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Mountain Luxury in Big Sky, Montana

Posted by on September 7, 2014

What’s better than going on vacation to a new place with 4 friends? Going on vacation to a new place with 4 friends when all of the $$ goes to charity.

That’s right! Jeff and I, along with Lori, Jay, Matt, and Sarah, stayed in a luxurious mountain ranch for 7 days, with all money going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Perfection.

First, we’d like to say a heartfelt thanks to Marc, the generous donor who let us stay in his family’s amazing home for a week. We adored our time there. We’d also like to give a shout out to the wonderfully friendly and helpful caretakers, Chet and Sarah, along with their tubby killer (cat June) and 13-year-old Iditarod alum (retired sled dog Mattie, who loooooved the leftover chicken Lori readily offered up) — all of whom made us feel incredibly welcome.

Throughout the week, we happily took advantage of all of the amenities the ranch offered, from the fiery wood stove and relaxing hot tub, to the fire pit (yum, smores!), gorgeous views from rocking chairs on the porch, and the gourmet kitchen.

And now, on to the story of how we spent the rest of our time in Big Sky country.

Introduction to Big Sky

Having never been to Montana before, I was enamored upon entering the Bozeman airport. Rustic, uncrowded, natural, and full of wildlife, I was instantly hooked. The airport was a perfect introduction to life in Montana.

Bozeman Airport

A little over an hour’s drive from the airport is the ski resort town of Big Sky (population ~2,500), where our mountain retreat was located. Big Sky is more of an area than a town, consisting of three different parts — the mountains, the Gallatin canyon, and the meadows.


Big Sky is famous for being the “biggest skiing in America,” meaning it has the most ski-able area of anywhere in the US. Not too shabby. The largest ski resort is Big Sky resort, shown below, with Lone Peak (11,166 ft [3,403 m]) in the background.

Big Sky ResortUpon entering Big Sky Resort, it was easy to see how this could be a skier’s paradise. Condominiums lined the lake, as did numerous other ski accommodations. In the off season, the resort offers zip lining options as well as a tram ride to the top of Lone Peak for a breathtaking scenic vista. Instead of taking the tram, we chose to keep driving, which is how we ended up at Moonlight Basin.

Lone Peak at ResortIn recent years, Big Sky Resort expanded its skiing repertoire by merging with the nearby Moonlight Basin Resort. The view from Moonlight Basin is below.

View from Moonlight BasinWe wandered around both resorts briefly, commenting on how dead they were in the off season (!), before heading back into town to enjoy the scenery around Big Sky.

Gallatin Canyon

Another area in Big Sky, and hands down my favorite, was the Gallatin River Canyon. The Gallatin River was featured prominently in the film “The River Runs Through It,” and I must say, the river is just spectacularly gorgeous. Shallow, clear, crisp and positively stunning.

Snaking its way through the canyon, the Gallatin hugs Highway 191 in many places, making for an exceptionally scenic drive — over part of the drive from Bozeman, thru Big Sky, down to the Yellowstone Park boundary.

Gallatin River

The Meadows

The third area in Big Sky lies between the mountains and the canyon. The Meadows, which includes Big Sky Town Center and Westfork Meadows, is the flat valley where most of the commercial activity is. Small grocery stores, spas, and restaurants populate this area of town. The golf course is also located here.


Near the corner where the meadows meet the canyon, there is a rustic soldier’s chapel that not only pays homage to the fallen, but also perfectly frames Lone Peak in its altar window. Simply beautiful.

Soldier's Chapel

Chapel view

Activities in Big Sky

We quickly realized that no matter which area of Big Sky we chose to explore, outdoor activity was the thing to do.

While skiing is the major pull during the winter, summer activities included fishing (particularly fly fishing), hiking, and horseback riding, all of which our group participated in throughout the week.

Jeff spent as much of his time as possible fishing on the Gallatin… Gallatin River-Jeff

…and photographing some of the gorgeous mountain streams.

Mountain stream

Lori, Jay, Matt, and Sarah, on the other hand, spent much of their time hiking the nearby trails. These trails included the Beehive Basin (photo courtesy of L. Davis)…

Beehive Basin Pano - Lori and Jay…and to Ousel Falls (photo courtesy of L. Davis).

Ousel falls - Lori and Jay

My bum feet (but starting to recover!) made horseback riding more appropriate for me. Lori and I took a 2-hour horseback riding tour with the 320 Guest Ranch, pictured below, located in the Gallatin Canyon. We both thoroughly enjoyed the beautifully scenic ride up the mountain, made even better still by the fact that it was just the 2 of us and our guide. One of the many pluses of visiting somewhere out of season!

My gassy horse Tommy also made it an entertaining ride…

320 Dude Ranch

Big Sky’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons also make it an excellent base camp for visiting those parks. We visited both and they will be the topics of later posts…

Impressions of Big Sky

There really is something for everyone in Big Sky, but it is certainly tailor-made for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

Whether you are prepared to spend some cash (eg, skiing, golf, spas) or just enjoy the great outdoors (eg, hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing), there is fun to be had in Big Sky. Or better yet, just relax with a book and a tasty beverage and enjoy the crisp, clean air. It is magnificent.

For those of us from lower altitudes, though, remember that Big Sky is located at an elevation over a mile high (7,218 ft [2,200 m] to be exact), which makes outdoor activities a bit more strenuous!

Another difference that I never quite got used to was the constant need to carry bear spray (think: pepper spray on ‘roids) to deter bears. We never ran into any in Big Sky, thank goodness, because I’m afraid if we did…I may have needed to invest in some new pants!

The most memorable impression that Big Sky left with me was that of the people. We met some of the most down to earth, friendliest, heartiest people I have ever met before. It takes a certain type of personality to want to live under the big sky–where, simply put, there is ample room to breathe. Room for your own personal space, and room for energy to dissipate before it runs into another person or thing.

That aspect of Big Sky was simply amazing. For that reason alone, I could envision living in this area. (That said, the 8 months of winter is a bigger deterrent!)

Last but not least, as some of you know, I try to read books (or see movies) about an area before I travel there. This year, it is the 1947 novel “The Big Sky” by A. B. Guthrie, Jr (once named the best novel of the American West). In it, one of the main characters, Boone Caudill, says of cities: “I don’t hanker to live in no anthill. I aim to go west…”

I don’t think Boone was the only one to feel that way.  It wasn’t lost on us that many of the people we met in Montana weren’t Montana-born, they were transplants from other places, with many from the more congested Eastern states.

Go west, young (wo)man, indeed…


We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to Big Sky, Montana. We certainly had a blast!

8 Responses to Mountain Luxury in Big Sky, Montana

  1. Linda Koloda

    breathtaking photos – thanks for sharing!!!!

  2. Viv & Linz Acker

    Beautiful. Another fabulous holiday, by the sound & look of it. Happy Birthday Jeff (9 September). Kay will be looking forward to getting to NC. Love to you both, Viv & Lindsay xx

    • Jen

      Thanks Viv and Lindsay! Indeed, it was a fabulous holiday–and tomorrow we’ll have a wonderful birthday dinner for Jeff. Can’t wait to see Kay and hear about her many travels! Cheers, Jen and Jeff

  3. The Phillips Family

    What an amazing place – I hope that Jeff caught some fish for all of his effort! Montana seems to have that Central Otago feel about it, here in NZ (except for the 10 gallon hats!). A nice way to celebrate your last few days in the 30s, Jeff!

    • Jen

      Indeed, it did have a bit of a central Otago feel to it–we both mentioned that. Felt good ;). And yep, he caught a couple of trout – undersized though, so he threw them back. Being the catch and release man he is, though, he would have sent them along their merry way even if they were the big ones! I think he’d agree that the trip was a great way to exit his 30’s!

  4. Nathan

    Amazing reporting and photos as always 🙂 I wish I could have been there with you guys!
    I have been referring people I meet to your curious travelers website. Cheers, Nathan

    • Jen

      Thanks, Nate! We wish you could have been there too–you would have LOVED it! And thanks for referring our wee site to others. Much appreciated!

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