Palm Springs-based adventure travel writer Dibs Baer recently traveled to Montana to immerse himself in the cowboy culture and five-star pampering on offer at the Ranch at Rock Creek. Here he shares his experience. Giddy up.
Big Sky Country
Nestled in a pristine, rolling valley between the Pintler, Sapphire, and John Long mountain ranges, the Ranch at Rock Creek, is an authentic 19th-century homestead and the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide five-star guest ranch. The guest list is exclusive, limited to no more than 75 at one time, plus it wouldn’t be out of the question to rub shoulders with celebrity enthusiasts such as Kate Bosworth at the barn dance, or maybe catch regular LeAnn Rimes singing campfire songs around the fire pit.
Luxury Dude Ranch
The ranch, set on 6,600 scenic acres is about an hour and change south of Missoula. Here you will find 29 one-of-a-kind accommodations, including one-bedroom suites in the centrally located Granite Lodge, Canvas Glamping Cabins, and a converted historic barn. There are also nine private, luxury, multi-bedroom log cabins that can house up to twelve guests. Sara Jane and Eagle’s Perch, for example, include bunk rooms, perfect for families, while the secluded Trapper Cabin, ideal for romance, is perched on the namesake Rock Creek, one of the world’s few Blue Ribbon designated fisheries. No matter which accommodation you choose, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Ralph Lauren catalog. Every inch of the ranch is impeccably and thoughtfully designed with comfy, custom, and vintage Western décor, antiques, textiles, and art, and elegant touches that put it over the top, such as leather upholstered furniture, ornate chandeliers, and a two-person slipper tub in the barn’s Loft. You’ll also want to take your bed home with you, it’s like sleeping in churned butter. Each accommodation includes personal mountain bikes for scooting around the ranch to check out the endless amenities.
Immerse yourself in the great outdoors
A stay at the ranch is all-inclusive including accommodations, meals, and drinks (yep even alcohol), and two guided activities per day. The list of outdoor adventures is extensive — fly fishing, horseback riding, team penning, hikes to the scenic “Top of the World,” downhill and cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, sporting clays, riflery, trap and skeet, snowmobiling, mountain biking, sapphire mining, archery, geo-caching, wildlife viewing, float trips, ATV tours, sleigh rides, ice fishing, and more. Just ask — they have 45 different activities throughout the year, but if you don’t see your favorite, the team can make anything happen.
My Cowboy Culture Experience
I learned so many new/old skills on the Ranch. I signed up for fly fishing and though I was no Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It, reeled in two decent-sized whitefish and was hooked, pun intended. I took clay shooting, and, after blowing a lot of targets out of the sky with my Browning 20 gauge, was told by my instructor Harry I was a “natural.” But the highlight of my activities was definitely “Team Penning,” where I learned to move and herd sneaky stubborn cattle from atop my horse Tank. Real cowboys say, “Never corner something meaner than you,” and that’s good advice in and out of the corral.
Cowboy Culinary Immersion
You’ll certainly work up an appetite getting your cowboy adventures on and fortunately, you are fed often and well on the Ranch, where the cuisine favors locally sourced, seasonal, organic ingredients. By 6 a.m., cowboy coffee and homemade pastries and croissants are set out by the roaring fireplace in the Granite Lodge great room. Breakfast and lunch are served in the breathtakingly beautiful Buckle Barn (do not skip the Birdman Bread toast, imported from Missoula baker Le Petit Outre, you will dream about it for years). Dinners are farm-to-ranch multi-course feasts. Executive Chef Drage’s menus change daily and he never fails to serve up a memorable meal. Highlights include the Northwest BBQ Dinner, featuring Montana smoked brisket and pork ribs, the Montana Craft Beer Pairing featuring Montana country-fried bison, and the Overland Route Tasting Menu, featuring Montana beef shanks.
Saddle up to the Saloon
After dinner, sidle on over to the Silver Dollar Saloon to sip local whiskey and strike out on the four-lane bowling alley, organize a game of poker, watch a Western in the movie theater, or two-step your way around the dance floor. It’s hard to stay awake after all the physical exertion and belly-busting feasts, but if you can catch a second wind, it’s definitely worth howling at the moon a little bit before bed. It’s not like anyone can hear you in this beautiful, remote part of the world.
Take a load off
If your body gets a little beat up shootin’ and ridin’ and fishin’, treat yourself to a Saddle Sore Soak or schedule a Rock Creek CBD massage in the Granite Spa or creek-side in an authentic Conestoga Wagon. It doesn’t get more authentic cowboy pampering than that. The ranch also offers morning yoga classes, Forest meditation & Wildcrafting and holistic wellness, and herbal remedies consultation.
Don’t have cowboy gear in your everyday wardrobe? Not a problem, partner. The Ranch Mercantile has all the trappings you need for your dude ranch experience: Authentic cowboy hats and boots from local craftsmen to Western wear. The Rod & Gun Club, the hub of all activities and the place to go if you want to ask expert guides about exploring the property can also outfit you with essential equipment for every excursion, think hiking boots, cross country skis, and the ideal flies for fly fishing.