Big Sky Montana: Things to Do, Itinerary, & Practical Tips

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Are you planning a trip to Big Sky Montana, but aren’t sure what to do so that you don’t miss any of the highlights?  I’ve got you covered.  This article gives you a Big Sky itinerary for what to do if you’ve got anywhere from one day to one week in the area, so that you make sure to have the very best adventures possible.

Big Sky Montana: Things to Do, Itinerary, & Practical Tips

How much time should I spend in Big Sky Montana?  

      

Honestly, I think that you really need at least three days to make a trip to Big Sky worth it.  While you can absolutely see some great things in Big Sky in just a day, you’ll probably leave regretting that you didn’t spend more time there.  You could easily spend a week and never run out of things to do.  Big Sky is only about an hour from Yellowstone National Park, so if you’re heading out to Montana, I absolutely recommend that you do both locations. Personally, I think that the best combination is to do about 4 days in Big Sky and 4 days in Yellowstone.  Yellowstone lodging and campgrounds get filled far in advance, so if you want to stay in the National Park, you need to book your accommodation 6-12 months in advance.

What to consider before you take a trip to Big Sky Montana

Big Sky Montana can most easily be reached from Bozeman, which is the best place to fly in and out of with several direct flights every day.  This is a destination where you’ll absolutely want to rent a car as public transportation is very limited and with the amount of things to see nearby, you’ll want the freedom to adventure whenever and wherever you want.

Summer months are more popular for outdoor adventures, winter is the time to come for skiers and early fall and late spring usually have wonderful weather without all crowds of tourists.  I have visited in both September and December and it feels like a completely different town depending on the season.  Like most mountain resort towns things slow down a lot from October to Thanksgiving and then again from mid-April until Memorial Day.  If you visit during those times, you’ll see a less touristy side of Big Sky which is totally unique from what you’ll find in the summer and winter.  In this article, I’ll be sharing the best things to do when the weather is warm!

Big Sky is an ACTIVE destination, so plan on getting out and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  While there are a few shops and many great restaurants, the real highlight of Big Sky is the nature make sure to incorporate that into your schedule.  All of the itineraries that I’m listing below are very active and are designed to show you the best adventures possible in Big Sky Montana.

Big Sky is at a pretty high elevation, so plan on bringing layers because cold temperatures can strike at any time.  During my most recent trip, the weather went from 75 degrees and sunny one day to 37 degrees and raining the next day.  The joke in town is that here in Big Sky, you can experience all four seasons in just one day, and it really feels like that sometimes.

  

What is the best activity to do in Big Sky Montana?

The best way to see all the beauty of Big Sky is by hiking.  The mountains are steep and jagged with lots of amazing trails of all different lengths and difficulties.  However, while you’re in Big Sky, there is so much to do that you need to plan a good mix of trail time and other adventures.  You can go whitewater rafting, ziplining, fly fishing, rock climbing and so much more!  Is one activity better than the others?  Honestly, they’re all so amazing that it’s really based on personal opinion.  If it’s an outdoor adventure, chances are that you’ll be able to do it in Big Sky.  I’ll highlight some of the best options in the itineraries below.

Make sure that you have sturdy shoes that are well broken in before your trip and are in good enough shape to hike several miles a day to get maximum enjoyment.  If you’ve got your kids with you, make sure to check out our guide to buying kids hiking shoes so that you can maximize the miles you get with your little ones.  If you’re coming from a much lower altitude, remember to take it easy the first few days and to drink LOTS of water to avoid altitude sickness.

 

How kid friendly is Big Sky?

Big sky is a fantastic destination for kids and families.  As you know, we’re all about adventure travel for families and Big Sky is a perfect fit for the family who wants to get outside and explore together.  Kids from about age 6 and older can do most of the activities that we listed below.  However, I would not shy away from taking younger kids as well.  I have a 2-year-old and know that he would love exploring Big Sky (he wasn’t with me on my last visit), especially with all the lakes and rivers where I know that he could just play ALL DAY!

Do I need to be worried about bears in Big Sky?

Bears are common in most of the mountains in Montana, so it’s important to always be alert when you are out hiking and camping. I recommend always carrying bear spray and making sure that it’s easily accessible in case of an emergency (I like to put it in the side water bottle pocket of my backpack for easy access).  I also make sure that we are making enough noise that wildlife know we are coming so we don’t startle any animals.  Truthfully, I have 5 kids so we make plenty of noise everywhere we go, and when they’re with me we never see bears on the trail.  However, on my last trip to Big Sky without the kids, we had been warned that there was a bear farther up the trail, and as we were hiking, we heard it growl at us as we walked by (and we quickly did a U-turn and went back down the trail).  To take precautions, I recommend attaching a bear bell to each person’s backpack and taking bear spray with you as well (each person doesn’t need their own, but I’d recommend one can for about every 4 people).

Where to stay in Big Sky Montana?

Big Sky is a small town community and doesn’t have a lot of different lodging options.  If you’re going for skiing, staying at Big Sky Resort is a good option.  If you’re there in the summer, I’d recommend staying somewhere closer to town center.

The only hotel in town center is The Wilson.  It was just opened in summer 2019, and all the rooms are equipped with a kitchenette.  In addition to a hot tub, pool, self-serve laundry, game room and gym, the hotel will also do your grocery shopping for you (you pay for the food), and serves a complimentary breakfast each day.

If you’ve got a bigger group, there are a lot of Airbnb’s available in Big Sky.  Some of the best options are this house on the creek with a hot tub, and this luxury home with room for all your friends and family.

 

Best itineraries for Big Sky

1 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Fly fishing + mountain biking

If you’re only going to spend one day in Big Sky, you’re going to have a day packed full of fun.  Start off your day with some fly fishing on the Gallatin River.  Fly fishing here is spectacular and people travel from all over the world just to fish on the Gallatin and Madison Rivers.

After grabbing lunch at the Town Center (restaurant recommendations at the bottom), head up to Big Ski Resort for some mountain biking.  From there, take the Mountain to Meadow trail which will have you climb for about 2 miles and then give you a wonderful 6 miles worth of downhill to enjoy.  This trail is definitely an intermediate level trail, though if you go at your own pace, and don’t mind hopping off the bike at some of the harder turns, beginners with some experience can ride it as well. If you’re looking for a more beginner friendly bike ride,Ousel Falls Trail that’s only 2 miles from town center is beginner friendly.  This trail is also popular with hikers and trail runners.  There is a gravel path on the south and east sides of Ousel Falls road that you can ride to get to the trailhead from town center.

 

After you finish up your bike ride, head to Bucks T-4 for a truly delicious Montana dining experience.  Bucks specializes in fine dining and local game.  We dined on pheasant, bison, and elk and it was all fantastic.

 

Details:

Fly Fishing in Big Sky

For guided fly fishing trips in Big Sky, we recommend Gallatin River Guides.  I am not good at fishing at all, and they took my limited experience and gave me individualized help and instructions to so that I could have a successful day of fishing.  I ended the day having caught 2 rainbow trout and learned more about fishing in one afternoon than in years of going fishing on my own.  For their fishing trips they never have more than 3 people for one guide and are open to taking children as well.  Fly fishing requires a good amount of focus so our guide suggested 7-8 as a good age to start though they are open to taking younger children as well.  For family trips, guides focus A LOT on helping the kids, so if you are a family, it’s probably a good idea to get 2 guides.

If you want to fish on your own, Gallatin River Guides also has a full shop if you need supplies, equipment or a fishing license to get you started.

 

Mountain Biking in Big Sky

If you’re planning on mountain biking in Big Sky Montana there are several different options.  The first and probably the easiest is to just get a bike and hit the trails.  The Trailforks App has all the latest trails and is regularly updated, so grab that before you head out.

 

For an easy mountain bike trail, like I mentioned Ousel Falls is a good option, and even though there are a few hills, it’s very easy to walk your bike up or down them depending on your comfort level.  The two-mile path to and from town center make a great addition to just riding the trail and takes you close to Gallatin Alpine Sports if you’re renting bikes.

The most well-known intermediate mountain biking trail in Big Sky is the Mountain to Meadows ride. It starts in the Big Sky ski resort, and after you exit the base area, turn left and follow the trail up the hill.  The trail is well-marked along the way.  The first 2 miles is moderate climbing and the last 6 miles is flowy downhill.  If you’re an intermediate rider, you’ll absolutely love this ride with its banked switchbacks and long decent.

 

The North Fork Loop is the most popular expert mountain biking trail in Big Sky.  The trail is just over 8 miles roundtrip and has nearly 1,400 ft of elevation gain.  For more details on the North Fork Loop, go here.

If you’re wanting a little more assistance, I’d recommend a guided mountain biking trip.  Check with the local bike shops to see their guided tour schedule.

 

2 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Day 1: Beehive Basin + fly fishing

Day 2: Ousel Falls + mountain biking

If you have 2 days in Big Sky, you’ll have some time to explore the mountains a little bit more.

 

Day 1:

Hike up Beehive Basin.  The hike is 6 miles roundtrip, with moderate elevation gain, and ends at beautiful alpine lake.  Have a picnic lunch at the lake before coming back down.  Spend the afternoon fly fishing on the Gallatin River (more information on fly fishing in our 1 day itinerary).

Day 2:

Spend the morning hiking.  If you want a nice simple trail, Ousel Falls is just 2 miles south of town center and the trail is only 1.5 miles roundtrip.  This is the most accessible trail in the area and not only is it  ADA accessible, it’s also open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding.  Most of the trail goes along a creek with many cascades and the trail ends at Ousel Falls.  In the summer, plan on going for a swim in the river in one of the calm pools along the river.

After grabbing lunch at town center, head out for a mountain bike ride (more information on mountain biking in our 1 day itinerary).

3 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Day 1: Beehive Basin + fly fishing

Day 2: Ousel Falls + mountain biking

Day 3: Horseback riding + chuck wagon dinner

If you’re spending 3 days in Big Sky Montana, it’s time to throw in a bit of the wild west into your travels.

 

Day 1-2 activities as detailed above

Day 3

Horseback trail ride.  Head to the 320 Guest Ranch for a ½ day trail ride through the mountains.  If you’re there on a Wednesday, plan on hanging around the ranch for the afternoon and joining the evening chuck wagon dinner.  You can either take a wagon to dinner or ride horses for 2 hours to get to the site.  There you’ll get to enjoy steak or BBQ chicken, along with all the fixin’s and then wrap up the evening with s’mores around the campfire.

4 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Day 1: Whitewater rafting + zipline tour

Day 2: Ousel Falls + horseback riding

Day 3: Fly fishing + mountain biking

Day 4: Brunch + Beehive Basin hike

With 4 days to spend in Big Sky, it’s time to get a good adrenaline rush going!

 

Day 1:

Spend the day with Montana Whitewater for a day of ziplining and whitewater rafting on their Zip & Dip tour.  You will spend half of your time ziplining through the trees and the other half of the time whitewater rafting.  All the tours are on the same zipline set, though you can pick the difficulty of whitewater rafting that you want to go down.  This tour is open to ages 6 and older.

 

Day 2: 

Spend a relaxing morning at Ousel Falls to hike, swim, and play in the water.  While there are some very fast-moving parts of the river near Ousel Falls, there are also some really great, slow swimming holes.  Bring snacks and make a whole morning of it!
After lunch take an afternoon trail ride on horseback.

Day 3:

Start the morning off early with some fly fishing on the Gallatin River.  If you’re going in the summer, morning is the perfect time to be out on the water fishing!
After grabbing a bite to eat, head into town for some mountain biking!

Day 4:

Start your day off a little bit slower with breakfast or brunch at The Coral.  Breakfast here is so good that they even have people charter private helicopters just to bring them here for breakfast.  Their Elk Benedict is a must try!

Spend the rest of your day out hiking.  Beehive Basin, mentioned above, is a great 6 mile round trip trail, or if you want a trail that’s a little less crowded head to Lava Lake (details below in 5 day itinerary)

 

5 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Day 1: Whitewater rafting + zipline tour

Day 2: Ousel Falls + horseback riding

Day 3: Fly fishing + mountain biking

Day 4: Yellowstone day trip

Day 5: Brunch + hiking

If you’re in Big Sky for 5 days, you absolutely need to head down to Yellowstone National Park for part of your time here!  I suggest following the same suggestions for days 1-3 as mentioned in our 4 day itinerary.

Day 4:

One day Yellowstone Itinerary from West Yellowstone:

This is going to be a really long day, so start early, and come prepared with plenty of snacks and water to get you through the day.  It’s about an hour long drive from Big Sky to the west entrance of Yellowstone, and by 8am the lines can be quite long, so I recommend leaving Big Sky at 6 or 6:30am.  Plan on spending 10-12 hours in Yellowstone.

 

For the best itinerary for just one day in Yellowstone, read this article for all the details you’ll need.  If you decide that you’re going to spend more time than just one day in Yellowstone, Let’s Travel Family has an incredible article with a 3, 4, and 5 day Yellowstone itinerary.

 

Day 5:

After a super long day in Yellowstone, you’re going to be pretty beat.  This is a great day for sleeping in a bit, grabbing brunch at The Coral and then get ready to stretch your legs with a hike.

You can hike Beehive Basin mentioned above, or you can head up highway 191 to Lava Lake.  Lava Lake is a 6 mile round trip hike with about 1,600 ft of elevation gain.  While Lava Lake isn’t considered an easy hike, it’s definitely doable for anyone with a decent level of fitness.  Bring a snack and plan on spending some time at the top once you reach the lake.

 

6 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

Day 1: Whitewater rafting + zipline tour

Day 2: Ousel Falls + horseback riding

Day 3: Fly fishing + mountain biking

Day 4: Yellowstone day trip

Day 5: Brunch + hiking

Day 6: Lake Levinsky + Big Sky Resort

 

Days 1-5 as detailed in our 5 day itinerary above.

 

Day 6:

Spend the morning at Lake Levinsky at the base of Big Sky Resort, canoeing, paddle boarding and enjoying other watersports.  Boat rentals are really affordable and if you’re going to be here all week, get their adventure pass that gives you unlimited boat rentals for the week + indoor climbing, making it one of the best activity values in town ($89 for 4 people for the week).  Grab lunch at the resort and then explore some of their adventure activities.  Some of the activities available there are disk golf, archery, ziplining, bungee trampoline, giant swing, climbing wall, and scenic chairlift rides.

 

7 Day itinerary for Big Sky Montana

If you’re going to stay in Big Sky for an entire week, jump all in and get the full dude ranch experience at Lone Mountain Ranch.  Lone Mountain is a fully customizable ranch that’s a mix of roughing it in the west meets high-end concierge.  Lone Mountain Ranch has been named one of National Geographic’s Top Unique Lodges in the world.

Basically, they provide just about any adventure you can think of in the area to their guests.  In the summer, stays must be at least 7 days and are all-inclusive (both activities and food).  They also offer a fantastic kids camp in the summer so that mom and dad can get out and adventure on their own, all while still having a family vacation and lots of time together.  The prices aren’t cheap, but you’ll get a one of a kind unique experience here where their focus is all about creating memorable experiences.

 

Best restaurants in Big Sky Montana

 

Where to eat breakfast in Big Sky Montana

The Coral – Motel with restaurant  – Fantastic Elk Benedict

Caliber Cafe & Spirits – Make sure to try the breakfast burrito

Horn & Cantle @ Lone Mountain Ranch – Great breakfast buffet and well-known for their Chilaquiles

Steele Pressed Juice – Juice and smoothie bar – just south of The Wilson hotel

 

Where to eat lunch or dinner in Big Sky Montana

Gallatin Riverhouse Grill – This place is perfect for everyone, but especially families.  Not only is the BBQ great (try the brisket and the pretzels with cheese), but the atmosphere is just fun!  In the summer go outside for fire pits, cornhole, and giant jenga, and indoors you’ll find ping-pong, pool, and arcade games.  If you’ve got kids, this is the one place NOT TO MISS!

Olive B’s – Everything at this bistro is simply amazing!  The fresh bread is delicious, the steaks are great, and the truffle mashed potatoes are my favorite side dish in town.  Make sure to save room for dessert since the huckleberry key lime pie is to die for!

Bucks T-4 – If you’re wanting a taste of the old west and some great game meat, this is the place for you.  I had the Bison Tenderloin and it was the absolute best steak I’ve ever eaten – PERIOD!  Also, make sure to save room for a skillet cookie for dessert!  The restaurant is built over an old cabin and the history of the lodge is really cool, so make sure to have your server tell you about it!

Horn and Cantle @ Lone Mountain Ranch – Another amazing restaurant in Big Sky, Horn and Cantle is not to be missed if you’re looking for fine dining.  The menu changes seasonally, but you’ll always find local game meat as well as other great cuts of meat and fish.  The atmosphere is hard to beat, but make sure you plan ahead since reservations are required.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find the vegan chocolate cheesecake on the menu, which is the perfect way to end off the day!

Wrap Shack– The place to go in town for wraps, salads and bowls.  If you like Thai food, make sure to try the Peanut Gallery Wrap.

Ousel and Spur – If you’re looking for some Italian food, look no further.  Lots of pizza options and great meatballs.  Open only for dinner.

Blue Moon Bakery – Popular local bakery well-known for their pastries, muffins and flat bread pizzas.  Expect to find big crowds at lunchtime.

Alberto’s – If you’re craving some Mexican food, then Alberto’s is the place to go!

Hungry Moose Deli – Locations both in Town Center and at Big Sky Resort.  Salads, sandwiches and wraps, with fantastic cookies for dessert.

China Cafe – Great place to go for takeout on those nights that you want to stay in, but don’t want to cook.

 

Where else to visit in Montana?

If you’re already in Montana, keep heading north to Glacier National Park, our favorite National Park for families.  Here are the best adventures you can do in Glacier there and the best hikes for kids in Glacier.

Big Sky Montana

2 thoughts on “Big Sky Montana: Things to Do, Itinerary, & Practical Tips”

  1. Big Sky looks like such an awesome place to visit! Thanks for all of the great recommendations, Jessica, we are adding this to our vacation bucket list for Summer 2020.

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