Just around the corner from right out the 320 Ranch’s backdoor is the stuff of every leaf peeper’s dreams…aspens transitioning to fall hues. Here in southwest Montana, we get a short window between hot summer days and cold winter nights. However, the beauty of our fall window is nonetheless one to rival the season’s burning hues typically found in East Coast towns. And to enjoy it before our beautiful Big Sky country hides away under a blanket of snow, we have a scenic drive we’d like to encourage you and yours to get out and enjoy during this short yet picturesque time of year.
Begin at 320 Guest Ranch to commence what’s been titled The Lone Mountain Loop drive, a name born out of Big Sky’s infamous mountain centerpiece, Lone Peak, which, come ski season, the local ski resort will expectedly boast as “The Biggest Skiing in America”. From the Ranch, your drive will carry on southbound toward the small town of West Yellowstone where you can make a pit stop for lunch or continue on the loop by venturing eastbound off US Highway 191 onto US 287. The entire distance traveled thus far will have already brought you views of some of the best fall foliage in the lower 48; however, even better is yet to come. Along 287, you will encounter several lakes – Hebgen Lake which is one of the best fishing lakes within an hour’s drive time from the 320 Ranch; Quake Lake where you can learn about the frightening earthquake that formed this lake in the 1950s; and, lastly, two hidden lakes, Cliff and Wade Lakes, where the clarity of the glacial water and surrounding fall colors will astound and unnerve you.
After enjoying the beauty that region of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has to offer, you can head back for some warm-you-up comfort food back home at 320’s McGill’s Restaurant & Saloon, or you can head further down the road on over to Norris where the Norris Hot Springs are located. We recommend you treat yourself to a dunk in these waters, which the Hot Spring’s website dubs “the Water of the Gods”. From the Hot Springs, Lone Mountain Loop leads back to Bozeman, a mere 45 miles north of the 320 Guest Ranch. In town (which is what Big Sky locals refer to Bozeman as), hop onboard a hot air balloon ride with our friends at Endeavor Ballooning. Since you will be in a rather autumn-y mood, especially after adventuring through the ins and outs of Montana’s fall landscapes, you will no doubt love Endeavor’s fall-themed hot air balloon which just happens to be a giant jack o’ lantern they’ve christened “Ms. Autumn”. Soaring around seated comfortably inside Ms. Autumn’s basket will give you one of the greatest views yet of just how endlessly expansive are the waves of golden aspens across countryside below.
213 miles and four hours all told, this loop is worth every mile and minute it’s made of. With the 320 Guest Ranch as your start off point, and as the perfect place to come home to when the Indian summer days of fall give way to chilly evenings, we imagine an autumn day spent any other way in any other place couldn’t possibly beat the one we’ve just described. And, trust us, we’re not trying to toot our own horn by saying so. The thing is, in Big Sky country, there is a curious kind of magic that settles in the crisp autumn air. Perhaps it’s that this place – the natural world that exists here – contains a purity which is hard to find anywhere else. It is a purity that extends even into the shades of that natural world which means, here at the 320 Guest Ranch, we see only the truest of fall colors shine through.
Written by Lauren Peyton