead is near the Big Sky Mountain Village and it can get busy on the weekends and other peak times.
The one-way route is just over three miles in length and includes 500 feet of elevation gain along the way. The route is mostly a mountain meadow paradise scenario with a beautiful glacier cirque featuring crystal-clear water and straight-backed mountains.
Summer is the best time to make the hike after the snow has melted and wildflowers are out in full bloom.
The Gallatin River, which begins in Yellowstone National Park and parallels Highway 191 up towards Bozeman, is an iconic Montana river that passes right by Big Sky and presents some excellent white-water rafting via the challenging rapids along stretches like House Rock and the Mad Mile.
Local outfitters offer half-and full-day trips on the Gallatin, where an upper and lower section divides the white water, with the lower half having the larger and more tumultuous rapids to paddle through.
Some guides also offer scenic floats through Gallatin’s upper canyon, which is a decent opportunity to catch sight of some of the local wildlife.
Big Sky Resort is home to more than 5,800 acres of skiable terrain spread across four mountains, at 4,350 vertical feet, with 85 km of award-winning Nordic trails. There are 39 lifts and terrain that encompasses extra-wide, rolling groomers.
You’ll find gnarly chutes and couloirs, inviting bowls, and extensive glades—pretty much the whole gamut of ski terrain including the biggest vertical drop you are likely to find anywhere.
The Gallatin River is the place to find some pretty exceptional year-round blue-ribbon trout fishing by anyone’s standards. There’s also usually a spot of summertime white water rafting going on somewhere along the waters of the scenic river.
Anglers from around the world travel to Montana to fish in the many rivers and streams surrounding Big Sky, and aside from the Gallatin River there are plenty of other excellent blue-ribbon waterways in the area by way of the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers.
Spring and summer are both some of the best times to wade into the water, although fishing is accessible throughout the year in Big Sky.
If you fancy a few rounds there’s an 18-hole golf course at the Big Sky Resort which attracts quite a lot of summer attention.
The course is an Arnold Palmer, par-72 affair featuring elevated fairways and some impressive views of the mountain.
The campgrounds are within 16 and 6 miles of Big Sky, with Red Cliff being the nearest.
Accommodation–Hotels and lodging
- Residence Inn by Marriot
- Summit Hotel
- The Lodge
- Whitewater Inn
- Big Sky Resort Village Center
- Lone Mountain Ranch
Special Events in Big Sky
- July—Big Sky Marathon—an annual event through the amazing terrain of Gallatin County, open to newcomers and veterans alike
- Oct—Halloween Festival—an annual 3-day event hosted by the Lone Peak Cinema in the town center
- Check out more events in Big Sky HERE.