By Emily Stifler Wolfe
Walk around the Big Sky Mountain Village in summer, and you’ll see families everywhere you look. Parents pushing strollers, toddlers playing with the Montana Marble Run, and big kids flying through the air on the giant swing, and Lone Peak towers over it all.
Whether you spring for a sitter, bring the grandparents along, or take turns with the kids, there are plenty of options for parents to fill their cups, as well. When my family visited in August, I hit the resort’s full-service spa for a massage, and my husband Pat went for a hike on the mountain. With a number of excellent local restaurants around town, you’d have your pick of Thai, Italian, Mexican or gourmet cowboy fare for a date night.
Walk to Ousel Falls for a Picnic
Whether you drove from Bozeman or flew in from San Francisco, it’s time to stretch your legs. A few miles past the turnoff into Big Sky from Highway 191, take a left on Ousel Falls Road. Grab a picnic lunch at the Hungry Moose Market and Deli, and head to the Ousel Falls trailhead just a few minutes further down the road.
Descend a gentle gravel path into a ravine cut by the South Fork of the Gallatin River, and follow the trail across two bridges. Keep your eye out for the falls’ namesake bird, the Ousel. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one dive to the river bottom and actually walk underwater in search of insects to eat. After just under a mile, you’ll come to Ousel Falls, a stunning 50-foot cascade. Unpack your lunch on one of the picnic tables or benches, and soak in the cool mist drifting from the waterfall.
Check in at the Huntley
Stay slopeside at the Huntley Lodge, which is dog friendly—and just plain old friendly, to boot. From the cowboy hat-clad doormen to the waitstaff at Chet’s Bar & Grill, which offers breakfast and dinner on the Huntley’s first floor, everyone we encountered during our stay was gracious and welcoming. Either way, this is your opportunity for a no-hassle family vacay, with concierge service, restaurants a few floors down, and an outdoor pool overlooking Lone Peak.
Go Big at the Huntley Breakfast Buffet
After 15 years of working and playing in Big Sky, I finally experienced the Huntley’s famous buffet. Eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, ham, French toast with blueberries, three kinds of homemade sweet bread, yogurt, fresh fruit… the spread reminded me of my grandfather, who always told us kids to “hurt ‘em bad” at a buffet. I smiled as I thought of him staying in the Huntley with my grandmother and my parents in 1979. The breakfast is the same as it’s always been, and I know exactly what he did.
Hike Beehive Basin
Hop in the car and head to Beehive Basin, a 10-minute drive from the resort. Get there early, because parking is limited, and it’s a popular weekend spot. With good reason: 10,742-foot Beehive Peak is visible for most of the walk, its sheer southeast wall dropping 700 feet from the summit, and there’s an alpine lake in the cirque below. My family didn’t make the three miles to the lake—too far for our 3-year-old daughter—but the delicious breezes, magnificent wildflowers and blue skies made it well worth the day out. Pro tip: Gummy bunnies are a major motivator for little hikers. Dole them out one at a time.
Alternatively, guided family hikes are available at the resort. With options to ride a chairlift up or down, hikes can be customized for any ability level.
Get Western at Horn and Cantle Restaurant
Established in 1915, Lone Mountain Ranch was one of the original two homesteads in the valley now known as Big Sky. A secluded spot on the North Fork of the Gallatin River, this guest ranch still feels like the real deal.
The ranch’s restaurant, Horn and Cantle, serves up an indulgent twist on classic Western fare with a great kids menu and a comfortable, relaxed feel. The hosts gave us a warm welcome, paying special attention to our daughter, who immediately climbed onto one of the Western saddles at the entrance to the log building. “Daddy, I need to rope something,” she said. After a locally foraged mushroom appetizer, roast chicken with parsnip puree, caramelized pears and demi glace, plus the lamb shank special, we pretty much rolled out the door.
Summit Lone Peak
I’ve been on top of Lone Peak hundreds of times, and I never get sick of it. I have a hunch my daughter may eventually feel the same way: On the Lone Peak Expedition tram ride to the 11,166-foot summit, she was glued to the window, staring several hundred feet straight down at the stripe of summer snow left in the Big Couloir.
We’d met our guide for the trip earlier that morning in the Mountain Village and then rode a Safari truck up to the tram base. The guide told us about the area’s natural history, explaining that the peak was formed 65 million years ago when magma erupted sideways, instead of upward like a volcano. Geologists call it a Christmas tree laccolith, he explained, because a cross-section of these features resembles a tree, as visible in the peak’s arm-like ridges.
Chow Down at Yeti Dogs
It’s a fact. You will be hungry after Lone Peak Expedition. Hop off the chairlift, and head straight for Yeti Dogs for cold beer and gourmet hot dogs with toppings that range from Tex-Mex to Hawaiian.
Get Rowdy at Basecamp in the Mountain Village
Between zipline courses, the giant swing, two bungee trampolines, a climbing structure, a putting green, and the life-sized Montana Marble Run, this is one really big, rowdy playground. Older kids can try out mountain biking (never-evers should check out the Easy Rider and Rabbit Run trails accessed by the Explorer Lift), and littles can rent push bikes and hit the mini ramps in the base area.
Relax at Solace Spa
No kidding, this was the best massage I have ever had. Being only six weeks postpartum, I desperately needed to ease the aches from nursing and constantly bending over to pick up the baby. And my masseuse delivered as she rubbed CBD oil into my deeply tired body for a therapeutic treatment. Also on the menu are Swedish and prenatal massage, specialty body wraps, and manicures, pedicures and facials.
I was so relaxed afterward, I just wanted to chill in the shade on a rope hammock in the Mountain Village. Once I’d recovered, we packed up and loaded up to drive home. With both kids asleep by the time we hit Gallatin Canyon, Pat and I savored a moment of quiet. We were tired but fulfilled from a fun weekend in the mountains.