How to get from Bozeman to Big Sky

Big Sky Transportaion Options

Without a doubt, the most commonly received inquiry we get in the winter is “How do I get to Big Sky,” from incoming winter visitors. Those new to Bozeman and Big Sky often assume that transportation from the Bozeman Airport (BZN) to the resort/ mountain is straightforward, easy, and cheap. Sadly, this is not alway the case and those that wait till the last minute are often burdened with taking an expensive private shuttle or being stuck with last minute rental car rates (which can be exorbitant to say the least). There is no regular scheduled bus service from Bozeman Airport to Big Sky and there is not a taxi stand at the airport which will take you to Big Sky- so you MUST plan ahead. Here is a bit of background on the options visitors have to get from BZN to Big Sky:

Best Transportation Option,  BZN to Big Sky: Rent A Car.

Rent a 4-wheel drive/ all wheel drive car. If you plan in advance this will be roughly the same price as a shuttle, and you will have the flexibility of having your own transportation. Big Sky is spread out; not all of the restaurants and bars are in one location so it is very nice to be able to explore the wide variety of options in the area. Rainbow Ranch, Buck’s T4, Cinnamon Lodge, Riverhouse Grill; all great dining options but not accessible without your own wheels. Or, if you want to run down to Roxys Market to pick up some last minute groceries, or The Cave for a bottle of wine- you don’t want to wait for the shuttle. Plus, having your own rental car allows you to day trip to West Yellowstone ($200+ each way via Shuttle Service) or venture out of downtown Big Sky for dog sledding tours, snowmobiling, or dinner sleigh rides- all activities not to be missed.

Do you need 4-wheel drive to get to Big Sky?

Between October 1 and June 1, the answer is YES. All other times of the year, the answer is generally YES. Big Sky Resort is at altitude and subject to a variety of weather conditions- 12 months of the year. The road to Big Sky is mostly a very narrow 2-lanes, winding treacherously through the Gallatin Canyon. On a sunny day and in dry conditions the road makes for a beautiful drive. Add a little snow/ precipitation, a couple of 18-wheelers, and someone who is racing to get to the powder first, and the drive is a harrowing experience. Add some big horn sheep and a couple of moose and things get really exciting. Rumor has it the state stopped putting up white crosses representing fatalities because it was starting to scare tourists. Spend the extra money and get a 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive rental, it is not worth risking your personal safety.

AWD Subaru Outback rentals and 4WD Chevrolet Suburban rentals are available through the off-airport rental car company Explore Rentals, which is about a mile from the Bozeman Airport. Local Toyota dealer, Ressler, also offers the current line of Toyota cars and a couple of Suburbans for rent with available airport service. Journey Rent-A-Car is another off-airport car rental agency located approximately 12-miles from the Bozeman Airport that offers economy 2wd rental cars, rental vans (2wd), and rental SUVs. On Airport rental car companies such as Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, Alamo, Budget, and Enterprise offer a variety of rental options, but do not guarantee what the rental car make and model will be or if it is 4wd. A listing of the direct dial phone numbers to the on airport rental car agency desks can be found at the Bozeman Airport website, it is worth trying to call and speak to a human versus booking online through Expedia, Hotwire, or Orbitz to try to verify the actual car you will be getting. We have heard of many last minute substitutions such as a 2wd minivan instead of an SUV or a 2wd Ford Escape when renter’s thought they were getting a 4wd SUV.

It is worth looking at available reviews on Bozeman car rental agencies. Yelp! is a good source for that.

Bozeman Rental Car Pricing:

Off-airport is generally cheaper than on-airport, and oddly, more convenient as there is no waiting in line or walking a long way to rental car parking lot. All of the above mentioned off-airport car agencies have been in business for multiple years and have solid reputations. On-airport rental agencies are the standard ones and offer standard rental car experiences ranging from perfectly OK to horrible. At peak times rental car rates in Bozeman can be exorbitant so it is worth making some phone calls and doing your research.

Including taxes and fees, 4wd  or AWD rental cars seating up to 4 adults plus luggage (Subaru Outback, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Tahoe, etc.) range from $60/ day from off-airport rental car agencies to $80/ day on-airport if you plan ahead. Within 4-weeks of travel dates, expect rate increases to $70 – $100/ day respectively. Holiday and Peak Winter Season: Off-airport $80/ day, on airport $150+.

For bigger rental cars, like Chevrolet Suburbans, seating 5+ luggage. Off-airport will be $80 – $200/ day, on-airport $100 – $575/ day (yes, $575/ day is what the franchises charge last minute in peak season!).

TOP TIP: If you are arriving on late flight (9:00pm +) it is typically less stressful and easier to stay at a hotel in Bozeman or Belgrade and leave in the morning, as mentioned, the drive to Big Sky can be intense. Many of the off-airport car rental agencies offer pick-up service at local hotels, which not only saves you 1-day or car rental fees but also 10% airport concession, saving the renter quite a bit of money.

Second Best Option, Bozeman Airport to Big Sky: Hire a Shuttle

VexiRide.com is the newest transportation business in Gallatin County. They have a small fleet of well kept white minivans. We are big fans of this company, as they are professional, courteous, and they show up on time! They are able to transport passengers anywhere and have the best rates around.

Uber and Lyft: The ride hailing platforms do exist in Montana, however, be warned we do not have a high population density, so having a driver where and when you want one isn’t always possible.

Big Sky Shuttle: BSS is the new kid on the block for private shuttle service, but has been in the transportation game for a long time running interstate commercial bus services. In July of 2015 Montana de-regulated the strict public service commission licensing rules, (finally) allowing for some competition in the transportation market. Big Sky Shuttle boasts a fleet of GMC Yukon XLs (aka Suburbans) and Nissan Envy 4×4 12-passenger vans.

Classic Limo: Don’t let the website fool you, they are much more than prom parties in stretch limos. Classic Limo offers Bozeman Airport to Big Sky taxi service in AWD Lincoln Towncars, Suburbans, or 4WD Vans- and they even have a Tesla. Their cars are clean and drivers professional. One way rates are roughly $215 per vehicle.

Karst Stage: Offers private Big Sky service from $275 for a 4-passenger SUV and up from there. They are reliable and professional.

Shuttle to Big Sky and Taxi:  also offers Bozeman Airport to Big Sky Service. This company is run by Alpine Property Management, so if you have a rental house through them they will likely offer this service. Service is also available to those that are not using Alpine Property Management. Big Sky Shuttle and Taxi has some Suburbans and 4WD vans. Rates are roughly $199 each way in a van, $225 in a Suburban. Their Suburbans are also labeled “Yellowstone Car Rentals,” with a fleet number and presumably available as car rentals to those renting a home through APM or Big Sky Luxury Rentals. It has been brought to our attention that Livery (taxi/ shuttle/ limo) Commercial insurance and Rental Car Commercial Insurance are two succinctly different policies, and having multiple commercial insurance policies on a single vehicle is illegal. In the case of an accident, the insurance carriers would likely deny any coverage either as a shuttle or as a rental car because of this. You have been warned.

Regular Taxi service, such as Greater Valley Taxi, is generally pretty bad. Historically they have not offered service to Big Sky, but perhaps with the PSC license changes this is possible.

TOP TIP: Most of the listed services are willing to make a quick stop on the way to Big Sky. Albertsons and Town and Country Grocery stores are right on the way. Town and Country is locally owned and has super-nice people. Albertson’s is generally an awful experience.

Conclusions:

  1. Getting from the Bozeman Airport to Big Sky requires advance planning.
  2. An AWD or 4WD is necessary.
  3. Renting a car is comparable in price to a private shuttle but offers MUCH more convenience.

What ever you choose, please lock down your reservation with as much advance notice as possible to prevent possible (and almost inevitable!) last minute price gouging!

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