Oh Montana!

I returned to Big Sky, Montana after an 11 year hiatus. Lone Peak was there to greet me, as stoic and stunning as ever.

My first time there was during a family ski trip. It was mid March, and I’d never seen so much snow—or so few lift lines—in my life. A week of unmatched powder skiing followed. My 12-year-old daughter took her first ski lessons and had a blast.

Unsurprisingly, the past decade has brought growth to this spectacular mountain aerie. No fabulous ski destination ever stays “small” in the way one secretly hopes. Yet Big Sky seems to have a handle—at least for now—on not becoming an unsightly cluster of condos on top of chalets on top of midrise hotels.

The resort’s four main hotels, located at Mountain Village, are busy undergoing renovations in time for the 2021/2022 winter season. Just down the mountain at Big Sky Town Center is The Wilson, a mountain chic Marriott Residence Inn built in 2019. It offers 129 rooms along with a bar/restaurant, heated pool, fire pit and 6 electric vehicle chargers. The Wilson is walking distance to the town’s main cluster of shops, bars and restaurants.

Roxy’s Market at Town Center is the go to for groceries, while The Cave offers an impressive array of liquors, wines and cute mountain gifts. Each Wednesday during summer season, the Big Sky Farmers Market boasts more than 80 vendors. Music in the Mountains, the free summer concert series, entertains visitors and locals through September.

Big Sky’s world renowned fly fishing was the main reason for my trip. Happily, I got my perfect moment, hooking a fat rainbow trout after a few casting tips from my guide. Unfortunately, it slipped off my line right before the net arrived.

Truth be told, catching the fish wasn’t really the point. Just standing in the cool rushing water was enough of a treat for this Florida girl, eager to escape humidity and hurricane season. Thanks to Gallatin River Guides, I experienced A River Runs Through It with a patient instructor who didn’t mind untangling all my caught lines or waiting for me to catch my breath when we scrambled over boulders to the next fishing spot.

There were other perfect moments to be had at Big Sky. While driving to the fishing outfitter, I had to stop on the highway while a herd of bighorn sheep casually crossed to the other side. Seeing their big brown eyes and gnarly horns just inches from my windshield was a Nat Geo moment I won’t soon forget.

Nightly Perseid meteor showers, which peak in mid August, were another fun sideshow during my trip. After midnight, I watched multiple stars streak rapidly through the heavens from my condo balcony. It was an unexpected delight for a city girl who rarely gets to see the Milky Way.

Like many places, the downside of Montana’s mountain splendor is the very serious lack of affordable housing in Bozeman and Big Sky. Resort employees simply can’t afford to live close to their jobs. The problem is bad and getting worse.

In addition to hearing about the affordable housing shortage, I was also mindful of the negative effects of tourism in such a critically important wildlife area. Fly fishing guides in the Big Sky/West Yellowstone area practice catch and release, but rivers still get overfished during the peak summer season.

I look forward to a return trip to Big Sky—summer or winter—while hoping that too much of a good thing won’t destroy the amazing natural assets that lure people here from around the world. Like every other spectacular nature destination, it’s a wait and see, along with a silent prayer that humans keep themselves in check.

A few more tips and highlights from my recent visit to Big Sky:

Ousel Falls Hike: this short hike (1.6 miles) is perfect even on a hot day. The elevation and dense forest keep things cool while you wander over wooden bridges to see the falls. Stunning pines, gurgling streams, and little places to rest and take in the scenery.

Museum of the Rockies: located in Bozeman and worth a visit for Native American artifacts, dinosaurs, the planetarium and the authentic turn-of-the-century pioneer house located behind the museum.

Mountain Mama’s: this tiny breakfast cafe in West Yellowstone serves up gourmet coffee, killer burritos and huckleberry turnovers. Worth the 40-minute drive from Big Sky.

Yellowstone, the TV Show: You can’t help getting reeled in by this sizzling Western soap opera starring Kevin Costner as a Montana ranch king grappling with greedy developers and Native American casino interests.