The road to Big Sky — situated midway between Bozeman and West Yellowstone — is paved with the vast wilderness of Gallatin National Forest. Rugged mountains, dense pines, abundant wildlife and endless miles of streams and rivers (world-renowned for trout fishing) usher you to the crown jewel, Big Sky. Once there and upon check-in at Big Sky Resort, the sky's the limit!
When it comes to lodging, Big Sky Resort has it all — truly a range of choices (more than 750!) to fit every budget and lifestyle. From the quaint value-based Whitewater Inn to cabins in the woods and private lodges to the four-star, Euro-Western Summit at Big Sky. Also for a splurge, try the four-star Village Center with studios and suites with up to three bedrooms. The ultimate in rustic chic, Village Center condominium-style suites boast ample living areas with fireplaces and flat-screen TVs, kitchens and dining areas for entertaining and master bedrooms with Jacuzzi bathtubs. All are luxuriously appointed with designer touches.
Just as Big Sky is considered the "Basecamp to Yellowstone," Big Sky Resort has its own basecamp where friendly staff will help you plan your sky-high adventures in the great outdoors. Case in point, there's "Lone Expedition: Tram to the Top" where you ascend 11,166 feet to the top of snow-capped Lone Mountain. Ever ride a chairlift in the summer? A picturesque vantage point in itself! This is your first mode of transportation on the way to the summit. You're then transported via a safari vehicle — specially built for the rugged terrain — to the tram which ultimately takes you to the top. Enjoy panoramic views of two national parks, three states and multiple mountain ranges. And while you're up top, you'll be tempted to throw a snowball or two (your kids definitely will!).
What's next? A "Guided Zipline Tour" where you fly through the forest on three separate lines, the first of which Big Sky Resort guides affectionately call "Grizzly Alley" since the wooden platform has been known to attract a grizzly or two. (During my zipline adventure, our guides had received word that a grizzly bear did, indeed, appear on the platform moments after our group had hiked to the second line.)
Speaking of the second line, you soar 525 feet through the Moose Tracks Forest. On the third line, you get a running start and zip across a gulley and close enough to trees you might be able to reach out and touch. This is also the line where a professional photographer will capture your zipline experience against striking Mt. Wilson — this, no doubt, will be among your favorite shots!
A "High Ropes Course" is the ultimate in team building, a personal challenge or family fun! You take a short, guided hike to more than 10 stations suspended 20 to 30 feet above the ground. Under the supervision of a skilled guide, you are safely harnessed and taught "the ropes" of features such as Pirates Crossing and Swinging Beams, sure to challenge the best athletes in the bunch!
More adventures abound! Spend a day at Yellowstone National Park; it's just 48 miles from Big Sky Resort to the west entrance where geysers, including Old Faithful, are plentiful. Experience the rush of whitewater rafting along Montana's wondrous rivers and streams. If exhilaration is what you're seeking, the resort offers a Whitewater Raft and Zip Adventure package. The kids will love the climbing wall and the bungee trampoline in the resort's Mountain Village Plaza. Archery, mountain biking, golf and horseback riding at area ranches are elevated to a whole new level in Big Sky.
Mountain Village Center is the heart of Big Sky Resort. Whether dining, shopping, meeting or relaxing, this is where to hang your hat when you're not adventuring. To name just a few creature comforts: Whiskey Jack's in the Mountain Mall (part of Village Center) serves lunch and dinner with a southwestern flair and easy-going Montana hospitality. You can't go wrong with the five-layer nacho platter, the Calamity Jane burger or the watermelon margarita.
Also in the mall, Big Sky Sports carries seasonal name-brand apparel, equipment and accessories. Luckily, I was able to pick up a light North Face fleece, as I hadn't packed properly for Montana's cooler temperatures before an evening wagon ride and riverside barbecue at nearby 320 Guest Ranch.
Willow Boutique, part of Village Center, carries an assorted collection of specialty women's apparel, jewelry and gifts — not to mention beautiful boots! Burger Bar in the Plaza is sure to satisfy after a thrilling outdoor adventure (the shredded pork sandwich is excellent!).
Carabiner Lounge at the Summit offers heavenly views of Lone Mountain from the deck, an exceptional wine list and Euro-Western style cuisine. Our party enjoyed flavorful Vietnamese-style noodle bowls, salmon grilled to perfection and succulent American Wagyu beef. Get there early and find out about their soup of the day and specials (they run out fast!) — sure to be outstanding. The chilled cucumber-guacamole soup puts gazpacho to shame. The dessert menu must be considered regardless of how full you are. The assortment of cookies, fresh fruit and pound cake, served chocolate fondue-style, is the perfect ending to any meal at Carabiner for a group of any size.
More vacation ideas
10 US national parks you need to visit
Planning a national park vacation
7 Family travel adventures