There's a reason tourists arrive in droves come summer: to bug you. Their unscuffed hiking boots mock your hard-won, raggedy Chacos; their souvenir-shop tees proclaim showy affection for the state you love best. Inhaling lungfuls of the West's trademark fresh air, the beaming visitors seem to rub it in that they're having way more fun than you. In your own state!
Get revenge. As a Montanan, you too can soak up the same attractions (adding in a local's diversions) for a fraction of the trucker butt. One day and a quick drive to either Big Sky or West Yellowstone is all it takes to repledge your true, local love for the place where those Yanks just wished they lived.
No doubt you've heard of Big Sky Resort's Zipline. If not, everyone else has, so make a reservation (995-5769) to take a two-hour Indiana Jones–style swing through the forest. Three lines ranging from 350 to 500 feet in length send zippers flying up to 60 feet above ground at speeds approaching 25mph. Check out the new Twin Zip for a chance to race your friends above the base area. Other Big Sky Basecamp (995-5769) activities include bungee trampolines, mountain biking, a climbing wall, disc golf courses, paintball (may the best Rambo win), and a fun yet challenging high-ropes course.
For a calmer taste of heights, ride the resort’s scenic lift to an 18-hole disc golf course with views that would make even a local pause. (For frisbee sans lift, try the Community Park’s Bighorn Course in the in the Meadow Village.) Or, rely on leg power to fuel your mountain adventure: Porcupine Creek (trailhead is off Hwy 191, 2.7 miles south of the Big Sky turnoff) makes for a blissful wildflower-strewn hike or bike.
On hot days, hit the Gallatin. Rafting outfitters can guide you, or for a do-it-yourself adventure, put in at Big Sky for a scenic float to Moose Flat Campground. If you’ve got both boat and bravado, launch at Moose Flat for a rowdier ride—depending on your skills, take out at the Lava Lake trailhead (aka 25-mph Bridge) or bounce all the way past House Rock, through the Mad Mile, and exit left at the Storm Castle Creek (aka Squaw Creek) bridge. Still haven’t had enough mid-air adventure? Swing by Montana Whitewater for a zipline/high ropes course, buzzing through the trees and across the Gallatin (799-4465), staying at least 50 feet in the air for the duration of the trip.
Looking for something with more dopamine than adrenaline? Fly fish Taylor's Fork instead before feasting on onion rings and bison burgers at the Corral. On Thursday nights in July and August, Music in the Mountains brings live music ranging from jazz and classical to bluegrass and rock. With 13 shows slated this summer—and 12 of them free—it’s worth sticking around Big Sky until the sun goes down.
When Independence Day arrives, roll back up to the resort for loads of special activities including a 5k race, barbecue, skate park demo, and disc-golf tournament. The evening culminates with a dramatic fireworks show that’ll make you ooh and ahh like a carload of Californians seeing their first bull elk.
A little farther down 191, West Yellowstone hosts one obvious attraction (two, if you count fly fishing the Madison) as well as a few less globally renowned ones. Smoking Waters Mountain Man Rendezvous offers a free and frank taste of life in the 1800s with tomahawk and knife demonstrations, survival-skill seminars, mountain man storytelling, a Trader’s Row (all vendors are in costume), open-fire cooking, and more. You'll see the encampment on U.S. Hwy. 20, just southwest of town. For more mythical cowpoke stylings, take a trail ride from one of the many outfitters in the area; options range from a private quick gallop to multiday backcountry retreats.
To reconnect with our state’s Western roots, catch the Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo, held Wednesday through Saturday all summer long. Tourists love barrel racing, bareback competitions, bull and bronc riding, roping, and kids’ events, and admit it—your inner cowperson does too.
For a more somber side trip (and good dry-fly fishing), visit Quake Lake. Here, in 1959, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake unleashed the landslide that formed Quake Lake (and buried 28 campers). Today, trees rise from the waters and the old Madison River road drives straight into the lake—an eerie but memorable sight. Shake the spooks afterward back at West Yellowstone with a colorful kite—or just watch the regulars sail trick kites at the old airport on any windy day.
As the dog days of summer take hold, loosen up your legs and lungs at the Pine Needle Stampede, a 5k/10k race through national forest land and along the Rendezvous ski trails held on August 27. A hearty barbecue afterward will replace any calories you sweat (or bleed) out. For wheeled adventures, stop by the Free Heel and Wheel to get the scoop on weekly group rides with local bike divas Kelli and Melissa.
If this is all just too much social interaction, go where those tourons will never find you: from the trailhead near Quake Lake, a long, hard climb up Hilgard Peak. From the highest point in the Madison Range at 11,316 feet, sit for a moment of quiet gratefulness: for your trusty bear spray, a stunning view framed by chewed-up Chacos, and a state that’s charmed so many but saved its best gifts for those with a true Montana spirit. Now that’s a feeling that can never be contained on a t-shirt.
- O/B Store