Big Sky is an hour away from the West Entrance of Yellowstone. // © 2015 Donnie Sexton
Feature image (above): Fly-fishing is one of the outdoor activities that can be done during Big Sky falls and summers. // © 2015 Lone Peak Outfitters
Big Sky, Mont., is one of the top ski destinations in the U.S., luring snow bunnies with its challenging runs and ample acreage. But all that space doesn’t go to waste in the warmer months. There’s a grab bag of outdoor activities for clients to choose from in the summer and fall, from mountain biking and ziplining to fishing and rafting.
Here are a few of the top offerings in Big Sky to try when the snow melts.
The Gallatin River is famously known as the filming location for many fly-fishing scenes in the classic film “A River Runs Through It.” But as our instructor warned us before we began our lesson, we would likely not be as graceful as Brad Pitt. Fly-fishing is a real art — one that takes years to truly master.
Thankfully, Dusty — our teacher and a guide with Montana Whitewater, an outfitter offering activities such as rafting, tubing, fishing, horseback riding and ziplining — and his assistant, Violet, knew we had only a few hours to learn the basics and gave us a sufficient taste of the fly-fishing life.
They familiarized us with the gear and provided information on fish species, identifying insects and selecting flies before patiently teaching us casting techniques on land. Learning to cast correctly can be frustrating, but I found the process calming and mesmerizing — so much so that I was halfway ready to invest in wading pants and make a career change before we had even tried our skills in the river.
Lone Peak Expedition
Visitors to can get high in Big Sky — to 11,166 feet, in fact. The Lone Peak Expedition, a guided, 2.5-hour journey provided through Big Sky Resort, takes guests to the summit of Lone Peak via chairlift, expedition vehicle and gondola. The excursion offers travelers the opportunity to take in 360-degree views of the Big Sky valley, two national parks, three states and multiple mountain ranges, including the Tetons. I felt a little lightheaded at such great heights, but the spectacular panorama was well worth the wooziness.
Rafting down the Gallatin is one of the best ways to see Montana’s scenic splendor — and get into the splash zone. Depending on the water level of the river, guests will raft in rapids from class I (easy) to class IV (difficult, with large waves). Montana Whitewater can arrange half-, full- and overnight rafting trips for guests, and all gear is included.
During my visit, the river was low and relatively calm, but our guide, Ethan, did his best to get us paddling through some rougher water. He even taught us to “surf” the boat in a hydraulic (a spot where the river flows back on itself) beneath a boulder.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone isn’t in Big Sky, but any visitor to the area would be remiss to not take a day trip or multiday side excursion to this national treasure. Yellowstone’s West Entrance is about a one-hour drive from Big Sky, and even those with just a few hours to explore the park can get a substantial fill of its wild beauty. Be on the lookout to spot wildlife such as bison, elk, moose and even grizzly bears.
I suggest hitting Uncle Tom’s Trail to get your heart racing — you’ll almost forget you’ve climbed down (and then up) 328 steps thanks to the gorgeous views of the 308-foot-high Lower Falls and the intense sound of the water crashing down through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Bonus: There’s almost always a rainbow visible in the waterfall’s mist.
If you miss Old Faithful’s eruption (occurs about every 60 to 110 minutes), head to Grand Prismatic Spring, a surreal natural wonder with its bright blend of yellows, oranges, greens and blues.
WHERE TO EAT
Hungry Moose Market & Deli
Jackie and Mark Robin have put their all into the Hungry Moose, which offers fresh produce and natural foods from local farmers and purveyors. The market’s commitment to high-quality deliciousness makes it easy for travelers to grab a healthful meal before heading on to the next adventure.
WHERE TO DRINK
Buck’s T-4 Lodging & Dining
Come here for a drink — try the bacon bourbon old-fashioned if you’re feeling bold — but stay for the food and the cozy atmosphere. It might look like any old roadside lodge from the outside, but Buck’s is considered one of the best restaurants in Montana, with a menu that features wild game and creative dishes (think red deer loin with duck-bacon risotto; elk chops with blue-cheese butter and cherry gastrique; and chimichurri pheasant with prosciutto and feta polenta). And don’t forget the award-winning wine list, with more than 175 selections from around the world.
WHERE TO STAY
Lone Mountain Ranch
This charming 160-acre guest ranch is only about a five-minute drive from the heart of Big Sky, but its woodsy location along the north fork of the Gallatin River makes it feel rustic and remote. General manager Paul Robertson is warm and welcoming, ready to dole out outdoorsy suggestions for guests.