"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.' "
Regarded by many as the gateway to Yellowstone, Big Sky is a spectacular destination in its own right. This marvel of nature spans nearly 6,000 acres, boasts four connected mountains, and is an outdoor paradise for nature and adventure enthusiasts alike. Upon entering Big Sky, visitors will be greeted by the majestic Lone Peak, Big Sky's highest peak, towering over 11,000 feet and the centerpiece of this pristine and expansive environment.
Big Sky is a draw for so many reasons, a primary one being that it's a year-round destination. Many head here for its world-renowned skiing and treasure trove of winter activities. We visited in the heart of summer and were treated to incredible weather, sweeping blue skies, and a bounty of active pursuits to choose from.
Below are the highlights of our 3-day trip to Big Sky. Please note that while we did spend a fantastic day exploring Yellowstone National Park, that experience is not highlighted here. Stay tuned for a future blog post on some of our favorite national parks across the United States.
Jakes' Horses restored my faith and sparked a newfound love for horseback riding. Nearly two decades ago I had gone on a terrifying and what felt like a death-dying horseback riding trip through the cloud forest of Guatemala and I'm not sure I had ever fully recovered until this trip. I've been anxious on every horseback riding trip since, that is, until our trip to Big Sky.
Our guide in Big Sky was experienced, affable, and enthusiastic as she led us through a two-hour trail ride. From the moment we hit the trail, it was clear that she loved the horses as much as she loved Montana. The ride takes you through dusty, albeit, stunning trails, grassy hills, and flowing rivers, all while enveloped by the magnificent mountains of Montana.
The horses are well taken care and the staff does an outstanding job matching horses with riders based on height, experience, and comfort level. Safety procedures and proper riding techniques are thoroughly reviewed prior to setting out on the trail. The horses were friendly, docile, and well-trained.
This was truly the first time I have felt completely at ease while riding a horse and could allow myself to soak up all of the natural splendor that surrounded me. My favorite experience during our time in Big Sky. Highly recommend!
Travel Tip: Jake's Horse offers a variety of tours, ranging from one-hour trail rides to multi--week expeditions. Rides are available year-round. Call for reservations and prices.
Oddly, us city folks have developed a surprisingly strong affinity for fishing. Our slow burning love affair began back in 2014 when we went reef fishing in Belize. When the first time you go fishing happens to be in the second largest coral reef system in the world and you effortlessly catch over fifteen fish, your sense of reality instantly becomes warped. Fast forward a few years to the first time we went fly fishing in Idaho, and well, between the two of us, we (T) caught ONE fish. We inevitably learned that fishing is painstakingly hard and can be downright frustrating. Especially for us, considering patience is not our strong suit!
While fly fishing isn't exactly what you might call thrilling and it may quite literally be the antithesis to the notion of instant gratification, it is incredibly relaxing, peaceful and rewarding. Wading in the cool tranquil waters encompassed by awe-inspiring scenery is as much restorative as it is revitalizing. Following the river upstream on foot allows you to explore areas that you may not typically have access to and observe nature and its inhabitants in all of its abundant glory.
We chose a four-hour Half-Day Walking, and Wading Fly Fishing Trip with Gallatin River Guides and our entire experience from beginning to end was outstanding. Our wonderful guide Lindsay was both knowledgeable and patient with us fishing novices. She adeptly showed us how to angle our fishing rods and follow the stream, helped us change our lures (although truthfully, Lindsay pretty much ended up changing them for us), and helped us navigate the river as we waded and clambered along slippery rocks and trudged through the muddy river bottom. To add to our fly-fishing frenzy, we both caught fish this time around! Because let's be honest here. Isn't fishing way more fun when you actually catch something? It's important to note no fish were killed here -- we swiftly and safely returned all of the fish back into their natural habitat.
Whether you're a beginner or an expert, I highly recommend using Gallatin River Guides to anyone looking to spend some time on the water while submerged in arresting scenery.
Travel Tip: Gallatin Half-Day Walking and Wading Fly Fishing Trip- 4 hours: $194 per person.
Full-day tours are also available.
Please note, to legally fish in Montana, you must obtain a fishing license. You must first purchase the required conservation license ($10) followed by your fishing license. Visit https://www.montanaangler.com/information/licenses to learn more and to purchase all necessary licenses.
There are few outdoor activities I love more than paddle boarding and I try to get out on the water any opportunity I can. The serene and gentle waters of Lake Levinsky provide an idyllic setting for water enthusiasts ranging from the novice to the experienced. You can rent paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes at Geyser Whitewater Expeditions at the bargain rate of $14 per hour. Breathtaking vistas and a small sandy beach encircle the mirror-glass lake, making for a lovely and relaxing outing.
Travel Tip: Rentals available on-site. Open from 10am-6pm.
So much more than a hotel, Big Sky Resort is a conglomerate venue worth visiting at some point, even if you're not staying here. The resort is home to a number of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and bakeries, offering ample indoor and outdoor seating. They offer a variety of activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and zipline tours. Events are regularly held at the resort. When we visited, the Total Archery Challenge was going on (yes, that is a thing, and it's wildly popular…who knew?). The resort also has a spa, salon, shops, and small markets.
While Big Sky isn't necessarily known as a premier dining destination, we were pleasantly surprised by how well we ate here. Restaurant selections range from farm-to-table organic fare to roadside diner grub, pretty much guaranteed to appease everyone – from the most discerning of foodies to those simply looking for their next meal to tide them over. Here's where to eat and drink in Big Sky.
A delightful neighborhood gem located in Big Sky Village, Olive B's Bistro offers an intimate setting, solid cuisine, and attentive service. Their menu ranges from classics like the traditional Caesar salad and calamari to local game like elk and bison. If you're wondering whether you should order the Skillet Cookie for dessert, the answer is a resounding yes. Maybe order two if you're feeling particularly bold. Their cozy patio is ideal for enjoying Montana's balmy summer nights.
When I think of what I thought was quintessential dining in Montana prior to visiting the state, I'm pretty sure I conjured up images of Café 191. This classic roadside diner serves exactly what you might expect: hearty breakfasts plates brimming with omelets, flap jacks, and French toast, and lunchtime diner go-tos like bacon cheeseburgers, Cobb salads, and pastrami sandwiches. A great spot to satisfy all of your comfort food cravings.
A lovely eatery to grab lunch near the Town Center, with the sweet bonus of outdoor seating. Lotus Pad serves local and organic Asian fare and offers a number of vegetarian and vegan options. Their menu includes many pan-Asian staples, including Pad Thai, curries, Tom Yum, and spring rolls. Everything we ordered was flavorful and delicious. Their imaginative cocktail menu includes many creative plays on traditional drinks like the Montana Mule, and the Smokey Elephant, a fun twist on the typical Margarita.
Our best dining experience in Big Sky. This enchanting Italian eatery boasts an extensive menu and equally impressive wine list. The Cavatelli con Pomodoro e Mozzarella was divinely rich and scrumptious, and the meat-eaters of the group raved over the elk chops and Paparadelle alla Bolognese. The ambience was warm and relaxed, and service was friendly and welcoming. Michaelangelo's Ristorante is a stellar dining choice in Big Sky!
If you are visiting Big Sky from out of state, there's a good chance that you'll be flying in and/or out of Bozeman. Blackbird was easily the best meal of our trip to Montana. It was highly recommended to us and I can undoubtedly say that it exceeded all of the hype and is very deserving of its ridiculously high praise. Conveniently located downtown on Main Street, Blackbird is a perennial favorite among locals and visitors alike. Their Italian-centered menu is innovative yet approachable; the star of the show being their artisan wood-fire pizzas -- mouth-watering delectableness as close to exaltation as any foodie can possibly get. Their wine list is as equally noteworthy focusing primarily on Italian and French vintages. If you find yourself in Bozeman, even for just a brief stint, make sure you hit up Blackbird. You'll be so happy that you did!
Reservations highly recommended.
Mountain towns across America love their breweries, and Big Sky is no exception. While you won't find as many breweries here as you would in cities like Asheville and Denver, Big Sky is the proud home of several sensational breweries. Below are some of Big Sky's best.
We absolutely loved this charming microbrewery. Beehive Basin Brewery takes their craft beer selection very seriously, and their beers are both unique and interesting. We opted for flights so that we could sample as many of their unusual offerings as possible. The Porter, Cream Ale, and Nitro beers were exceptionally smooth and flavorful. The industrial chic interior is aesthetically pleasing, and the atmosphere is convivial and inviting. Highly recommend.
A popular local joint known for its delectable burgers, and excellent craft beer. The pub fare at Lone Peak Brewery was exceptionally good. I like to think of myself as a nachos aficionado, and let me say, their nachos were top-notch (see what I did there?). Their beer selection is not as extensive as other breweries, but great, nonetheless. The service, on the other hand, was unfortunately not as noteworthy. While our server was extremely fast and reliable, he was egregiously unfriendly. Not rude per se, but not warm or inviting either. It certainly could have been an off day, but definitely something to be aware of.
My favorite brewery that we visited in Montana. Enjoying delicious craft beer while sitting outside along the water pretty much defines my perfect day (if only our dog had been there, then it would have utter perfection). The food at MAP Brewing Company is as flavorsome as the beer. And the attractive and spacious outdoor patio is the icing on an already sweet cake. A great way to spend a beautiful afternoon in Montana.
We rented a wonderful chalet through Big Sky Vacation Rentals. Our location in the Moonlight Basin was perfect – striking mountain views and breathtaking alpine surroundings. We were conveniently located near various points of interest while simultaneously tucked away into seclusion. Our townhouse was spacious yet cozy, complete with an expansive deck and hot tub. Highly recommend. More accommodation options are also available here.
We spent our final night in Bozeman and stayed at the Element, a Marriott property. The hotel was fine, nothing special by any means, but it was centrally located and within walking distance to the main street and multiple restaurants and bars. There weren't a ton of hotel options in Bozeman, at least based on my research, and the Element seemed to be one of the best hotels in the area.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the closest airport to Big Sky. It's less than an hour drive.
Big Sky is about an hour drive from West Yellowstone, which is the west entrance to the park.
Renting a car here is a must. Be sure to reserve your car prior to your trip. It's worth getting a car with four-wheel drive to better navigate Montana's windy mountain roads and varied terrain.
Pack layers, even if traveling in the summer. The days are typically sunny and warm while the nights are cool and crisp. Jeans and a light jacket/sweater will go a long way at night!
Bring a water bottle. It's always wise to bring a water bottle whenever traveling – it ensures that you're staying hydrated while also being mindful of the environment. Have a water bottle on hand for all of your active pursuits – your adventures will thank you!
Pack some protein bars, nuts, and/or other high protein snacks to keep you energized and to help stave off hunger. If you've chosen Big Sky as a traveling destination, then chances are you are opting for an active and busy trip. No-one likes a hangry person, especially when traveling. Come prepared.
Be okay with being off the grid from time to time. You will undoubtedly explore areas without cell service, and that's a good thing, I assure you. If you're visiting Yellowstone, be prepared to have little to no WIFI throughout the entire park. Relish in this moment – in a world where we are always connected, these solitary moments are sadly fleeting. Enjoy it here it when you can!
And finally, enjoy and respect nature at all times. Recognize that you are solely a visitor here, and it's your responsibility to leave the area the same way you found it, or with any hope, even better. Respecting nature means respecting the land, the environment, and all of its inhabitants. Leave a minimal ecological footprint and take the time to savor every moment of this wondrous world of ours, one step at a time.