Enjoying an adventurous day at Big Sky and The Gallatin Canyon

DAY 2 — Ten seconds of sheer terror or the most fun you’ve ever had.

Hannah ziplining at Big Sky (photo courtesy of Crystal Images Professional Photography)

It’s all a matter of perspective.  We’re at Big Sky Mountain Resort in Big Sky Montana at the edge of the first Zip line of the morning. Did I mention I’m supposed to fly across 425 feet—60 feet above the mountain tops at 25 miles per hour?

No sweat says my young cousins nine-year-old Ethan Sitzman and his six-year-old sister Hannah, who are geared up, like I am, with safety harness, helmet and carabineers that will attach us to the cables. I’m told they are so strong they could hold the weight of a small car but I’m still nervous.

I flash back to the disastrous time I had in Costa Rica when I hit a tree zip lining.

No worries, says our guide Bre Houston. We don’t even have to brake.  “We do everything.” Also along to lend moral support are our guides from Austin Lehman Adventures. The Montana company is known for its Greater Yellowstone trips and we’re testing out an itinerary for next year.

I take a deep breath and I’m off flying above the tree tops screaming at the top of my lungs across what locals call Cat Alley.

The kids can’t stop laughing because I’m screaming. Their mom Jayme opts out of this first one because the height is making her legs shake. Nothing wrong with admitting when you are frightened, we tell the kids.

“Make like a star fish if you want to go slower and cannonball if you want to go faster,” another guide Adam Glick tells us, assuring me it gets easier with each try.

He’s right. The second Zip line Coconut Grove—490 feet above the ground and 350 feet long– is more fun. The kids go upside down. Jayme gives it a try and everyone cheers.  The third  and last of the day,  Moose Drop,  still is 350 feet above the ground but I actually enjoy the ride and am greeted by caramel apples by our Austin Lehman guides at the end.

Kids as young as four (as long as they weigh 45 pounds and are tall enough for a harness to fit properly) as well as people in their 80s have zip lined  here after a half-mile hike—well worth the $63 for the entertainment and the feeling of accomplishment.

Ski resorts like Big Sky are doing all they can to attract summer visitors—in this case encouraging those heading to Yellowstone National Park to stop along the way.  in addition to the zip line (which is  also open in the winter)  there’s a bungee trampoline, a high ropes course with eight different elements, paint ball, a rock climbing wall, and mountain bike trails down the mountain, not to mention all of the spectacular hiking all around here less than an hour from Yellowstone National Park .

Our gang gives our morning at Big Sky resounding thumbs up—the kids had so much fun they couldn’t decide which was the “funnest”—zip lining, bungee trampoline or the rock wall.  As for me, I was just glad I confronted my terror and survived.

Since Yellowstone is just 46 miles from here, Big Sky Resort, with affordable condos and plenty to do, can be a good home base, especially if park hotels are sold out.  Sign on for a guided hike or just take the chair lift up and meander down the mountain.

After lunch at the resort (the bison chipotle quesadilla is a big hit here) we head to one of Big Sky’s signature hikes—Ousel Falls—a little less than a mile to a spectacular waterfall. The kids dip their feet in the water and our guides surprise us with nuts and chocolate served on a silver platter. No kidding. We hike to the top of the waterfall and pose for pictures where we don’t have to cajole the kids to smile, though it’s been a long day—we left our hotel at 8 a.m. (our digs were the Gallatin Gateway Inn, a restored railway station that was the famous Montana get-off point for Yellowstone from the mid-1920s until passenger railroads stopped coming in the 1960s).

No one is whining or grumpy not with our stellar guides Matty Kirkland and Katie Gugliotta to keep them entertained with games, stories, songs and piggy back rides, not to mention stopping to explain what we are seeing along the trail (who knew that giant bundle hanging from the tree was natural mistletoe?)

I was impressed this morning when we set out. our guides handed the kids each a bag filled with activity book, crayons, a stuffed moose and more to keep them entertained along the way to Big Sky which incidentally took us though Gallatin Canyon, made famous by the filming of “A River Runs Through It” and known here for its fishing and rafting requiring a lot of technical skill.

We stop for a beer at the iconic Corral, a local burger spot we’d discovered on a winter trip here, with bison head on the walls. The kids are thrilled that they can mosey up to the counter and have ice cream while we have a Lone Peak—a local brew, of course.

Now it’s on to The 320 Ranch for an old-fashioned pig roast and Cowboy entertainment.   This would be an ideal spot, I think, for a family reunion with log cabins some on the riverfront of the Gallatin River and mountains all around us, and plenty to do from horseback riding , fishing and tonight’s old-fashioned Pig Roast. (The ranch is also open in winter with snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dog sledding and more.)

While we chow down on pulled pork sandwiches and home-made potato salad, the kids are busy hunting for frogs. A perfect end to that rare perfect family vacation day.

Thanks Matty and Katie.

Next:  On to Yellowstone

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