By SUSAN FAREWELL
As we were rafting through the rapids of the Blackfoot River, periodically getting a good soaking, I couldn’t have felt more invigorated. Being out in the fresh Montana air was just what the doctor ordered for my family. Away from the office. Away from technology. Time alone together in the great outdoors.
There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in the Montana wilderness—in style.
In the western part of the state, there are three outstanding guest ranches that are all less than a few hours driving distance from Missoula. While each one has a distinct personality of its own, at all three, you’ll find plenty of horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking and enough activities and Western adventures to keep you and yours happily busy. At the same time, there are five-star comforts throughout and cuisines to match.
Take a look below and while we’re focusing mostly on the warmer weather months right now, keep in mind that these three are also winter wonderlands with Nordic and downhill skiing, ice fishing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, skijoring…all easily arranged.
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg
Within a couple of hours of arriving at The Ranch at Rock Creek, we found ourselves on the dance floor line-dancing to honky tonk country music and loving it. Surrounded by mountains, this exquisite ranch, which is best explored on horseback, offers guests a taste of the good old cowboy life. Especially fun are the summer rodeos complete with rodeo barbecues of ribs, chicken, beans, cornbread and blueberry cobbler.
With four miles of private access to river frontage, the Ranch at Rock Creek is a haven for fly fishing. But there’s even more with archery, hiking, shooting sports, a ropes course, and off-ranch fishing and river excursions.
Everyone gets a mountain bike at The Ranch at Rock Creek. And you use it to pedal to the stables, to lunch (which might be grilled wild salmon, a bison burger or some other local specialty), and to explore the ranch’s 6,600 acres. Wherever you wander, be sure to take along a camera. The ranch is home to rabbits, prairie dogs, deer, elk, moose, big horn sheep, coyote, beaver, even wolves and the occasional black bear plus bald and golden eagles, osprey, hawks, grouse and waterfowl.
Accommodations—which are great for honeymoon couples as well as families (all ages)–include glamping canvas cabins, lodge rooms and beautiful homes (from one to five bedrooms).
The Resort at Paws Up, Greenough
I could have stayed in our tent at Paws Up forever. That’s how I felt waking up each morning to the sounds of the birds and the creek rushing nearby. But I was pulled out of bed by the promise of some good cowboy coffee (strong) and a made-to-order-by-your-private-chef Western breakfast before spending the day dividing my time with my family between riding horses, mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, floating and getting a massage in a tent overlooking the flower-speckled Montana landscape.
Spread over 37,000 acres, Paws Up has an incredible expansiveness the likes of which those of us from New England can hardly comprehend. But at the same time, in its individual “Camps,” which are made up of half a dozen safari-like tents, you feel a wonderful sense of intimacy. These luxury tents—which are available late May through September—have one and two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, ideal for families (all ages) or couples. Each camp has a pavilion where you meet fellow “campers” around mealtimes, just hanging out or during s’mores.
Not ready for glamping? Choose one of the resort’s homes (between one- and four-bedrooms). Some have small private tents just outside so you can have a bit of both worlds.
We met one mom-daughter duo who were back at Paws Up for the second time—mainly so they could have the cattle drive experience again. Not for the first-time rider, but if you’re comfortable on a horse and know how to turn right and left, stop and go, joining in on a Paws Up Cattle drive might be the most fun you ever have on horseback.
Come to this part of the world and not try fly fishing? Well…you’ll be kicking yourselves for life. But…whittling down the list of things you have to time to do while here can be a challenge. Just to give you an idea: There’s riding (trail rides, lessons and ranching activities), mountain biking, archery, ATV tours, canoeing, rafting and floating, shooting and rappelling.
Triple Creek Ranch, Darby
One thing you will hear over and over again at Triple Creek Ranch is how good the food is. From the freshly-baked cookies upon arrival to the picnic lunches you’re sent off with when you leave, every bite is memorable.
Center stage for it all is the vaulted-ceilinged dining room, where Executive Chef Jacob Leatherman presents one culinary masterpiece after another whether it’s a salmon and asparagus frittata for breakfast or smoked black cod fish followed by pan-seared duck breast at dinner—paired with perfect wines suggested by the sommelier. But it’s not all white tablecloth dining at the ranch. Pictured in the gallery below is a cookout where an array of tasty dishes are served outside in the crisp Montana air.
Whether you choose to stay in a one-bedroom “cabin” or a two- or three-bedroom luxury house, you will find yourselves surrounded by Western comfort and art at Triple Creek.
Pictured here is Ponderosa, with three bedrooms and three baths, vaulted ceilings and a floor-to-ceiling rock fireplace. There’s a full kitchen and dining room, a living room and a huge deck with private hot tub overlooking a private trout pond with mountains in the distance.
Triple Creek Ranch is for ages 16 and up only. It’s perfect for couples, small groups of friends or families with older kids. Summer activities include archery, fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, nature safaris, sapphire panning and lawn games. There are also ranch activities such as cattle drives and team penning and nearby trap shooting, mountain biking and whitewater rafting.
We can help you figure out which ranch is just right for you plus work out the logistics of getting to and from and even pairing it with a visit to nearby Glacier National Park. Contact us at Farewell Travels. Call 203-222-7238 or write here.
Susan Farewell is the owner of Farewell Travels LLC, a Westport-based travel design firm.
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