Madison Loop

By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

The Madison Loop provides 3.6 miles of natural-surface trail on the beautiful north side of Lone Peak. You’re more likely to see wildlife than people on this trail, making it the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of Lone Peak in solitude. The trail starts at the Madison Base Area. 

From the parking lot, you will see a small, brown trailhead sign that designates 0.1 mile of the Madison Loop. Head past the closed lodge and amenity buildings and take a left onto a narrow beaten path through tall grass that quickly turns into an obvious trail. 

After about 100 yards on the trail, you will come to the first intersection, which marks the start and finish of the Madison Loop. I chose to go left and start with the switchbacks up the ski hill. I ran approximately 0.9 miles and 300 feet up several gradual switchbacks, weavingin and out of the forest and onto the open ski trails of Moonlight Basin. 

A small mucky pond on your left and a large wooden bench for resting are two more indicators you are on the right trail. When approaching the top of the climb, you come to the second intersection. Follow the signs for Madison Loop and you will begin descending the elevation just gained.  

This section of the trail has several creek crossings and beautiful views of Beehive Basin. The descent is steep in some areas and the trail has a rocky, shale surface earning its intermediate level rating.  At the bottom, I emerged from the forest onto the open ski slopes. When I saw the base of the Six Shooter chairlift, I realized this trail had taken me farther down than I had climbed. Preparing myself for another uphill, I began with several steep switchbacks up and under the Six Shooter and Derringer ski lift, climbing 200 feet back up to the first intersection and start of the loop. 

Portions of this trail are steep, but there are ample straight sections for resting between climbs, making it enjoyable for all abilities.  The Madison Loop provides challenging terrain, beautiful vistas, excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and solitude in the mountains, each treats in and of themselves.  

The Madison Loop is part of the Moonlight Basin trail system and connects with Ulery’s Lake Trail to make for a longer hike. 

Moonlight Basin is unique to Big Sky, as it is the only private club that still allows public access to trails on their private property. The Big Sky community is grateful for that access. It adds additional mileage to the Big Sky Resort trail system that links to our community trail system. Please be aware that bear sightings are common in this area, and be “bear aware” when recreating. 

After your hike, check out the restaurant and tavern at Moonlight Lodge for a bite to eat or hard-earned drink. The Tavern has a deck affording unbeatable vistas.

For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit bscomt.org. The Big Sky Community Organization is a local nonprofit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.

SIDEBAR: Trail stats

Distance: 3.6-mile loop roundtrip

Difficulty: intermediate

Elevation gain: 704 feet

Surface: dirt 

Uses: hike, trail run, and bike

Directions: Drive west towards Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin on Lone Mountain Trail. Pass Big Sky Resort and continue 1 mile until you come to the entrance gate to Moonlight Basin. Pass through the gate and take an immediate right following signs for the Madison Base Area. Follow the road 2 miles and park in the lot adjacent to the Madison Base Area yurts. The trailhead can be found directly behind the Skyline bus shelter located in front of the winter amenity buildings.