A fresh set of eyes
Big Sky locals start Yellowstone National Park guide service
If you ask Denise Wade what her favorite place in Yellowstone National Park is, she’d be hard pressed to tell you.
“If I told ya I’d have to kill ya,” she jokes, since as many know, favorite spots in the 2.2 million-acre park usually have the least people around.
But Wade will happily discuss some of her fondest memories of the park, the first coming to mind being a cross-country ski trip she was guiding near Old Faithful in a thick stand of pines.
“And out of nowhere came 40 bison, walking one behind the other, right on the trail we were skiing on,” she recalled. The skiers had to jump off the trail into deep snow and hide behind trees, watching as calmly as possible while the whole herd trotted by. “Having those big, brown eyes looking at you, as they walked by, was really something.”
Andrea Saari’s favorite Yellowstone hike is a trail originating near the continental divide. It’s home to the headwaters of the Gallatin River.
“And it’s spectacular back there,” she said. “We’ve found grizzly tracks that are just ginormous, and wolf tracks. It’s such a beautiful part of the river.” It’s also magical cross-country ski terrain.
“There are so many places where you can go and be the only person there,” Wade said of Yellowstone in the winter. “I find that really phenomenal and profound. It could be just me, and whoever I’m with that day, and we’re the only people of 7.5 billion in the world that are out there.”
Both Wade and Saari have been guiding trips in and around Yellowstone for years. They’ve worked together with the Road Scholar organization, in which guides take groups into the wild for week-long experiences.
While leading trips with the Road Scholars, the two found their guiding styles are compatible, and decided to join forces to form Big Sky Adventures & Tours. The new guide service aims to bring Big Sky visitors down to the park for an informative, fun experience in a place that often can be overwhelming to newcomers.
“While guiding here over the years we found there really is a niche of guests coming to Big Sky who are really wanting to learn about the whole Yellowstone-Big Sky ecosystem,” Wade said. “And so we are really trying to put an emphasis on that.”
Big Sky Adventures & Tours will focus on the west side of the park, but will branch out to meet a client’s interests.
“A lot of people who come to Big Sky and want to see Yellowstone want to see and do as much as they can. But they also want to do a lot of things around Big Sky. So we are trying to pack it all in,” Wade said, mentioning the itineraries they create for clients include not-to-be-missed hikes and restaurants around Big Sky.
“We want to allow people to spend time diving deep, rather than sitting in the car getting from point A to point B, and then just being exhausted at the end of it,” Saari said.
Wade and Saari’s clients can even lend a scientific hand while they’re out in the field. Big Sky Adventures & Tours is a NASA and GLOBE Observer partner, allowing guests to become “citizen scientists” and do things like photograph mosquito larvae with a micro lens attached to an iPhone—or log hot spring temperatures with a thermometer. That information is then added to scientific databases.
“It’s really a great hands-on thing because afterwards you can go online and see where the data goes and how it’s applied,” Saari said.
Wade agreed, “It’s a great way to really make connections for people. They can say, ‘Wow, I’m really out there doing more than just pointing at something and saying, ‘OK, that’s what that is, that’s what that is.’ The more someone gets involved, the more connection they have to the landscape, and the longer that stays with them. Hopefully for the rest of their lives.”
They’ve also partnered with Yellowstone’s head wolf biologist, since they’ll be taking a number of hikes through the northwest corner of the park where wolves are often seen, collecting data for the wolf program.
While many clients will be visitors to Big Sky, residents can also benefit from a trip with Big Sky Adventures & Tours. The guides provide a fresh set of eyes in a spectacular place that for some locals can begin to seem commonplace.
“We have a way for you to see Old Faithful where you do not see the crowds, and it feels like you’re the only person seeing it erupt,” Saari said of unique experiences clients can expect. “It’s knowing those little backdoor ways of experiencing the park where you don’t feel like you’re in Disney World.”
They also aim to get clients onto the park’s hiking trails—an activity many guests overlook.
“That’s one thing that’s so special about Yellowstone. It’s largely completely the way it was when Anglo explorers first came upon it,” Wade said. “You just get literally hundreds of feet off of those boardwalks, and you’re in a pristine backcountry experience.”
Wade and Saari, along with their team of guides, have more than 100 years of experience under their belts. For more information on the trips and packages offered by Big Sky Adventures & Tours, visit bigskyadventuretours.com or check out their Facebook page.