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Summer in Big Sky, Montana: Outdoor Adventures with Kids

Located in the southern part of the Rocky Mountains, Big Sky Montana has everything your family needs for an ultimate summer adventure

The view from Lower Falls of Yellowstone National Park's Grand Canyon © National Park Service
The view from Lower Falls of Yellowstone National Park's Grand Canyon © National Park Service

While best known to Aussies as a popular US ski resort, Big Sky is a winning destination year-round, with majestic mountains, nature and wildlife, whitewater excitement, and cowboy fun. When offered the chance to visit, I jumped in boots and all.  

The charming town centre, about seven miles southwest of the resort itself, is full of local shops, markets, and restaurants. You can expect plenty of Big Sky hospitality, with locals venturing over to say howdy after hearing my Australian accent. 

Read on to discover Big Sky, MT is a top destination for family adventures in the United States 

White water rafting after party
White water rafting after party

Why Visit Big Sky Resort in Summer?

Big Sky in Montana is a fantastic summer holiday destination for adventure-loving families. June, July and August have long, balmy days and crisp nights, perfect for outdoor experiences in the Rockies. Temperatures range from 25C daily to a brisk 7C overnight.  

Big Sky is also a celebrity mecca. Most famous folk have homes in the gated community of the Yellowstone Club. Notable names include Justin Timberlake, his wife Jessica Biel, and their kids, Tom Brady, Ben Affleck, and Bill Gates. You might just bump into them in the market or on a hike. 

Summer Activities in Big Sky, Montana 

Mountain biking © Patrick Conroy
Mountain biking © Patrick Conroy

I couldn’t even touch the edge of the adventures Big Sky offers in a few days. I’d recommend staying at least a week to let the Rocky Mountains show you their magic! 

Here are just some of the fantastic things to do with kids:  

  • Hiking: Take a hike through Big Sky’s untouched wilderness to seek July wildflowers or the 12-metre-high Ousel Falls. Nervous about tramping through bear country? Book a hiking tour with an experienced guide.
  • Mountain biking: Swap skis for two wheels and explore Big Sky on over 60 kilometres of lift-served trails. You can bring your own bike or hire one at the resort.
  • Golf: Play 18 holes of golf on Big Sky Resort’s Arnold Palmer-designed course. Winding along the banks of the Gallatin River, the award-winning par 72 course offers spectacular views of Lone Peak.
  • Ziplining and climbing: There are multiple places for a zipline experience, including Basecamp at Big Sky Resort, which also offers a climbing wall, giant swing and bungee trampoline. 
Ziplining © Max Lowe Big Sky Resort
Ziplining © Max Lowe Big Sky Resort
  • Whitewater rafting: The local Gallatin River provides plenty of whitewater action, with half-day and full-day experiences suitable for beginners and pros. For something more sedate, take a scenic boat cruise.
  • Boating on Lake Levinsky: Rent a pedal boat, kayak or paddle board to spend a leisurely day on Big Sky Resorts’ Lake Levinsky.
  • Yellowstone National Park: The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park is only an hour’s drive from Big Sky, making it a feasible day trip.
  • Stargazing: Did you know the name Big Sky comes from the vast, open sky you can see almost anywhere in the town? Make sure to head outside at night to catch the brilliant night sky.
  • Free summer concerts: Plan your stay in Big Sky to coincide with the Music in the Mountains summer concerts, where you can join the locals for a laidback summer evening of family fun and music. Food trucks and amenities nearby for eats make this one of the must-dos for your family stay.

 

With a full itinerary of hiking, horse riding, and exploring Yellowstone, I wasn’t sure thrills were on the agenda – but still managed to squeeze in a white-water rafting trip. Read all about my Rocky Mountain adventures below! 

Yellowstone National Park

A boy holding up his Junior Ranger badge at Yellowstone National Park © National Park Service
A boy holding up his Junior Ranger badge at Yellowstone National Park © National Park Service

Yellowstone National Park is one of the best US National Parks to visit with kids, especially if your little ones love animals. 

I chose the Yellowstone Lower Loop Day tour with Back Country Safaris. Small group, collection from the hotel, comfortable vehicle, lunch, snacks, binoculars, and an expert guide made this the perfect choice. The 6.30am start was worth every yawn!  

Along with my tour group, I discovered some of Yellowstone’s top attractions:  

Geysers, Springs & Canyons

Our group was in awe of the fantastic geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and famous attractions like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It felt like we were in a documentary as we waited for Old Faithful to live up to its name with a spectacular display. 

Yellowstone Wildlife Encounters

Then, the wildlife! The region is home to over 60 species, including elk, grizzly bears, black bears, grey wolves, moose, and mountain lions.  

There are also more than 300 species of nesting birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, and various species of hawks, owls, and songbirds. I hope to return one day to try and spot more.  

My animal encounters started with cute scampering chipmunks, before Yellowstone brought out the big guns after lunch. Bison! Herds of them at a distance, including adorable calves. We then saw how majestic they were up close when a couple of males ambled along the road. They walked past casually, ignoring the traffic jam and tourists. 

Lone Mountain Ranch

Boy watching the barrel racing at the rodeo
Boy watching the barrel racing at the rodeo

Lone Mountain Ranch has helped guests experience Montana’s cowboy culture for more than 100 years. The ranch is heaven for kids who love horses.

Horse-Riding Tours  

Upon arrival, I was met with a corral full of horses saddled and waiting for the group of riders. Lone Mountain Ranch has you covered with experienced staff and, to my delight, a ready supply of cowboy boots in every size.  

Pulling them on, I felt prepared to settle in to explore the beauty of the Yellowstone back country with my experienced guide and horsewoman, Chanell. The two hours of gently riding in magnificent Montana went by too fast. 

Horse riding at Lone Mountain Ranch
Horse riding at Lone Mountain Ranch

Lone Mountain Rodeo 

That night we were back at Lone Mountain Ranch for the Tuesday night rodeo, which runs from June to September. This small rodeo is a fantastic way to experience Montana’s cowboy/girl culture, as locals compete in contests such as bull riding, barrel racing and ranch roping. Kids can also join the fun with events such as the calf scramble, the stick horse race, and the boot toss. 

I discovered this event was where locals wore their best: shiny new cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and Western fashion on a plate. Even the kids dressed the part in their smaller versions of boots, hats and jeans. The rodeo ticket included a barbecue dinner and an open bar.

I was in awe of the mastery of the riders and the partnership with their well-trained horses. I laughed along as the kids ran riot in the arena and admired the Western style of the other attendees. 

In transparency, I am not a fan of bull riding or calf roping. I can, however, recommend the Lone Mountain Ranch Rodeo for its care of the animals involved and for a family evening out. There were loads of kids there having a blast, running around, grabbing handfuls of homemade

Whitewater Rafting on the Gallatin River

A family white water rafting © Daltong Cope Crystal Images Professional Photography
A family white water rafting © Daltong Cope-Crystal Images Professional Photography

The first line on the Geyser Whitewater website says, “The thrills never seem to end”. Thankfully, the rapids on our half-day, three-hour Gallatin River whitewater rafting experience are Class III–IV, which are considered moderate and OK for kids.  

I still read the website carefully: what to wear, how to paddle, the experienced guides, and the most important one, “Don’t panic”. Ready or not, I was going whitewater rafting on the magnificent Gallatin River. 

Ungracefully shimmying into my wetsuit, I met a lovely mum and her two daughters who were holidaying from Chicago, and first-time whitewater rafters like me. As fortune would have it, we ended up on the same raft. Kirsten and her gorgeous, excited daughters, Libby, nine, and Julia, seven, inspired me to embrace this new experience head-on.

Go white water rafting in Yellowstone National Park
Go white water rafting in Yellowstone National Park

The Gallatin River Canyon is jaw-dropping in its beauty. A lazy start, gently paddling past fly-fishers, gave us time to prepare for the rapids ahead. The water was cold! With two plucky mums at the front to take the brunt of the splashes and do most of the work, we were set for the thrills ahead.  

Paddling through rapids with names like Screaming Left and the Mad Mile, the relaxing river journey in between the rapids was enough to recover and regroup for the next splashing maelstrom. Laughing hard, screaming, and paddling to the instructions of our guide.  

There was much bravery on the part of Julia, who needed occasional reassurance and a song and joke to bolster her. Her sister, Libby, didn’t stop smiling for the entire adventure. My whitewater rafting was indeed a thrill and highlight of my time in Big Sky, Montana, made all the better thanks to the Sorensons. 

Where to Stay in Big Sky, MT

The Summit Hotel

The Summit Big Sky Resort
The Summit Big Sky Resort

Located in the centre of the pretty mountain village, The Summit Hotel at Big Sky Resort offers a range of accommodation options and all the amenities for a comfortable family stay. I chose a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and a large TV above the gas fire. The Summit Hotel provides the expected high-calibre amenities, including dining options, a gym, a heated indoor/outdoor pool, and outdoor firepits for enjoying the night sky.   

The Wilson Hotel 

View from my room at The Wilson
View from my room at The Wilson

The Wilson Hotel is the newest property in Big Sky, Montana. It’s smack in the town centre, with a playground right outside and easy walking to Big Sky’s charming town centre. I love a free breakfast, and it was fantastic. The complimentary shuttle was a bonus, too. Make sure to have dinner at the exceptional Block 3 Kitchen & Bar. The steak and burgers are outstanding, with a sensational wine list for a bit of indulgence. 

Tips for Visiting Big Sky in Summer 

Bungee at Big Sky in Montana © Jake Rothing
Bungee at Big Sky in Montana © Jake Rothing

How to get to Big Sky, MT 

The closest airport is Bozeman International Yellowstone Airport (BZN), less than 45 minutes’ drive away. There are direct flights from 30 US destinations, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.  

There are plenty of shuttles to Big Sky, or you can hire a car from the airport and adventure on your own. The drive to Big Sky will awaken you as you drive Highway 191 along the Gallatin. 

Be aware of the altitude 

The Meadow Village/Town Centre area is about 1,890 metres above sea level, while the base of Lone Mountain is 2,286 metres, and its summit sits at 3,403 metres. It may take some time for your body to adjust to the altitude! 

Yellowstone Grand Canyon
Yellowstone Grand Canyon

Look out for bears

Yes, this is the wilderness, and bears are about, venturing into the village and town centre on occasion. You’ll find plenty of information about being “bear aware” and what to do if you cross paths with one. Hiring a bear spray canister is recommended if you plan to hike alone. These are non-lethal deterrents, and all instructions are provided on using the spray if you meet a local grizzly or brown bear.  

A black bear in Yellowstone National Park © National Park Service
A black bear in Yellowstone National Park © National Park Service

More Information

Visit Big Sky  

The writer was a guest of Visit Big Sky. 

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