A riverside barbecue at 320 Guest Ranch near Big Sky, Mont., includes all-you-can-eat s'mores. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): Families can hike the stroller-friendly Ousel Falls Trail, a loop that's less than 2 miles roundtrip, to see a misty waterfall. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
It’s hard to beat the beauty of Big Sky — a modern mountain community in Montana that is home to bighorn sheep; well-maintained hiking and biking trails; and less than 3,000 residents year-round.
In the winter, the crowd grows considerably, as Big Sky Resort draws happy skiers and snowboarders. But the area is glorious during summertime as well, when blue skies and lush foliage are the backdrop for waterfall treks, picnics and forays into Yellowstone National Park (the busy West Yellowstone entrance is about 45 miles south of Big Sky).
Our own family visit proved laid-back yet active; the city certainly caters to families with its kid-friendly attractions, amenities and events. Following are our top seven picks for a few days of adventure in the area.
Blue Moon Bakery
A high-altitude hike left our family particularly hungry, and we had heard that no Big Sky visit should end without a stop at Blue Moon Bakery. The homey, two-story shop didn’t disappoint. While best known for its gourmet pizzas with housemade crusts, Blue Moon’s sandwiches are equally impressive, gargantuan in size and made to order on fresh-baked bread. All bread options and sweet treats are made on the premises, so you can be sure you’re getting a true taste of local flavor.
Added family bonus: There’s a box of toys and a shelf full of picture books on the second level.
Music in the Mountains
Running June through August, the Music in the Mountains concert series brings great talent to Big Sky’s Town Center Park, a grassy field within walking distance of popular shops and eateries. The free shows are curated by local nonprofit Arts Council of Big Sky and take place on Thursday evenings — check the website for details on musicians and dates. Couples, families and kids start setting up chairs and blankets around 6 p.m., and the tunes begin at 7 p.m. While the music will certainly impress, watching the sunlight fade on the peaks behind the stage is reason enough to join the outdoor party.
The misty Ousel Falls makes a great end point for a family hike, and the Ousel Falls Trail is stroller-friendly, if steep at some points — I recommend an athletic stroller, vs. your run-of-the-mill umbrella stroller.
To get there, look for the easy-to-spot parking on Ousel Falls Road; it’s less than 2 miles from Big Sky Town Center. Once parked, it’s roughly three-quarters of a mile to the falls. Wildflowers and the hum of the Gallatin River accompany hikers the entire way. To enjoy the scenery a bit longer, pack picnic fare and stay awhile at the wooden tables near the waterfall.
Riverside Barbecue at 320 Guest Ranch
Located approximately 15 miles south of Big Sky, 320 Guest Ranch welcomes the public and overnight guests to special on-site events during the summer months. Monday night pig roasts are popular and a steal at $15 for an all-you-can-eat meal, but the Wednesday night riverside barbecue was among our favorite ranch activities.
For the Wednesday night riverside barbecue, attendees gather near the ranch’s check-in building before boarding a horse-drawn wagon. An easy, 10-minute ride past a horse pasture, wildflowers and a few of the ranch’s cabins brings guests to a clearing in the pine trees, where checkered picnic tables rest along the Gallatin River, and a master griller helms a giant barbecue next to an antique covered wagon.
Cornbread, beans, steak and chicken are among the eats, and there’s a cash bar for anyone who wants beer, wine or a simple cocktail to go with their meal. But don’t overdo it too early — there’s also a giant campfire blazing at the site and an even bigger pile of s’mores fixings next to it.
The event is priced at $55 for adults and $35 for children ages 12 and under.
Summer Fun at Big Sky Resort
The snow is long gone around Big Sky Resort come July, save for a few patches at the very top of the slopes, but that doesn’t mean the outdoor fun has come to an end. During summer, entertainment and adventure options for all ages abound at the resort. When we visited in late June, our toddler turned into a jumping bean on the bungee trampoline, played a few holes of complimentary miniature golf and hunted for “gems” in a wooden mining trough.
Older children and adults might let the wind whip their hair on the resort’s Adventure Zipline Tour; sign up for archery sessions; or try their luck in a paintball battle or ropes course. Hiking and biking trails are also accessible, from the resort entrance or via a chair-lift ride.