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Big Sky Montana Travel Guide

airplane view from window seat

Hello hello!

Happy Tuesday 🙂

Thanks for all your kind words in response to my post about my Dad. ♥️ You all are the best.

Jumping back in here with a travel guide for Big Sky, Montana. I got back from my trip a little over a week ago and it was SO much fun. It was my second time visiting–the first was for my best friend Kate’s wedding–she and her husband spend a lot of time in Big Sky because her in-laws live there much of the year. Our friend group jokingly describes their wedding week as “the best week of our lives.” (Kidding but not really.) 😂 So that goes to show you how great Big Sky is.

Before their wedding, none of us had ever been there before and we were hooked–I honestly can’t believe it took us four years to get back, but I’m so happy we did! (Sadly Neal couldn’t come this time, but huge shout out to him, and my SIL and MIL for holding down the fort with June while I was gone for a few days!)

Below I’ve compiled a list of reccos based on my past trips, as well as the tips that Kate so kindly passed along to me, so I could pass them on to you! 🥰

The short version: if you’re itching for an outdoorsy winter adventure (especially if you want to ski)–you must visit Big Sky. It’s truly the most special place.

Big Sky Montana Travel Guide

Big Sky Montana Travel Guide

Ski suit (rent it here!) also love this cute ski suit available on Amazon // Fanny pack (came in VERY handy) // Similar ski goggles

How long do you need in Big Sky?

I would say a minimum of three nights, but at least four or more is ideal, especially if you want to ski! There is so much to do and see, and everything is so beautiful, you’ll want to take your time here!

Getting to Big Sky:

The easiest way to get to Big Sky is to fly into Bozeman airport, and the drive to Big Sky is about an hour. (You can get a direct flight flying United from Chicago! It’s so quick–as little as 2.5 hours!)

You do absolutely need to rent a car–you will need it to get pretty much everywhere, and in the colder months, you’ll want an SUV–preferably with all wheel drive and even better–with snow tires. (This is not the time to rent the sedan to save money!)

A great option for this is renting through Turo, which is like an AirBnB for cars. We arranged to rent one from the airport to take us back and forth, and then rented the other in town (since our group would be splitting up each day–some of us going to the mountain, some doing other activities). There are no Ubers in Big Sky, which means you also need to plan accordingly figuring out who is driving for the night.

On groceries: If you’re renting a house and plan to stock up on groceries, you’ll want to do your grocery shopping in Bozeman before you head on to Big Sky, it will be significantly cheaper! I definitely think it’s nice to stay in and cook one night!

Big Sky Montana rental house

I took zero photos of our rental house and this photo of us doing a shotski is the only one where you can see some of the amazing house in the back 😂 It was so nice, new, and swanky!

Big Sky Montana rental house

…but here’s a photo from the rental website! You can rent it right here!

Curley Bear Cabin

Above: the Curley Bear Cabin–owned by our friends–is beautiful and another great rental option!

Where to stay in Big Sky?

Whether you’re renting a house or staying in a hotel, there are basically two areas to choose from. You can stay on the mountain, or you can stay in or near town. The mountain is a great location if you want to ski in/ski out and the primary purpose of your trip is for skiing. However, there’s not much nightlife and you have more limited dining options to choose from. The drive from the mountain to town is about 15-20 mins, which also isn’t a big deal, but driving around an unfamiliar mountain after dark can be a little harrowing.

On the flip side, you can stay in/near town, where you can have options to walk to and a quick/easy drive to pretty much any dinner spot you’d like to go, and just deal with getting to and from the mountain in the daytime. (Either driving or taking the free shuttle.)

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer, it just depends on your preferences!

Rental houses in Big Sky:

If you plan to visit with a group, I think renting a house is always the best way to go! Two reccos for you to check out:

Two Pines properties: We stayed at 52 Copper John and it was absolutely phenomenal. (This management company has several properties though!) Brand new condo, beautiful, modern, includes a hot tub, each bedroom has it’s own en-suite bathroom. It was perfect. Would also be great for a group with older kids because there’s a separate TV area upstairs (so they can hang out away from the grown ups 😜). It’s also right next to the rodeo grounds so it would be AMAZING to rent during the rodeo! Great location in town center–so you can walk to various shops, some restaurants, some bars, etc. (Although none of the bars/restaurants listed in this guide are walkable, just FYI–you definitely still need a car!) It’s 4 bedrooms (including bunk room), 4.5 baths. (Sleeps 16 total).

Curly Bear Cabin: Owned by our friends–I haven’t been there personally but my friend has amazing taste so I know it’s wonderful! 4 bedrooms + bunk room + 3 bath. (Sleeps 14). More info + booking on their website. This place is also in town center, so an easy walk to bars, shops, etc and an easy drive to the mountain or free shuttle.

Hotels in Big Sky:

The Montage: For a $$$ splurgy luxe experience on the mountain with ski in and ski out.

Lone Mountain Ranch: One of the coolest spots in Big Sky–you can rent private cabins here (not cheap but very cool), and they can arrange tons of activities! (Their packages look really cool too.)

Summit hotel: Super convenient if skiing is your main priority–right at the base, ski in and ski out.

The Marriott: In town, walking distance to shops and restaurants/bars, and about 15 mins to the mountain. (Same location as the condo we stayed at, listed above).

Rainbow Ranch: (The only one on this list I’ve stayed at). About 20 mins to the mountain, quick drive to Big Sky town center. We stayed here for Kate’s wedding for the first part of the week (where they got married) and it was SO fun and very nice. The dive bar across the road (called the Corral, but became affectionately known as just, “Bar” because that’s what the sign says out front) is everything you want in an old-school Montana dive bar.

Our crew at the bar at Lone Mountain

Our crew at the bar at Lone Mountain


Lunch/Dinner/Drinks (off mountain):

Lone Mountain Horn & Cantle: For a nice dinner (it’s $$ but everything is VERY good. The ribeye, short rib and the pheasant were our group’s favorites). You can also just stop into the bar for drinks–it’s a small space, so get there early, but they have great live music!

Bucks T: Great food in a cozy lodge atmosphere. (Famous for their red deer).

Riverhouse: A casual BBQ spot with the best wings we’ve ever had. (You have to get them grilled!) They also have fire-pits outside, weather permitting.

Corral Bar: best dive bar ever.

Tips up: My ski instructor, Jim, recommended this fun bar which often has live music!

Extra cool dinner experiences: Book a Sleigh Ride cabin dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch (we did this for Kate’s wedding and it was one of the most magical things we’ve ever done. You take a horse-drawn sled to a candlelit cabin with no electricity for a cowboy dinner. Also, look into the Yurt dinners through Big Sky resorts! (We really wanted to do this but schedules didn’t align this time!)

Where to eat in Big Sky Montana

Casual lunch at Shedhorn grill!

Lunch & Apres on the mountain:

Shedhorn Grill: a cute little Yurt on the mountain with burgers and beers. They have fire-pits outside and it’s a fun spot for lunch or beverage break!

Everett’s: Definitely the nicest spot on the slopes, just to the left when you get off the Ramcharger lift. Make reservations if you want to eat lunch or dinner! (If I were staying on the mountain, I would definitely book this for dinner one night! Note you do need a lift ticket to get up here for lunch, but not for dinner, in case you have people in your group that aren’t skiing and don’t have lift tickets already.) They have a beautiful big wrap-around deck with gorgeous views and an outdoor fireplace.

Scissor Bills: A super fun divy bar at base that often has live music.

Montana Jacks: A big, open lodgey bar at base with TV’s, good for watching games.

The Carabiner: A more upscale option at base–hotel restaurant in the Summit hotel.

The Montage: for bougie drinks, fire pits, even a marshmallow station for kids. They also have a $30 valet package if you want to ski in/ski out from there!

Ski lesson selfie

Selfie after our ski lesson. My new friend Ellen (who also happened to be from Chicago!) and our ski instructor, Jim! He was so awesome!

Tips for skiing Big Sky:

Getting to the mountain:

There is a free Skyline bus that leaves from Big Sky town center to and from the mountain. You can also drive! (We drove!)

Ski or snowboard lessons:

If it’s been awhile since you skied, I HIGHLY recommend taking a lesson. You can do half day or full day private or group lesson–I did one half-day group lesson on the first day and it ended up being only me and one other girl (Hi, Ellen!) in the lesson–it was really helpful. Our instructor, Jim, gave us some great tips but also made it really fun, too. It also helps you get a feel of the mountain through the eyes of an expert! You won’t be sorry!

One tip: I wish I would’ve gone on a few runs before my lesson to warm up. I feel like the first few runs of the lesson I was still trying to get used to skiing again after several years, I think it would’ve been much more productive if I’d gotten there right at 9am, done a couple runs, and then met for the lesson at 9:30 (when all morning lessons start). Just learning for next time!

Ski out of Madison Base for a mix-up:

The main base is called Mountain Village (where all the restaurants are, hotel, etc is), but Madison Base is on the other side of the mountain, and is much smaller and far less crowded, so if you like having runs pretty much to yourself–this is a great spot for you. (The only time I freak out skiing is when it’s crowded, so I LOVED skiing this side of the mountain!) Because it’s quieter, this is also a great place to take kids (super short walk from the parking lot to the lift). Note: it gets colder on that side of the mountain in the afternoon, so if you’re skiing in the winter when it’s super cold, just keep that in mind–we did this side in the morning and made our way to the other side in the afternoon.

Rent equipment in town:

MUCH cheaper than on the mountain! (East Slope and Gallatin Alpine sports are two good options + small businesses!) If you can, rent the night before so you don’t waste time in the morning. (After 3pm it’s free to rent for next day).

On staying warm:

Get ski mittens! They’re SO SO MUCH WARMER than gloves. Also, get toe warmers for your ski boots and put them on TOP of your toes, not on the bottom. I got the full length foot warmers that went in the insole (stick them to your socks) and they didn’t do much.

Big Sky Montana Travel Guide
Big Sky Montana Travel Guide
view driving to the mountain
Bison in snow

Left: view driving to the mountain, Right: Bison snapped by my friend Sunny on their Yellowstone snowmobiling excursion! (All Rights Sunny Patel Photography Inc 😉)

Non-skiing activities in Big Sky:

You don’t have to be a skier to visit Big Sky. Two of our friends on the trip didn’t ski and they found tons of cool things to do while we were on the mountain all morning and afternoon! Here are some thought starters:

Yellowstone!

Big Sky is only about an hour’s drive from Yellowstone National Park, so it’s easy to make a day trip out of it any time of year. Check out their website for winter activities in Yellowstone. Our friends did a snowmobiling excursion here–more on that below.

Snowmobiling:

The day I got there, my friends split up into two groups and did two different snowmobiling excursions. One group just wanted to do a morning excursion, so they went snowmobiling in Big Sky through Summit All Terrain Rentals (which does not include a guide so you can do your own thing). The perks of this option are that it’s quick to get to, and a flexible, fun excursion, but the downside is that you likely won’t see much wildlife. My other friends did a full-day guided snowmobiling excursion in Yellowstone through Two Tops Snowmobiling Tours and they loved it. They saw tons of wildlife.

Ousel Falls:

Is an easy but beautiful 1 mile hike in Big Sky.

Shopping in Big Sky town center:

They have some cute local stores and a Faherty!

Rocks tasting room:

For a tasting/sampling of tons of local Montana spirits that you can also purchase to take home.

What to wear in Big Sky:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn0XvHjLD62/

You don’t need to bring anything fancy, or even buy anything new! (Unless you want to, of course.) Leggings, sweaters, and flannels are great.  You can even wear snow boots to a nice dinner and nobody will bat an eye. I don’t even think I wore jeans the entire time I was there–just leggings. You can see some outfit inspo and some items I packed in my Instagram reel above! Shop them all on my LTK page right here. It was also my first time skiing in my new ski suit which I LOVED and kept me very warm (despite, yes, looking like a ski instructor 😂), it’s pretty much sold out now but is made by Noize. I also just saw you can rent it on Nuuly!! (And I have also been eyeing this one that is SO CUTE.)

I hope this helps! I cannot recommend a Big Sky trip enough. Truly such a magical place!