There’s something primal about Montana. You feel it in your gut like an ancient memory even before you arrive. Much as you imagine it, the state unfurls en masse like a superlative Arcadia, the verdant, wild sort that hasn’t changed much since Lewis and Clark slogged through, mapping their discoveries along the way. Beneath its proverbial big sky (and, yes, the sky seems low and slung long, the clouds provocatively inviting you to reach up and touch them), an expanse spiked with pine trees, mottled by mountains, and streaked with rushing rivers that brim with trembling fish, beckons. Few cities pock the terrain. Their paucity warns that if you don’t fill up with gas when you see a station you might make the mistake I’ve made and find yourself relying on the kindness of a stranger with a gas can on the side of a far-flung road with only meadows and forests in sight. 

A bucolic place to reconnect with yourself, try your hand at playing rancher, horse whisperer, or fly fisher, Montana gives travelers the gift of its vast wilderness, a slow travel antidote to the pace we keep in these frenzied modern times. Montana invites soulfulness, self-reflection, transformation, and/or simply offers nostalgic, summer camp-style repose. The Big Sky State knows that some of us don’t really want to pitch our own tent or hide out in a rough-hewn ranch cabin equipped with cots and a hot plate. Thankfully, Montana provides a panoply of luxury, ranch-style stays, outposts helmed by cowboy butlers and gentleman wranglers, canteens filled with the world’s best wines, glamping tents with heated floors, Frette linens, and deep-soaking tubs. These luxury camps will metaphorically serve you s’mores on a silver platter. 

Resort at Paws Up and The Green O,  Greenough, Montana

bathtub inside luxury glamping room at paws up in montana
Photo by Stuart Thurlkill, Courtesy of Paws Up

First, there was Paws Up, a mind-bogglingly huge place hidden in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley on oodles and oodles of unspoiled nature — 37,000 acres to be exact. Composed of a series of luxury camps, including glamping tent enclaves set beside rivers and opulent cabin communities nestled amid woodland, the pioneer “glamping” ranch resort coined the descriptor, bringing a new word to the vernacular and proving that immersing in nature doesn’t have to be free of creature comforts. It can, in fact, be glamorous. To wit, The Resort at Paws Up serves up gastronomic meals (no charred scout camp hot dogs here) and peerless libations. Its vast menu of activities includes everything from horseback riding to fly fishing to river rafting to hot air ballooning. There’s even a tent city Spa Town.

green o cabin at paws up resort in montana
Photo by Stuart Thurlkill, Courtesy of Paws Up

Adjacent, its sister hideaway, uber eco-conscious, adults-only the green o delivers a more Ralph Waldo Emerson approach to enjoying nature with 12 secluded Haus accommodations, units peppered amid the trees. A Social Haus underscores the intimate stay with on-site dining and a gathering place. Whether the Tree Haus, the glass-walled Light Haus, profuse with leafy views, or the Green Haus, complete with a living roof, each haus brings a distinctive experience. At Paws Up, various activities await including forest bathing, hiking, or painting courses.  

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Montana

exterior of snow-covered cabin at ranch at rock creek
Courtesy of Ranch at Rock Creek

Set among 6,600 acres of timelessly undeveloped wilderness, this divine ranch, positioned conveniently equidistant between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, has a knack for embracing guests like family. With a high percentage of returning guests each year, as comfortable and entertaining for solo travelers as honeymooners or families, The Ranch at Rock Creek presents all the Old West’s infinitesimal stereotypes as authentic glimpses into real life then and now. Guests wax poetic about the defining Western vibes from horses galore to campfire cookouts to sporting clay shooting. All-inclusive, a member of Relais & Châteaux, the luxurious hotspot promises animal sightings, sumptuous suites in well-appointed cabins or a restored barn, spa treatments in the 2000-square-foot spa — even seasonal skiing and horse-drawn sleigh rides. 

Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Montana

dinner ranch sleigh ride in snow in montana
Courtesy of Lone Mountain Ranch

An Orvis-endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge, this characteristic ranch in Big Sky might be called a portal to Yellowstone. Offering guests bunks in 27 well-appointed, variously sized cabins, some with as many as six bedrooms and a few that can be adjoined for families or friends traveling together, Lone Mountain Ranch prides itself on well-trained ranch hands who can help with anything from boot sizing to fly tying tips. Farm-to-table meals fuel guests with gourmet victuals at the Horn & Cantle Restaurant, anchored by a roaring fireplace. From Ranch rodeos in summer to skiing and snow play in winter, Lone Mountain Ranch offers some of Yellowstone’s best expert tours.

Alpine Falls Ranch, Superior, Montana

view of barn at alpine falls ranch in montana
Courtesy of Alpine Falls Ranch

The Real Housewives of Orange County can’t be wrong. They took notice of Montana’s bright stars at night, wore cowboy hats, met livestock aplenty, and rode the rapids, always able to safely return to the splendid ranch rustic oasis that constitutes Alpine Falls Ranch. An antiserum to life in buzzy Los Angeles and its environs — or any urbane locale — this bucolic ranch spreads across 850 acres just 45 minutes west of the Missoula Airport. Edging it, the Lolo National Forest wafts piney winds enveloping the retreat and its four residences (ideal for weddings, families, and groups of friends seeking a buckaroo experience like no other). Expect to hike, bike, geocache, ride horses, fly fish, and ride the rapids — among other back-to-nature activities. Oh, and there’s a miniature donkey barn — need we say more?

Be among the first to stay at Black Bear at Alpine Falls Ranch, the ranch’s second location and sister property, launched in December 2023. With tailor-made experiences and ultra-luxe cabins, Black Bear aims to get guests even closer to nature. 

Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana

horseback riding in the snow at triple creek ranch in montana
Courtesy of Triple Creek Ranch

Well known for its artist-in-residence programs, this Relais & Chateaux Triple Creek Ranch draws most visitors for its mindful interpretation of upscale Montana dude ranch elan. Ruggedly opulent, it sports an award-winning wine cellar, inventive cuisine, and an authentic ethos that incorporates everything from plush cabin suites to wrangler-led trail rides. In the unspoiled Bitterroot Valley, Triple Creek offers guests Montana immersion in all seasons, with activities that range from river rafting to panning for sapphire to wine tasting to dog sledding. Try a working cattle drive for a truly hands-on, cow-puncher adventure. 

Featured image courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek