By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director
The Jack Creek Preserve, 4,500 acres of protected habitat west of Big Sky, acts as a key migratory corridor for wildlife. The preserve provides a vital connection between two units of Lee Metcalf Wilderness and extends critical habitat from Yellowstone National Park through the Madison Range and northward.
The preserve is managed by the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, a local nonprofit that’s offering several miles of groomed cross country ski trails on the preserve free and open to the public for the first time this winter. To access these trails on the private Jack Creek Road, you must contact the foundation staff to fill out appropriate waivers and provide vehicle and driver information. The foundation staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 995-7880. Please give them 24 hours of notice.
After completing the process to access the preserve, I chose the shorter of the two main trails for my first adventure at the preserve. I started my 2-kilometer ski on the Low Pass Trail from the trailhead located in the back right corner of the parking lot of the Outdoor Education Center.
The trail immediately crosses a thin log bridge over East Hammond Creek and then climbs a short steep hill. Once on top of the hill, I began the gradual, rolling downhill ski along a steep ravine to a creek bed. From the top of a small plateau, I took in the view of the impressive Fan Mountain. From there, I continued past a small building and picnic area. This campsite provides a beautiful vista and is a great spot for a picnic lunch or to rest before your return trip back. The ski back is a continuous and gradual climb for 2 kilometers that ends back at the Outdoor Education Center.
I was impressed by the scenery and stillness of the area throughout the entire ski and I felt like my dogs and I were the only ones for miles and miles—save for the wildlife we shared the preserve with. Dogs are welcome, but must be on voice control. Please bring your own bags to pick up after them.
The trail is groomed weekly and well-packed, so skiers have a clear trail to follow. Backcountry or classic skis are recommended due to the varying conditions of the trail. Snowshoes are also welcome. Trail maps can be found at the trailhead or jackcreekpreserve.org. If you’re not comfortable attempting this adventure on your own, the foundation also provides free guided tours upon request.
To arrange a guided tour, call the foundation or contact email@example.com. Trail grooming is made possible thanks to donations to the foundation and a sponsorship from the NorthWestern Energy Community Works program. The preserve is a beautiful piece of property that is a must-see experience. I encourage you to plan your ski now. Plan ample time to enjoy the beautiful scenic drive to the preserve from Big Sky and back. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended on Jack Creek Road during winter.
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.
Distance: 4K round trip
Elevation Gain: 119 ft
Surface: Packed/groomed trail
Uses: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog friendly
Directions: Head west on Highway 64 toward Big Sky Resort and continue until you reach the Moonlight Basin entry. At at the roundabout, turn right onto Jack Creek Road. Turn right at the Upper Jack Creek Gate across from Cedar Mountain Corals. Enter the gate code obtained with prior permission from Jack Creek Preserve Foundation staff and continue following Jack Creek Road approximately 8 ¾ miles. Turn left at the sign to the Outdoor Education Center. The trailhead can be found in the back right corner of the parking lot. Approximately 40 minutes from Big Sky.