by Lissa Poirot
Since 1929, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch has been offering families a mountain retreat in the heart of Big Sky, Montana. Just down the road from Yellowstone National Park, Mountain Sky is an all-inclusive dude ranch, providing families with horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking and many more outdoor experiences. The largest ranch of its kind in Montana, Mountain Sky rightfully earns its name with its location 5,000 feet into the mountains, surrounded by towering pines and birch trees, with a spring water creek running through the property.
Accommodations on the ranch are log cabins nestled into a hill. You won’t find televisions in your cabins, and forget using a cell phone or Internet. The only Wi-Fi is available in the main lodge, and cell service is non-existent. (The hotel does offer house phones in the lodge to make important calls.) Instead, the ranch encourages family time and enjoying the great outdoors. Even teens — who may complain at first about the loss in service and cable — will forget about social media and video gaming when they spend time enjoying the activities offered by the ranch, uniting families in a memorable vacation together.
Our Editor Loves
- All-inclusive dude ranch
- Accommodations for large families
- Kids' programs
- All Inclusive Rates
- Horse Back Riding
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
There are 33 cabins available for just over 100 guests on the ranch, ranging in sizes from studio suites to multiple-bedroom configurations with shared living areas, depending on your family's size and needs. Cabins feature sitting areas, dressers, and beds ranging from twin to king. Bathrooms provide bathtubs and separate sinks outside of the shower/tubs. Some cabins are larger houses with common areas, shared bathrooms and multiple bedrooms, while others are more private configurations with connecting doors to expand the cabin sizes.
Cabins are sparse and do not provide TVs, radios, phones or any modern technology. They do offer coffeemakers and small refrigerators. Guests can request fruit baskets in the room to have snacks available without having to visit the lodge.
From the time they picked us up at the airport in Bozeman until the day they dropped us off it was a magical trip. We, five Crossfit women from California, with varying levels of horsemanship skills spent five days riding, laughing, marveling at the weather and eating some really good food. The staff at Mountain Sky ranch made us feel welcome, safe and catered to all our needs. I can't say enough about the staff. The food was excellent, the wranglers were professional, the front desk staff friendly. We will be returning someday soon.
I was part of a group and didn't know entirely what to expect but was blown away. The people are so genuine and great, that made such a difference. The folks that taught me to shoot skeet, fly fish, and ride horseback all for the first time were just tremendously patient and helpful. The golf course and the manager there were superb. The fire places were always roaring. The spa/pool/and other amenities were not all rustic but were quite chic. Chef Jonathan Romans deserves special mention - the food was five star. Not a single poched egg, steak, or burger was over cooked. Absolutely amazing. Completely delighted with the stay.
As a dude ranch, Mountain Sky's top feature is its daily trail rides. Guests can elect to try walking, trotting or loping rides through various mountain trails. Loaner cowboy boots are available for guests who do not have boots, even in small children's sizes. Rides last from 1.5 to 2.5 hours and are offered from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. Children must be 7 and older to ride. Guests 13 and older can also join the Working Ranch Experience and help the ranch crew in herding cattle. For children who are 6, arena instruction is offered to help them learn and prepare for trail rides. Children 5 and younger can enjoy lead line rides through the kids' program.
For guests who would prefer not to take in the views from horseback, daily guided hikes are also provided between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., lasting from 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Sunrise hikes are offered at 7 a.m. and last an hour.
Learn how to fly fish with guided trips. Recommended for teens and adults, the one-hour program is offered at 4:15 p.m., with fly rods available at the front desk. Guided fly-fishing trips are available for half- or full-day adventures on Big Creek for an additional fee.
The ranch owns its own golf course, designed by pro Johnny Miller. Rising Sun Golf Course is a 9-hole course with a driving range and shuttle service for guests. Electric and pull carts are available, with complimentary soda and water available for all golfers. Guests must be 16 and older to play.
The ranch's pool lodge features an outdoor heated swimming pool, hot tub and sauna. The lodge also features table tennis, pool volleyball, pool basketball and a fitness center.
Guests of the ranch may also enjoy horseshoes, tennis, volleyball, basketball, football, soccer, badminton and billiards, as the ranch offers all equipment needed for guests to start various games.
Morning and afternoon sessions are provided for children 6 and younger so older kids and parents can enjoy the ranch activities. Morning sessions are offered between 8:45 and 11:30 a.m., while afternoon sessions are available from 1:45 to 4:30 p.m. The program includes arts and crafts, swimming, lead-line horseback rides, scavenger hunts and more. During the evening, from 5:45 until dinners end, kids of all ages -- through pre-teens -- can enjoy the evening program, allowing mom and dad to enjoy date nights and evenings with their new friends.
For guests 13 and older, they may choose to enjoy the full experience as adults, or can separate from the parents for teen dinners, challenge courses, offsite adventures to Yellowstone and more.
Yellowstone National Park
Just 30 minutes away from the Montana section of Yellowstone National Park, all-day tours are provided from the ranch on Wednesdays, departing at 8:15 a.m. and including a picnic lunch and returning in time for dinner on the ranch. The tours are available for guests 13 and older.
In conjunction with Wild West Rafting Company, the ranch provides a chance for families to enjoy Class II and III rapids. Children ages 4 and older can join the adventures that leave on Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and return to the ranch in time for dinner. Rafting is available for an additional fee.
In partnership with Buffalo Ranch Sporting Clays, morning and afternoon sessions shooting 12 and 20 gauge shotguns are available at an additional cost for guests ages 13 and up.
The ranch provides breakfast and lunch buffets daily, which include fresh fruit, granola, pancakes and breakfast burritos, as well as pasta salads, homemade soups and regional dishes. Breakfast is offered from 8 to 9 a.m., and lunch is available from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., with guests notified of the start times by the ringing of the meal bell. A continental Breakfast is available for early riders from 6:45 to 8 a.m.
Dinners are not traditional dude ranch-style meals. Instead, these gourmet meals begin with hors d'ouevres in the saloon at 6 p.m., and lead to a three- or five-course plated dinner from 6:30 through 8:30 p.m. Dinner orders are taken at breakfast, and in the summer months, a kids' program dinner takes place on the front lawn from 5:45 to 6:15 p.m.
Horseback riding meals are offered throughout the duration of a stay, including a breakfast ride to the Vink Ranch with scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and potatoes, a lunch ride to the Kotke Cabin with ranch-beef burgers and old-fashioned ice cream, and dinner rides to the Lower Ranch's Dailey Schoolhouse and Stewart House for an evening BBQ with live music, games and hayrides.
The ranch's saloon opened in the evenings and after dinner for drinks by its indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Guests can even bring their own wine and store it in the saloon for their time on the ranch. (A corkage fee applies.) Alcoholic beverages are not included in the rates and are additional.
During the day, the pool bar is open to provide complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and milkshakes, as well as alcoholic beverages (at an additional fee).
Planning & Tips
Babysitting can be arranged if childcare is needed outside of kids' programming hours. Babysitting is $25 per hour.
Laundry service is available at the Pool Lodge, with free washer, dryer and detergents available for guests.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the main lodge.
The Art of Smart Timing
The ranch is best for families during the summer months, when all kids' programming is available. In the spring and falls months, the ranch caters mostly to corporate travelers, and closes in the winter months.
The ranch has a 93-percent return rate, and guests who stay often book their next vacation while visiting, making it difficult to squeeze into the ranch schedule. Cancelations do take place with a waiting list often eager to grab a spot or a certain cabin.
The ranch is located an hour from Bozeman, Montana, the nearest airport for guests who are flying in from out of town. The ranch will arrange transportation to and from the airport. Parking is available for guests who drive to the ranch or rent a vehicle.
Once on the ranch, guests will not need a car in order to enjoy the spoils of the ranch and its neighboring areas, as the ranch provides shuttle service to all activities. If your family would like to enjoy activities such as Yellowstone on your own, you will need a car to do so.
For Mom and Dad
Massages are available for an additional fee.