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EBS Guide: How to spend a day in Big Sky

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Big Sky in the summer is the ultimate playground. Whether you’ve just arrived for your first visit or you’ve lived here for decades, it can be a challenge to choose your daily adventure with so many routes to take. 

When not in our newsroom, members of the EBS team have learned a thing or two about how to enjoy the many offerings that Big Sky serves up. From music to mountain biking and Yellowstone to camping, here are our favorite ways to spend a day in Big Sky. 

Julia Barton’s Gallatin Canyon Day

Happy enjoys some rest at the top of Cinnamon Mountain on a sunny summer afternoon. PHOTO BY JULIA BARTON

My perfect Big Sky day is on the weekend, when I’m able to wake up to sunshine filling my room. I’ll make a breakfast that takes just a bit too long for a weekday, a cup of mint tea and enjoy them both while sitting outside. There’s just something about looking at mountains freshly draped in morning sun that soothes my soul.

Once breakfast is cleaned up, it’s time to pack for a day spent largely in the Gallatin Canyon south of Big Sky. First, I’ll be heading to Cinnamon Mountain with my dog, Happy, for an 8-mile hike to an old fire tower. 

The trail winds through lush meadows of colorful wildflowers, dense forest and up a few steep switchbacks. On a clear day you can spot ​​Lone Mountain, Sphinx Mountain, the Taylor Hilgard range and others from the summit. 

It’s the perfect spot to take off my pack and enjoy some lunch. 

After more than 2,500 feet in elevation gain, I’m hungry. My go-to lunch is a sandwich with turkey, hummus, swiss and some greens, paired with an apple and a granola bar. Happy’s favorite is
baby carrots.

After a hot, sweaty hike I like to cool off with a dip in the Gallatin River. Porcupine Creek is a wide and calm tributary, offering a nice place to relax.

After Happy and I are sufficiently cooled off, it’s time to head to Red Cliff Campground. This little campground is great because it’s close to town but the sounds of the highway are masked by the river. The best sites offer direct access to the Gallatin. 

I’ll set up camp before getting started on my favorite part: cooking a hearty camp stove dinner. I’m not sure why, but everything tastes better when you’re camping. To find out what
I’m cooking, check out p. 36 for a
full recipe. 

Once everything is cleaned up and stored in a bear-safe location, it’s time to enjoy the late-night summer sunset before retiring to my tent. After a long, Big Sky day, I’m sure to fall
right asleep. 

– Julia Barton, Digital Producer

Gabrielle Gasser’s Yellowstone Tour

A young Gabrielle enjoys mint chocolate chip ice cream (her favorite) with her dad at Yellowstone Lake. PHOTO COURTESY OF GABRIELLE GASSER

In the summer, my ideal day is a visit to Big Sky’s famous backyard: Yellowstone National Park.

My parents and I wake up early, pack a picnic lunch and hop in the car to drive about an hour from our house to the park’s West Entrance. I always get an animal spotting guide from the ranger at the entrance so we can check off the wildlife we see along the way.

My preferred route through the park is a day tour around the South Loop. I would suggest taking a right at Madison Junction and heading south.

There are way too many amazing things to see in the park to list them all, so I’ll share a few highlights that my family and I enjoy. 

Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world, is a must see. The parking lot at the basin is always overcrowded with up to an hour wait time just to get a spot. Instead, I would suggest continuing along the road to the Fairy Falls trailhead and doing a short hike up to a breathtaking overlook of this colorful feature.

Next up is Old Faithful Geyser, arguably the most iconic feature in the park. Lovingly nicknamed “Old Spit” by my family, I’ve seen this geyser erupt countless times, often with an ice cream cone in hand. One of our favorite spots to watch from is the deck on the second floor of the Old Faithful Inn, which is shaded with an elevated view of the whole geyser basin.

My favorite walk is the loop at West Thumb Geyser Basin which abuts Yellowstone Lake offering some spectacular views of the Absaroka mountains as well as hypnotizingly deep, blue hot springs.

Then, we head to Lake Village where we eat our picnic lunch and enjoy more views of Yellowstone Lake. This is also a good opportunity for more ice cream; my favorite is mint chip, but huckleberry is pretty good too.

Heading north now, we pass through Hayden Valley, where many of the park’s bison like to hang out, on our way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. One of the prettiest views of the lower falls is from Artist Point on the south rim.

My favorite way to finish a day in Yellowstone is dinner at the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel. The lobby offers seating with beautiful views of the lake and is a great spot to spend happy hour. For dinner, I always enjoy ordering bison tenderloin or elk if it’s on the menu.

– Gabrielle Gasser, Associate Editor

Leonora Willett’s Adventure on Wheels 

The RZR at the top of Buck’s Ridge with Sphinx Mountain in the background. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEONORA WILLETT

On my perfect day in Big Sky, the sun rises a good two hours before I even want to be awake. But, after a cup of coffee and a toasted English muffin with extra peanut butter for energy, I’m ready for my second cup of coffee. I make my way to Caliber Coffee Roasters, where I
get a budget ($2!) iced coffee and blueberry muffin. 

I arrive at Big Sky Resort and head to the Explorer chair lift to load my mountain bike. The views never get old as I ascend the mountain. I must admit, I’m still a beginner downhill mountain biker so I get a bit nervous. The butterflies in my stomach quickly diminish as I fly down the Easy Rider trail and my confidence builds. After multiple laps, I load my mountain bike back on my truck and head to Town Center for a Mediterranean turkey sandwich and salt and vinegar chips from the Hungry Moose Market & Deli.  

I meet my mom at the Bucks Ridge trailhead and we hop into our RZR side-by-side. The trail twists and turns, and I hold on as we cruise over the rocks at 25 mph. We make our way to the ridge and enjoy a view of Lone Mountain as well as Sphinx and Shedhorn mountains. The 360-degree views at the top lend credibility to Big Sky’s name. The grasses and wildflowers with the blue sky and sunshine is the perfect backdrop for a photo with my mom. 

We take our time on the 12-mile track back, and we pass many other people recreating on the popular trail. Everybody has a smile on their faces as their adrenaline is pumping. 

We load the RZR back on the trailer, and decide it is time for an early dinner. We drive down the road to Riverhouse BBQ & Events for the best BBQ in town. Not only are the views stunning with the Gallatin River flowing right by the restaurant, but the bar is also hopping with live music. It’s the perfect place to kick back after a full day of activities. 

My day finishes off with me grabbing some Jeni’s Brambleberry Crisp ice cream at Roxy’s Market on the way home. I curl up on the couch and put on Seinfeld as I fall asleep. 

– Leonora Willett, Editorial Assistant

Bella Butler’s Mountains to Music

Community gathers for Music and the Mountains in Len Hill Park on June 23. PHOTO BY JULIA BARTON

My favorite days in Big Sky are those that honor its full breadth of experience. Big Sky’s culture exists at the intersection of the paths we’ve all taken to get here, bound together by shared purpose. Where we leave from is different, but what we seek is the same: connection to land, to self and to community. Luckily there are so many ways to pack all of these into a single day. 

On one of these days—let’s call this one a Thursday—I make a cup of coffee and take my pup, Maia, out to the rim trail that overlooks the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River. Big Sky is full of big adventure, but I like to be reminded of its quieter treasurers on these walks; these odes to slowness, as described by a favorite author. Tourist season in Big Sky is fast-paced, so I revel in the moments of stillness; watching snowmelt tumble over purple river rocks, absorbing the natural fractals of light filter through aspen leaves, feeling the prickle of elk thistle on my ankles. 

As the heat of the day kicks in, I’ll make my usual town rounds: stopping by The Gourmet Gals kitchen where my mom is likely tossing a summer salad to be delivered to a lucky client, visiting with my grandparents on their porch and watching golfers lose balls on the ninth hole and perhaps making a loop through Town Center to see who I might run into. 

I’ve picked Thursday for a reason: the Arts Council of Big Sky hosts a free, outdoor concert these nights as part of the Music in the Mountains series. I’m a big fan of an entrance, so instead of simply arriving to the 7 p.m. show, I’ll recruit some friends for a group bike ride on the Mountain to Meadow Trail, where we’ll climb a few short miles from Big Sky Resort’s base to the near-top of Andesite Mountain before descending all the way back into town. Donning colorful shirts and glitter on our faces, we’ll hoot and holler the whole way down. The party’s already started. 

We’ll often opt for a quick happy hour before music. Whether grabbing a margarita at Alberto’s or a Green Bridge IPA at Beehive Basin Brewery, the best part isn’t the drink but the company. Our table will expand as folks we know—and some that we don’t—join us to share stories from their own days. 

By the time we make it to Len Hill Park, the lawn is already packed with kids running around blowing bubbles, first-timers gawking at the views and snapping sunset photos and the usual suspects already in front of the stage, dancing up a storm in the pit. 

Here on this grass, under this sky with these people, the alchemy occurs: people and place fuse together, and community ignites. 

– Bella Butler, Managing Editor

Joseph T. O’Connor’s Triple Crown

Joe shows off a big catch. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH T. O’CONNOR

The perfect day for me could take any number of different forms depending on the day of week, for example, or the weather, or if the Red Sox have the day off. Let’s pretend they don’t.

My ideal summer day in Big Sky starts at 6 a.m. with a workout or run. If I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, it ain’t happening. I might lace up my old trail running shoes (they are old) and follow Emily and our dog Covey from our Hidden Village home to Town Center and along the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River to the South Fork Loop and back home.

If I’m still able to walk, then it’s coffee time. I’ll check news sources and read or write, then load a fly rod in my truck or on my motorcycle for a trip up the canyon with, as Norman Maclean wrote, “the hope that a fish will rise.” 

Lunch is a ham and Swiss sandwich by the river or, if I’m getting skunked, likely a burger at BYWOM.

In the afternoon, I’ll head to a pool or back to the river to read and swim then take a motorcycle ride: a short ride is west on Lone Mountain Trail up to Moonlight for views of the Spanish Peaks then to Big Sky Resort for a beer at Scissorbills Saloon. 

By now, it’s 5 p.m. and the Sox are on. I’ll ride back to my condo for the game and grill brats on the deck with Emily. After a well-deserved Sox victory, I’ll check on live music in town, meet up with some friends for a drink, then home. A movie (anything by Coppola, Scorsese or Wes Anderson will do) or a book (Steinbeck, Ken Kesey or Hemingway are good examples) ends the evening. Rinse, repeat.

– Joseph T. O’Connor, Editor-in-Chief

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