My luxury travel rule of thumb is, “If it’s a popular or iconic Resort or locale I’m looking to check off my bucket list, better start booking in February for your summer trip.” – and sometimes even that can prove too late! Especially if you’re hoping to include a resort off the Travel & Leisure “Hotlist”, “World’s Best Awards” or Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, then you may want to start booking in December!
So if this year you’re thinking of staying closer to home and acquainting yourself with the breathtakingly, beautiful locales right here in our United States, let a “glamping”, dude ranch experience in Big Sky Country, Montana be a top contender for your consideration.
I’ll admit, I was swept up in the fascination of dude ranches, as I think many were, after seeing the movie City Slickers a couple decades ago! Maybe it’s that men, women and children alike romanticize the “Old West” and love the notion of Cowboys, and the adventures of rugged outdoorsmen – but Oh, Sistah – have they evolved since then!
The Ranch at Rock Creek is one of a few luxury dude ranch resorts to pop up in Montana in the last decade or so, but The Ranch is the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Ranch, and Relais & Château. They aim to deliver an unmatchable luxury experience to all who pass through their arch.
Owner Jim Manley, hedge fund partner come investment bank owner, searched 20 years for the perfect site and set the bar high. It’s said that he had nine criteria for finding the perfect ranch, including: that it had no grizzlies, no poisonous snakes, a river that ran through it, and a mining town nearby that looked as though it hadn’t changed in 100 years.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to stay at a couple of these amazing luxury “glamping” ranches, but The Ranch specializes in an extra level of personalized, customizable, experiential activities. They have the most “can-do” spirit of any resort I’ve ever been in the world! It’s a western adventure with all inclusive amenities and activities.
The luxury lodging choices offer log homes, lodge rooms, or bespoke, “glamping” tents with ensuite bathrooms set right on the river and look like something out of a Ralph Lauren designer home ad.
Their beacon is an activity list so long, that you’ll be torn over what to squeeze in, because there is something for everyone and so much more!
A Cattle Drive is one of the only things they don’t have listed as an activity on their site, which was a deal breaker for me and my daughter Kaya, and almost kept me from booking. But they assured me that we wouldn’t be disappointed, and the next morning after our arrival and after assessing our riding skills as advanced, they scheduled us for a private 3 hour cattle herding trip. We spent the morning galloping through meadows, up and down hillsides rounding up recalcitrant cows and calves and moving them to lower pastures. It was a blast!!
The best part is that they will customize pretty much anything on their long list activities, like a horseback ride and target shooting with a chef provided picnic, a half day skills challenge, or private ATV rides to the explore the nearby Phillipsburg Ghost Town.
The Ranch will also arrange for off campus activities like a private helicopter-tour of Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, mining for sapphires (which Kaya and I loved!), white water rafting, golf…. honestly, if you can think it up, they’ll try their darnedest to pull it off! They are situated on one of the world’s few Blue Ribbon Trout Rivers, and fishermen come from across the globe to test their skill.
Looking to get in touch with your inner Katniss? The archery course is another standout activity! It is such a unique experience that many squeezed a second outing into their schedule. After our guides tutorial on how to calibrate and use a compound bow on bullseye targets, we were lead to the nearby hillside range, set with life sized foam animal targets in the woods along a short, beautiful hiking trail for an authentic bow hunting experience (without having to harm anything of course!)
There’s seemingly no end to the amenities, a weekly rodeo and barn dance, an antique stagecoach or hay ride to a breakfast cook out by the pond. We had a raucously good time several nights during our stay with new friends At the Ranch’s Silver Dollar Saloon. A combo of luxe lounge and amusement hub.
Billiards, bowling, karaoke and a movie theater keep kids and adults alike entertained. Most common mode of ranch transpo?
Bikes! Everyone is assigned their own, allowing us to easily traverse The Ranch during our stay (but there’s always the option of being shuttled about in one of the Ranch SUV’s).
Exhausted just from reading this blog?? Read and relax at the pool or pond, or enjoy the full service spa while the family stays entertained. Whew! Check and check! They even hunted down my favorite wine in the town nearby (without me asking) and kept it restocked in my tent mini fridge, along with my personal favorite tasty snacks replenished daily in my room.
I love this place!! I know a lot of famous, 5 star luxury hotel/resorts that could get a schooling here. The regionally & locally sourced ingredients in the ranch-to-table cuisine is creative and delicious in idyllic settings around the Ranch.
The pièce de résistance? The story of how the barn was born. Mr. Manley had it built as a wedding gift to house his daughter’s reception. The Ranch lore is that they released 100+ head of horses to gallop thunderously through the open meadow behind the ceremony during the kiss, to breathtaking effect- surrounded by the majesty of the mountains, and the sparkle of the river.
It has since become a Ranch at Rock Creek event specialty. Now that’s service! So give glamping in Montana a try, and create amazing summer memories at this luxury resort.