Big Sky, Montana has been on my radar for years. So when a friend’s 30th birthday trip to Napa Valley was canceled last summer, I knew exactly where we were headed instead. With its unbelievably gorgeous scenery, proximity to multiple national parks, and an endless number of outdoor (read: naturally socially-distanced) things to do in Big Sky Montana, it was the perfect destination.
If you’ve heard of Big Sky at all, it was likely in the context of skiing, as Big Sky Resort touts the “Biggest Skiing in America.” Indeed, 5,850 skiable acres with 4,350 feet of vertical is big. It’s massive. Still, there are many other things to do in Big Sky Montana besides ski, even in the dead of winter.
Things to do in Big Sky Montana
We visited Big Sky in the summer (and side note, I genuinely didn’t want to leave and haven’t stopped raving about it since), as part of a mini Montana road trip that also included Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Multiple people told us that if we love it in the summer, we absolutely have to see it blanketed in snow. No matter when you can get there, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Big Sky Montana.
Big Sky hiking
One of the (many) great things about Big Sky is that you don’t have to leave town for amazing hikes. Since you’re tucked so high and so deep into the Madison Mountain Range, hiking trails in Big Sky Montana are rightthere.
Uplands Trail, Beehive Basin, and Ousel Falls Trail are some of the more popular Big Sky hikes. There are dozens and dozens of trails to choose from, but these three are easily accessible from town and can be hiked year-round.
I’m a sucker for waterfall hikes, so Ousel Falls Trail was a no-brainer for me. The well-beaten path runs parallel to the Gallatin River and even features a footbridge in some spots. This family-friendly trail is just 1.6 miles roundtrip, but the high alpine Montana elevation will still give you an excellent workout.
If you’re hiking Ousel Falls Trail in the winter — or any hiking trails in Big Sky Montana, for that matter — wear proper winter hiking boots. Ice can form even on clear, sunny days. Alternatively, snowshoeing is another one of the best things to do in Big Sky Montana. Check out Grizzly Outfitters at Big Sky Resort for rentals.
Horseback riding in Big Sky
Horseback riding in Big Sky allows you to explore in an up-close-and-personal way. Whether you prefer a short tour around town or a guided trail ride through rugged backcountry, there are horseback riding options for every preference and experience level.
Several outfitters offer year-round horseback riding in Big Sky. Lone Mountain Ranch has been at it for over a century and Jake’s Horses has options ranging from one hour to a full day. You can’t go wrong with any of them — horses are kind of their “thing” in Montana.
If you’re looking for one of the most memorable things to do in Big Sky Montana and you’re visiting in the winter, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Lone Mountain Ranch and 320 Guest Ranch both offer afternoon and evening sleigh rides, complete with hot chocolate or cider, popcorn, warm cookies, and a crackling bonfire.
Big Sky is a world-renowned mountain biking destination…in the summer. Have you ever tried to bike on snow and ice? I wouldn’t recommend it.
Fortunately, that’s where fat bikes come in. In case you’re unfamiliar, fat bikes look like regular bicycles on steroids. They have oversized wheels with lower air pressure so they get excellent traction in any terrain, much like an ATV. Rent fat bikes at Big Sky Resort or from locally-owned Gallatin Alpine Sports.
Fun fact: Only a handful of U.S. states have officially-designated Blue Ribbon fisheries. Montana is one of them. A Blue Ribbon designation means that the fish and water are extremely high quality. Big Sky actually has several Blue Ribbon fisheries at its doorstep: the Madison, Gallatin (where A River Runs Through It was filmed), and Yellowstone rivers.
While fly fishing is commonly associated with a summer activity, it’s actually a favorite among locals for things to do in Big Sky Montana in the winter. This is true untamed wilderness, so I’d highly recommend hiring a professional guide. Weather can also be unpredictable, so dress appropriately and maybe even consider investing in waders.
Take a day trip to Yellowstone
America’s oldest national park draws millions of visitors from May through September each year, and for good reason. It’s vast, incredibly diverse, and completely awe-inspiring. In my opinion, though, Yellowstone is even more magical in the winter.
Winter temperatures bring the park’s majestic wildlife to lower (i.e., warmer) elevations, so your chances of spotting bison, wolves, elk, and bighorn sheep are exponentially higher. Plus, throngs of people are nonexistent. You may even find that you’re all alone at popular attractions like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring!
There is one caveat to visiting Yellowstone in the winter. Most of the park roads are closed. The only exception is the road running from the North Entrance in Gardiner, near Mammoth Hot Springs, to the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City. Even that frequently closes due to winter storms, so I wouldn’t recommend driving yourself.
Instead, check out one of the “coolest” things to do in Big Sky Montana: a snowcoach or snowmobile tour. Lone Mountain Ranch and Big Sky Resort both offer tours through several authorized providers.
Big Sky shopping
I was admittedly skeptical when our hotel concierge said one of the best things to do in Big Sky Montana was go shopping. With so many outdoor recreation opportunities, that was the furthest thing from my mind.
However, Big Sky shopping pleasantly surprised me. As you might expect, there are plenty of gear shops, but there are also some seriously fabulous boutiques and art galleries. Truly independent, locally-owned shops are increasingly hard to find, but you can tell that’s not the case with Big Sky shopping. Everything is so well-curated and high-quality, I ended up spending far more (time and money) than I expected. Check out Rhinestone Cowgirl, Steamboat Dry Goods, and The Trove West — and do your best not to buy all the things.
Drink local at Big Sky breweries
Maybe it’s the clean mountain spring water or perhaps it’s the locally-grown barley, but whatever “it” is, small-batch craft beer is big business in Big Sky Montana.
This tiny mountain town has two independent breweries, Lone Peak and Beehive Basin. Both offer a mix of light and dark beers, and drinking them is one of the best, most refreshing things to do in Big Sky Montana after a tough hike or a day on the slopes. My personal favorite is a blend of Beehive Basin Working Guys Cream Ale and “The Big” Baltic Porter.
Locals will likely send you to Lone Peak Brewery for the best burgers in town, while patrons of Beehive Basin Brewery can bring in their own snacks.
Big Sky restaurants
Much like breweries, Big Sky takes its food scene pretty seriously. There are several excellent Big Sky restaurants, all set against the stunning backdrop of the mountains and serving up unique local specialties.
We actually had some of the most memorable meals of our lives in just one long weekend at Big Sky restaurants. Riverhouse BBQ & Events sits directly on the banks of the Gallatin and has unbeatable views of the Spanish Peaks. Get the $7 chicken dinner and a local brew, then grab a seat on the back porch and enjoy live music.
Horn & Cantle at Lone Mountain Ranch often has a two-hour wait on weekends, but I promise it’s well worth it. The smoked elk meatballs, bacon-wrapped bison meatloaf, and pickle-brined fried chicken are to die for, but the goat cheese ice cream with huckleberry compote is life-changing. I can still taste it now…
If you’re visiting in the winter, make reservations at Montana Dinner Yurt ASAP. It’s in a top-secret backcountry spot somewhere near Big Sky Resort and you can’t even drive there. Instead, you ride in a snowcat! This is one of the only things to do in Big Sky Montana we missed out on since we went in the summer.
Where to stay in Big Sky
Visitors have several options for where to stay in Big Sky. The primary areas are Town Center at the base of the mountains and Mountain Village at the top, and both have plenty of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance. There are also several guest ranches located off the highway on the way up to the ski resort.
We stayed at the Village Center at Big Sky Resort in Mountain Village and can’t recommend it highly enough. The resort is actually comprised of four distinct hotels and a number of vacation rentals, all at various price points and offering different amenities.
Our room at Village Center had an incredible view right out the window and we loved being so close to several hiking trails. The drive down to Town Center was just 10 minutes and we were about an hour from Yellowstone’s West Entrance. Daily breakfast and scenic lift tickets were included with our room, and the concierge even surprised us with a bottle of wine for our anniversary.
After going to Horn & Cantle and seeing Lone Mountain Ranch up close, we absolutely fell in love. It’s a totally different experience, as the ranch is secluded and all-inclusive. Guests eat all meals there and participate in onsite activities like horseback riding and guided hikes. We’re hoping to stay there in the summer of 2021, so stay tuned for a review!
Thanks for reading! Be sure to pin this post about things to do in Big Sky Montana for later!