by Diana Lambdin Meyer
Located on the north slope of Lone Mountain, an 11,200-foot peak in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, Moonlight Basin is defined as much by its spectacular location as it is by its family-friendly, intimate setting. Moonlight Basin began to welcome guests in 2003, and while its amenities and services have flourished, the cozy neighborhood feel hasn’t changed a bit.
Just a few miles down the mountain (on Highway 64) is Big Sky Resort, a much larger and better-known facility with whom Moonlight Basin shares many trails, lifts and services. However, Moonlight Basin is popular with families who appreciate a smaller and quieter ski resort. On a busy day, Moonlight Basin will see about 2,000 guests on the slopes, and there’s really no such thing as waiting for lifts here. Those who have experienced multiple ski resorts will recognize that Moonlight Basin is a true alpine ski experience. This is also a true ski-in/ski-out resort. Younger skiers (okay, maybe adults, too) have fun with a number of tunnels and bridges that connect various trails and property amenities. The fact that Moonlight Basin and Big Sky have such a good relationship and guests are welcomed to ski trails at both resorts just increases the appeal of these properties.
For accommodations, you and your family have a choice of log cabins in the woods, fully tricked-out condos and a penthouse suite above the main lodge. Hot tubs and fireplaces are abundant and enjoyable no matter what the season.
This part of Montana offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. In addition to all the activities at Moonlight Basin, the region is filled with options for exploring and learning about the wilderness. And of course, you’re just about an hour’s drive from Yellowstone National Park, the crown jewel of any family vacation experience.
Our Editor Loves
- Four-season ski resort
- Plenty of ski-in, ski-out accommodations
- Close proximity to Yellowstone National Park
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Spend your vacation in an authentic log home tucked away in the woods, in a luxury penthouse, or any variety of condominiums and apartments. With more than 200 units with nearly 1,000 bedrooms to choose from, you should have no problem finding something that meets your family's needs.
All units come with a fully equipped kitchen, gas fireplaces and washers and dryers. You have choices of housekeeping, garages and hot tubs, along with other amenities. There are your options:
Saddle Ridge Townhouses
These are closest to the lodge, its restaurants and the spa. These units have a lot of stairs and the master bedroom is two levels above the other bedrooms. These come with a hot tub and balcony.
A fun Swiss chalet-style accommodation, duplexes are among the options for multiple families traveling together. Three- and four- bedroom options, as well as lofts, are also available. But be warned, it's a little bit of a walk to the lodge and its amenities.
Cowboy Heaven and Powder Ridge
These are free-standing log cabins that provide a lot of privacy for families, yet they're within walking distance to the lodge. Unfortunately, they don't have hot tubs.
The closest to the slopes, these units have garages, indoor hot tubs and separate dining rooms. If you're traveling with friends or extended family, you can sleep up to 16 people in some of these condos.
Cedar Creek Condo
Perfect for a family of four with two bedrooms and two baths. It is also the least expensive lodging option, and is located closer to Big Sky than Moonlight Basin. You'll probably want a private vehicle here.
This unit sleeps up to six and is located closer to the slopes of Big Sky than Moonlight Basin. It's an inexpensive option, but you'll want a vehicle to get around.
Go ahead and book a complete house with attached garages and all the amenities you would expect in a luxury mountain home. These are scattered throughout the property; you'll have lots of privacy and will need a car to get places.
Cribs are available for $10 per night or $50 per week. High chairs are also available at no charge. Housekeeping does not have gates to keep toddlers safe on the stairways that many of the units have.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available only in the lodge. A few board games, books and DVD's are available for check out at no charge from the concierge.
Enjoying the outdoors is what it's all about at Moonlight Basin. The winter months, of course, are big for snow sports. The Snow Sports School at the Madison Village Base Camp offers lessons for children as young as 3 years old with a 3:1 ratio of students to instructors. When they are a little older, the ratio increases to 7:1.
The childcare center is also located at the Madison Village Base Camp, so many parents choose a morning of instruction for their children, followed by the indoor activities at the childcare center. Private lessons are also available.
The center accepts children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old. Many of those same caregivers are available for evening babysitting in your condo.
Most of the activities take place in the Madison Village Base Camp, but there are also playgrounds for summer and winter activities at the main lodge.
The only swimming pool is at the main lodge and although it's not huge, the kids will love swimming through the tunnel/doorway from outside to the spa area inside. It's open all year long and heated to 96 degrees, even when it's below zero outside.
In addition to snowboarding and skiing in the winter months, your kids might like to spend an afternoon dogsledding. Moonlight Basin contracts with a local vendor that offers trips around the region, including hot cocoa and picnics out on the snow. If you'd like to try cross-country skiing, head to the nearby Lone Mountain Ranch, one of the nation's premiere Nordic ski facilities.
In warm weather months, another vendor provides horseback riding around the mountainous area. Kids will also love the mountain biking terrain here, while parents get away for a round of golf on the 18-hole Jack Nicholson signature course. The Moonlight concierge can also coordinate fly-fishing and kayaking outings in the region. And with more than 16 miles of hiking trails on the property, there are lots of opportunities to really get into the outdoors.
When you are at Moonlight Basin, you are just about 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park. When you're this close, you can't not go, even if you've been before. Winter at Yellowstone is a remarkable experience. If you don't have your own vehicle or would rather not drive the snow-packed roads, Moonlight Basin offers packages for wildlife viewing and snowmobiling.
Kitchens and kitchenettes are available in all of the lodgings, so you'll want to stop at a grocery store at the beginning of your stay. The biggest selection at the best prices can be found at stores in Bozeman. A smaller store, the Hungry Moose, is located in the Big Sky Village about five miles from Moonlight Basin. The Hungry Moose will also pre-stock your condo kitchen for a fee.
North Slope Deli
Casual with high-top tables, the North Slope Deli is a quick in-and-out breakfast spot for those in a hurry to get outdoors. There are only two types of sandwiches on the breakfast menu, and then a dozen or so options for lunch. You can snack throughout the day on yummy brownies, muffins and lots of juices and soft drinks.
Jack Creek Grille
Located in the main lodge and overlooking the ski lift, the Jack Creek Grille is open for lunch and dinner. Parents will enjoy bison, pasta and steak on the menu. The French onion soup is filling and perfect for a cold day. All children's entrees come with fresh fruit as a side dish. The grilled chicken breast comes with carrots, the quesadillas come with Tillamook cheddar and everything else is just great. A couple of crayons accompany the children's menu, which features animals of the Big Sky region. If your child has particular needs, the wait staff goes above and beyond to make sure your family has a good time.
Located at the Madison Village Base Camp, the Headwaters Grille is a fun, round, tent-like building that was originally intended to be a temporary dining spot. After ten years, the Grille has taken on a sense of permanency with old barn wood on the interior walls and an antique bar from some old western town in Montana. The food is simple, but very good. Some of the restaurant's fare includes soups, sandwiches and other high-energy treats for those burning lots of calories on the slopes. The kids' menu has basic burgers, chicken fingers and the like, but fruit and yogurt are among the side dish selections.
Hang with the locals and perhaps save a little money by packing your own brown bag lunch and snacks and enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the Pavilion at Madison Village Base Camp. It's simple here, but warm on a cold day.
On Tuesday nights in the summer, there are outdoor barbecues and nature hikes.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Many of the employees of the childcare center at the Madison Village Base Camp are available for babysitting after hours in your condo. This is particularly great for kids who have already bonded with a caregiver or ski instructor. The concierge has the list of babysitters throughout the region, so just call the front desk.
The staff at the SnowSports School reports that the biggest mistake parents make is not packing or dressing their children warmly enough. If the temperature drops below zero, most outdoor activities are canceled.
The gym is located on the lower level of the lodge, inside the spa. Equipment is limited to a couple of treadmills, bicycles and elliptical machines, but what the gym lacks in size, it makes up for in the spectacular view of the mountains beyond.
The Moonlight Spa is a treat for everyone in the family, with 30-minute kids' massages and the cutest little bathrobes for sale for kids. Manicure and pedicure services are only offered in the summer months, but the outdoor pool and hot tub are open year-round. The Mother Earth massage is specially designed for expectant mothers. For oils and lotions, try the 12 Moons Label, which is made with local ingredients.
The Art of Smart Timing
Each spring, Moonlight Basin closes for about six weeks from mid-April to June 1, and again in the fall from mid-October to about Thanksgiving.
The peak of summer, usually around July, tends to be the most crowded, and spring break time also draws plenty of visitors. January is a great bargain time for the winter crowd.
The Bozeman Airport (BZN) is about 90 minutes from Moonlight Basin. Much of the drive is on flat, straight U.S. Highway 191, but the last 20 miles or so are on winding mountain roads that, in the winter, become snow-packed. If you're not comfortable with that, take one of two other transportation services: Big Sky Taxi (888-454-5667) or Karst Stage Shuttle (800-845-2778). However, if you want to explore Yellowstone while in the area or explore a bit more around the Big Sky area, you might want your own vehicle.
For Mom and Dad
In the winter months, Moonlight contracts with a local vendor for horse-drawn sleigh rides through the 1900 acres of pristine wilderness. You can certainly do that with the kids and enjoy hot cocoa and S'mores, but consider booking a private ride for Mom and Dad, and maybe adding a dash of adult flavoring to that hot cocoa.