Getting to Big Sky

by | Nov 2, 2022

So you are planning to fly into Bozeman, Montana to explore Big Sky, Yellowstone National Park, or any of the countless other areas around the region and you realize that getting around via public transportation or ride share simply is not a realistic option. You know that Montana weather in the winter can create treacherous driving conditions. You also know that there is wildlife all over the place. You also know that many of the roads you want to go explore are not paved. So what do you do? Check out our FAQs below to help you navigate this decision. Here at Explore Rentals we have been doing exactly this for over a decade, and we have learned a thing or two. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Getting to Big Sky

Question: How do I get from BZN to Big Sky? 

Answer: There are a couple of options. The most convenient way is to rent a 4WD car, this allows you maximum flexibility, but it comes at a cost because you 100% need 4WD. Next most convenient option would be to hire a private shuttle, expect each way in an SUV to cost around $300. Potentially less expensive would be share a shuttle. Ride Share (Uber/ Lyft) are rumored to do this run, but it is recommended to go through an actual shuttle company as they employ professional drivers in vehicles equipped to handle the potentially precarious roads. There are currently 14-shuttle companies offering this service, haven’t heard anything bad about any yet. There is no bus service from BZN to Big Sky. 

Question: Do I need a rental car in Big Sky?

Answer: Potentially no, but most likely you will get more out of your experience if you do have a rental car. Unless if you are coming in to exclusively hang out at your friends fully-stocked ski-in-ski-out condo, you are going to want to have the flexibility of your own car. Big Sky is spread out; there isn’t just one downtown section with all the good stuff. Meadow Village, where there is the bulk of the of things to do, is 8-miles from the Resort and lifts. There is up and down Canyon, and circular bus service via Skyline Bus, but obviously you will be on their schedule. Not to mention West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park are 50-miles south and there is no public transportation options to get there.

Question: Can I rent a car in Big Sky? 

Answer: No. Currently there are no rental car agencies operating in Big Sky. However, Explore Rentals has the ability to deliver rental cars to Big Sky from their Bozeman headquarters depending on availability and schedule, best to call 406-922-0179. It is not inexpensive. So if getting around Big Sky, skiing Bridger Bowl, exploring Yellowstone National Park, or checking out Bozeman are a priority- you should plan on renting a car upon your arrival to BZN.

Question: Do I need four-wheel-drive (4WD) to get to Big Sky? 

Answer: Yes. The road to Big Sky is 30-miles of windy canyon road with mountain on one side and river on the other, often with construction vehicles driving way too fast. Road crews do a very good job keeping highway 191 plowed, however, sometimes it is simply impossible to keep up with the snow and there isn’t much you can do about the ice (Montana does not salt roads). In the winter pretty much all roads around the resort and village will be covered in snow, and many of the roads into vacation rentals are steep and without regular plowing service. Further, it even snows in July in Big Sky. It is unlikely that the larger franchises at the Bozeman Airport will guarantee a rental car with four wheel drive, but you can certainly try to call and verify. Or, save the hassle and call one of the reputable off-airport Bozeman rental car agencies like Explore Rentals, Journey-Rent-a-Car, or Rocky Mountain Expeditions.

Question: Do I need snow tires to get to Big Sky? 

Answer: Only if keeping your family safe is a priority! Put it this way, they stopped putting up white crosses on the route to Big Sky years ago because it was starting to freak people out. Here is the car-nerd reason: modern SUVs, take for example the ubiquitous Chevrolet Suburban, are equipped from the factory with tires that focus on fuel efficiency as a priority (to reduce the EPA gas mileage number which is a major selling point), rather than winter safety. The tires on a Chevrolet Suburban LT (the standard franchise rental Suburban) are not even all-season highway tires (Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max to be exact). They are terrible in the snow and ice, even with a big 4WD SUV. Real world numbers: winter performance rating on Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max (OEM equipment) 5.1. Winter handling rating on Bridgestone Blizzak DMV-V2 (the standard snow tire on an Explore Rentals rental Suburban), 9.4. We know that some of the Franchise rental cars have snow tires on them, as we see them around. However, it seems like a minority number, perhaps only the Suburbans that are reserved for the Yellowstone Club renters because the vast majority of rental SUVs in Bozeman do not have snow tires. To our knowledge, Explore Rentals is the only rental car agency in Bozeman that has premium snow tires on all of their rental vehicles. 

Question: Is Turo a safe way to get to Big Sky? 

Answer: Perhaps. You may save a little money, but you have much greater risk. In the Bozeman Car Rental Gold Rush of 2021 countless individuals purchased vehicles to rent on the online platform, Turo. Roughly 200 individuals rent cars on Turo in Bozeman, many of them have “fleets” or multiple vehicles. You may save a little money renting through Turo, but you have a much greater risk of something going wrong versus renting through an actual established car rental agency. First, these are individuals renting cars. Not professionals. There are no standards of safety and maintenance. Most of them are recent Bozeman transplants that have no idea about winter safety and the risks involved. Yes, many of them have countless five star reviews on Turo- but it is incredibly important to note that Turo has the ability to edit and delete all reviews (unlike Yelp or Google). At Explore Rentals we have had countless Turo renters come and rent camping gear from us, and we have heard an equally countless number of complaints about cleanliness (note: many Turo renters make you return your rental clean or face penalties) and safety of their Turo rentals. A small example of comments include brakes being completely shot and tires so bald they were were terrified to drive. Yet there are nothing but 5-star reviews on the Turo platform. Seems fishy. Another issue is that if your Turo breaks down, or you get in an accident, an individual is unlikely to have the ability (or experience) to handle the situation like an actual car rental agency. Oh- and finally- there is always that very gray area of Turo and insurance…