By Sophie Tsairis
If you’ve ever been to Montana, you’ve surely heard of Lone Peak. Standing at 11,166 feet halfway between West Yellowstone and Bozeman, it’s a striking pyramid visible from all over the region.
And while Big Sky Resort is known for its world class winters, summers here are also spectacular. White water rafting, fly fishing and hiking are right out the back door, and Yellowstone National Park is literally down the road.
The opportunities for adventure are endless.
Hike to the Peak
From the base of the resort, ride the Swift Current lift and hike up Bone Crusher, the aptly named trail that takes you to the top of Lone Peak via the southeast ridge. Bring plenty of water, because this trail gets right to the point.
It’s mid-July when I climbed the peak, and on my way up I passed through a ridgeline meadow blooming with alpine forget-me-nots and aspen daisies… right before the grass turns to scree. Getting to the top doesn’t require any technical climbing, but several hand-over-foot maneuvers and exposure kept me on my toes. As the trail steepened, it became rockier (is that even possible?) I glanced right toward the Big Couloir, a line I skied for the first time this past winter. It looked even looks steeper and more intimidating without a fluffy blanket of snow covering it.
An hour of hiking brought me to the summit. I caught my breath and then sunk into the stunning views of the mountains surrounding Big Sky. The sky seemed to go on forever, as did the mountains. On the southern horizon, I could see all the way to the Teton Range in Wyoming.
To save my knees the rocky descent, I caught a ride down on the tram. As the tram car descended 1,450 vertical feet at 13 miles an hour, it felt like being in an elevator, but with much better views.
Check into a room at the Summit Hotel, take a quick shower, and make your way to Beehive Basin Brewery in the Meadow Village to grab a beer before dinner. I got a pint of the 50 Caliber Coffee Porter, which tasted like a creamy coffee milkshake. Just the pick-me-up I needed.
Dig in at the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill
A 20-minute drive from the resort, the Riverhouse is the quintessential Montana dining experience. Get a spot on the deck, which has views down the Gallatin River and into the sweeping backcountry above Porcupine Creek. Play a game of horseshoes or giant Jenga while waiting for your order. While waiting for my entree, a rainstorm rolled in and then quickly dissipated into a flawless double rainbow. Dinner was barbecue: ribs, brisket, sausage, pulled pork and fried chicken.
Back in my hotel overlooking Mountain Village and the resort, I tried to stay awake long enough to relax in the hot tub or watch a movie on the couch in the living area, but made the mistake of trying out the bed. When my head hit the pillow, I was asleep within moments.
In addition to the Summit, the Big Sky area has plenty of spots to rest your head. From slopeside digs like the Huntley Lodge or the romantic Cowboy Heaven Cabins (complete with dreamy views, a private hot tub and trailside access), to scenic campsites along the Gallatin River with blue ribbon fishing just outside your tent.
Hit the Trails
Most people mountain bike for the downhill, a fun and exhilarating reward for the hard work and sweat of the uphill. I’m not one of those people. When I first starting mountain biking, my boyfriend took me down steep, rocky trails that were too advanced for me, which made it difficult to learn the basics. By the time I visited Big Sky, I’d spent as much time hiking my bike downhill as actually riding it.
But with world class trails and instructors at my fingertips, I mustered the courage and signed up for a mountain bike lesson through Different Spokes in the Mountain Village. After the friendly staff helped me find the right size bike and fit me with a helmet and pads, I met my instructor. My anxieties melted away as Jon put my downhill rental bike on the bike haul for me, and at the top of the lift walked me through the basic techniques of where to look on the trail, and how to make tight bank-turns without skidding out or falling over.
His instruction, plus the knee and elbow pads and full-face helmet I rented, gave me enough confidence to really enjoy myself. Soon, I was experiencing the “flow-state”—that elusive feeling of focus and effortlessness similar to a moving meditation. Growing bolder with every lap, it felt like I was breaking speed records until I had to pull over to make way for an 8-year old ripper. I finally understood why people think this is fun.
Before returning my bike, I stopped to look at the mountain bike map at the base of the lift. The 40-plus miles of trail include everything from cross-country and flowing single track to techy advanced and expert trails. I can’t wait to improve enough to explore more of the terrain.
Fuel Up at Yeti Dogs
Hit up this local’s favorite in the Mountain Village after riding, and pile a gourmet beef or veggie hot dog with any topping combo imaginable.
Spend an Afternoon in Yellowstone
A scenic hour-long drive delivers you to Yellowstone’s West Entrance, with access to several hiking trails for all ability levels. From the Madison Junction, hike a steep 2.5 miles to the summit of Purple Mountain for extensive views of the park. If you have extra time, venture into the backcountry to summit Mt. Holmes, the highest peak in the park’s west central section. The 20-mile round trip hike can be done as a long day adventure, or a multi-day backpacking trip.
Raft the Gallatin River and the Mad Mile
Living in Bozeman, rafting the Gallatin has been on my bucket list for years. On hot summer days, I’ve often looked down from Gallatin Tower, a popular rock climb north of Big Sky, wishing I were on the river. Finally, the day had come.
At 9 a.m., I met the raft guides at Geyser Whitewater Expeditions, and we headed to our put-in at Moose Creek. After a safety talk, we launched. The first few rapids were rolling and fun, and I found the sensation of keeping my balance in the boat similar to downhill biking the day before. Just when I thought we were in the clear, the last wave crashed against the side of the boat, drenching me in cold river water. I screamed and laughed simultaneously, at which point our guide mentioned this was just the warm-up.
A few miles later, the river turned sharply right, and we entered the Mad Mile, a one-mile stretch marked by continuous class III and IV and a drop of 98 feet. As we approached House Rock, a gigantic boulder in the middle of the already-narrowing river, the guide pointed to the menacing boulder field below it, calmly warning us that swimming through this section would not be fun, should we fall out of the boat. We took the line left of House Rock, finessed our way through the boulders, and were out of the river 10 minutes later.
Relax at Solace Spa
Here in Montana we play hard, and we also know how to kick back and relax. With mud speckling my sunglasses and caked to my legs from a second mountain bike ride (my lesson was so fun, I went back for more), I entered Solace Spa.
This is just what I need, I thought as I snacked on chocolate-covered cranberries and sipped berry-infused water in the relaxation room. With peaceful music, dim lighting and the perfect temperature, I was drifting off on the couch when the masseuse, Autumn, collected me from my own personal heaven. I chose a combination of essential and CBD oils from the menu, and she got to work on my tired legs and shoulders. It was the perfect end to an adventurous weekend in Big Sky, Montana.
Sophie Tsairis is a freelance writer in Bozeman, Montana. Easily distracted by rock, snow, and long single-track, she is on a life-long quest for wild places to explore and stories to tell. Find more of her work at sophietsairis.com.