Big Sky, Mont. can’t exactly be called a tourist town, because it’s not actually a town at all. This unincorporated census-designated place (CDP), halfway between West Yellowstone and Bozeman, is popular with visitors in all seasons.
Comprised of three areas, the “Meadow,” the “Mountain” and the “Canyon,” the area in and around Big Sky is a recreation-lovers paradise. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, or a solitary hiker or biker, you’ll be able to find what you need—and do what you love—in Big Sky.
KBZN is seven miles northwest of Bozeman. Runway 12/30 is 8,994 by 150 feet and Runway 03/21 is 2,650 by 75 feet; both are asphalt and in good condition, according to Airnav.com. Runway 11/29, a 3,197 by 80-foot runway, is open only when dry. Field elevation is 4,473 feet.
With over 300 aircraft on-site (235 singles; 18 multi-engine; 23 jets; 22 helos and 10 gliders), the airport averages 221 operations daily. Commercial and air taxi operations comprise about one-quarter of the activity, while local and transient GA are split 41/36, respectively.
Two FBOs serve GA aircraft and pilots at Bozeman-Yellowstone International, and both get five stars on Airnav.com. Arlin’s Aircraft is a full-service FBO with full concierge service and offers complete A&P maintenance. Full service and self-service fuel are available. Yellowstone Jetcenter (YJC) has line and concierge services, too. It also offers an aircraft charter service. Fuel at YJC is full service only.
There are no landing fees at KBZN for aircraft under 12,500 pounds, and both crew/courtesy cars and rental cars are available through both FBOs.
If you’ve tied down at BZN and rented a car—whether you plan to stay in Big Sky or to continue on to Yellowstone—consider taking the Lone Mountain Trail Scenic Drive. It’s a winding mountain road to the base of Lone Mountain with lots of overlooks.
Or check out Ennis-Big Sky Airport (KEKS) in nearby Ennis, Mont. Its asphalt runway 16/34 is 6,601 by 75 feet at an elevation of 5,422 feet. And while KEKS offers 100LL and Jet-A fuel (with after-hours service available), only minor A&P service can be found on this field.
Choice Aviation, the lone FBO at Ennis, has only one review on Airnav.com currently—but it, too, gets five stars. It seems you can’t go wrong as far as FBOs in this region! KEKS has proportionally less operations, with just 20 aircraft based on the field (19 of them singles). Aircraft ops average 33 per day, with a 53/41 split between local and transient GA. Five percent of the daily ops are air taxis.
A seasonal kind of place
The winter season is when Big Sky really shines. With what’s termed “The Biggest Skiing in America,” the now-merged Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin alpine ski and golf resorts attract a loyal following and impress newcomers, too: tons of downhill runs for all experience levels, wide-open spaces, and no lines.
Additional resorts include The Spanish Peaks Mountain Club (13 runs) and the exclusive Yellowstone Club. Nordic skiing with many miles of groomed trails can be found at Lone Mountain Ranch.
But you don’t have to ski. If you’re visiting at another time of year, there is still plenty of outdoor fun to be had. Some of the most popular activities include fly-fishing on the small rivers in the Meadow and the Gallatin River, a Blue Ribbon trout stream.
Rafting and kayaking on the Gallatin River and hiking the trails at the nearby national forest land are other popular choices for adventure seekers. A family hike to Ousel Falls, a backcountry waterfall of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, is just a mile and a half round-trip. The trailhead is just behind Big Sky Town Center. (For even more recreational opportunities, see the sidebar on page XX. —Ed.)
If you’d rather rough it than stay in a resort, campsites are available at Spanish Peaks and Gallatin National Forest. Expect to share the space with elk, deer, wolves, black bears—and grizzlies. Oh yeah, you can also make Big Sky your home base when you visit that other park: Yellowstone. Big Sky is just 15 miles away from the national park’s northwestern border and its unforgettable scenery.
Between hotels and lodges, vacation rentals, cabins and dude ranches, you can find something that will suit you if you choose to stay in Big Sky. Rooms start at $129 (and go well on up for a slopeside view at peak skiing season), but most facilities seem to average $199 to $299 per night.
Big Sky is known for its low-key, friendly hospitality. The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center even has a small museum inside, so you can learn about the area’s “pre-ski” history of homesteading and ranching. Its website offers a wealth of information about Big Sky, Yellowstone and other local attractions or activities.
Check out Lone Peak Cinema to relax and watch a movie, or the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center for a live performance. Free weekly concerts are also held in Town Center Park during the summer. Two notable summer events include Big Sky PBR—a professional bull riders series—and a classical music festival for four days in August.
The Big Sky Community Corp. (BSCC) is in charge of public trails, the 44-acre Big Sky Community Park, Big Sky’s smaller public parks and the Historic Crail Ranch Homestead. The BSCC even hosts summer camps open to kids who reside in Big Sky as well as those who are visiting.
On Wednesdays during the summer, the Big Sky Farmers Market hosts over 90 vendors selling fresh produce, arts and crafts, and even a bounce house for kids; in the winter, it’s home to a community hockey and ice skating rink.
Crail Ranch Museum is a 1902 homestead of the Crail family that allows visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the area’s first settlers. Artifacts, photos and documents illustrate the area’s history even before homesteaders arrived, when the land was home only to Native Americans and fur trappers.
Restaurants and more
Big Sky has over 40 restaurants. Trip Advisor ranks Olive B’s Big Sky Bistro, Gallatin Riverhouse Grill and Buck’s T-4 Restaurant as its top three, respectively. Yeti Dogs, also in the top 10 on Trip Advisor, has a small and unique menu of all-beef hot dog creations.
When you plan your visit, keep in mind that Yeti Dogs and several other establishments have seasonal schedules, typically closing for the summer at the end of September and reopening in late November for the ski season.
Shopping venues include Big Sky Town Center, the Meadow Village Center, the Canyon area, and the Mountain Mall. In addition to outfitting you with gear, you can find gifts, clothes and other goodies.
Think Big Sky is remote? It may be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wired. You can use your mobile device to enhance your visit in various ways. Called “The Biggest Vacation in America,” this partnership between Visit Big Sky and Kerbspace, Inc. includes a free app that will alert you to special offers and current events. Similar information can be found at various sidewalk concierges around town.
The touch screen-based Big Sky & Greater Yellowstone Welcome Center display system offers users multiple screens including a large-scale Google map, Visit Big Sky’s event page, Visit Big Sky’s YouTube channel, and a social media aggregator that displays images from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Use #visitbigsky to share your images of Big Sky with others. And if you go, don’t forget to share your photos and travel tips on the forums at PiperFlyer.org!
Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .