Having been raised in Southwest Montana, I’ve been exposed to plenty of views. My house is surrounded by mountains in every direction, I can be riverside in a half hour tops, and the best summers in the country are free for the taking. Too many perks and not nearly enough ink. As my Gallatin Valley neighbors well know, what visitors might call a highland utopia, we call our backyard. Having been raised in Southwest Montana, I’ve been exposed to plenty of views. My house is surrounded by mountains in every direction, I can be riverside in a half hour tops, and the best summers in the country are free for the taking. Too many perks and not nearly enough ink. As my Gallatin Valley neighbors well know, what visitors might call a highland utopia, we call our backyard.
When I was invited to take in the view of our region from one of its highest points, I’ll admit my knee-jerk reaction was “meh.” It can’t be anything I haven’t seen hundreds, even thousands of times from the comfort of my residency. What’s left to witness? Skeptical but admittedly curious, I wanted to know if the view was everything I’d heard it was. So with that curiosity and a little peer pressure from a co-worker aware of my tendency to reject invites, we were off to Big Sky to take in the Lone Peak Expedition.
The day started with a drive up Gallatin Canyon, only an hour from our Bozeman offices when traffic cooperates. Pretty much every local can say they’re familiar with the windy, river-adjacent road. The recreational areas along US-191 are always bustling with folks enjoying their Montana summers. And worth noting, the lack of cell service through this wooded stretch
forces allows drivers to take in the prominently coniferous natural beauty and/or visit with their passengers. Plenty of time to catch up and lay down a plan for imminent adventures. The weather was pristine the morning of our trip up the canyon, an excellent precursor to the day’s itinerary.
When first arriving at Big Sky Resort, it was somewhat shocking to see the popular winter retreat devoid of powder. I’d never visited without a down jacket and a pair of skis before. What little snow remained could barely be seen at the tip-top of Lone Peak, i.e. our final destination. The rest had been replaced with green landscapes, wildflowers, and recreationalists of a different variety.
At Basecamp, our group of two adults and four kids checked in for the expedition. There was a big safari-like vehicle parked out front. I was curious how the rig was going to be worked into our ascent. Several other mountainside visitors were checking in too. Some were fellow explorers, while others were readying for a little mountain biking, ziplining, and hiking. Big Sky’s not just for skiers and snowboarders!
We had time for a quick coffee before the trek began, giving the kids an opportunity to goof off on the playground and try out the bungee trampoline. Our guide, a longtime friend of the mountain and avid skier, introduced herself and gave the obligatory rundown. (She would turn out to be quite funny. Her knowledge of the area and clever banter served as an ideal pairing with the scenic views.) And with our guide’s introductions, we eagerly headed for the first leg.
We hopped on a chairlift for part one, also something I’d never done sans ski boots. Cruising right along. My co-worker and I actually felt our nerves kick up a bit. The lack of snow made us feel a lot higher off the ground. The kids weren’t phased in the least. More thrilling than scary, we enjoyed watching the mountain bikers race down the dry slopes beneath us as we maintained a decent grip on our safety bar.
Once we disembarked, we got to take in our first view. Fire season was in full effect, but the smoke had fortunately receded the day of our trip. The view was already endless — and we were only a third into our summiting. We then boarded a replica of the truck I spotted outside Basecamp. The adventure was ON as we rolled up the rocky elevation. Those teensy patches of snow we spotted earlier were getting bigger every minute, and we were keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife. Expedition-goers are often treated to mountain goats doing their thing in the alpine reaches. No such luck for us, but the main attraction was just ahead.
In only about ten minutes, we were at the base of the Lone Peak Tram. The incline to the top of the peak was in full view and a bit daunting. We were so high up already. After the tram returned with another group, ours piled in and departed for the top. The ride, though smooth and safe as can be, tests passengers’ relationship with heights. The people in our group spent most of the several minute climb looking down, surprised to learn our guide was one of the many thrill-seekers to ski the steep face. It was a “no biggie” sort of thing, as she grew up on the mountain and was a member of the ski team. Eek! To each their own.
Pulled to the top of Lone Peak’s towering 11,166 feet, we were a stone’s throw from the panoramic view I had been promised. Atop the mountain I skied so many times as a child, the view was no exaggeration — and Basecamp was a pebble! Walking in a small circle, I looked out onto Montana’s vast landscape. I started with the Spanish Peaks, then panned to Ennis Lake and the Tobacco Roots, all the way out to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, to Yellowstone National Park, and back around to the Gallatin Range and the Absarokas, bringing me full circle. It was truly picturesque. Like nothing I’d experienced before.
My adventure ended with a thought. Not many people can say they live within an hour of something so magnificent. I’m relieved I got past my initial stubbornness and genuinely embraced this local spectacle. Everyone should absorb this killer view at some point in their lives, whether visitors to the area or residents of Southwest Montana.
Lone Peak Expedition closes for the summer season beginning Monday, September 11th. Tour times are 8:45am, 11:25am, and 2:05pm daily. Please call Basecamp at (406) 995-5769 or visit www.bigskyresort.com for availability and reservations. •