Happy Wanderer: Montana dude ranches, dudes definitely dreamy

MERCURY NEWS.COM: May 16, 2014

I had to pinch myself. Twice. This chiseled cowboy was singing a love song just for my girlfriends and me. And when he finished, he ambled over to the saddle-shaped bar stool and poured us all drinks.

Our own private bartender and karaoke crooner looked like he’d stepped out of GQ for Cowboys, and he wasn’t the only one. Every wrangler was dreamy at The Ranch at Rock Creek outside Philipsburg, Montana. Like giggling schoolgirls, we secretly called it The Ranch at “Hottie” Creek.

No doubt, Montana is easy on the eyes. Its mare-tailed sky stretches across the horizon like a Charles Russell painting, and the cowboys wear flannel like a second skin. It’s not surprising that Montana lays claim to some of the top luxury dude ranches in the world.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is 6,000-plus acres of rambling foothills and wildflower meadows fed by a blue-ribbon trout stream, Rock Creek. The owner, Jim Manley, grew up watching Westerns, and this spread has the feel of the Ponderosa, the famed Cartwright ranch on the 1960s TV show “Bonanza.”

Almost everything is inclusive at The Ranch at Rock Creek, with the exception of the luxury spa treatments. This means horseback riding and trout fishing — even bowling in the lodge’s private four-lane alley. For all these reasons, it’s an ideal family destination, but if you just go with girlfriends, you’ll appreciate this: the nearby mining town of Philipsburg (population 1,000) is known for its high ratio of men to women, with guys drawn to the area for its fly-fishing and skiing.

Just two hours from Glacier National Park is a second acclaimed property called The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough. It’s here, on this 37,000-acre working cattle ranch, that they’ve perfected the art of “glamping,” or glamorous camping.

Talk about bringing the outdoors in — these 24 canvas tent cabins are spacious like suites, “pitched” in soaring pines near the river’s edge. Each camp comes with its own round-the-clock butlers, who’ll bring you snacks, bait your hook, even fetch beer in the middle of the night from Missoula (a college town known for its record consumption of Pabst Blue Ribbon). It’s camping at its finest, but there are other options at Paws Up.

Handsome ranch houses line the grassy meadows with spacious decks overlooking the mountains. Multigenerational families find these homes a good fit with amenities like wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs and outdoor hot tubs. From here, you can launch out to explore the ranch and take day trips to “country chic” towns like Whitefish and Kalispell.

I’ll be honest with you here: I haven’t yet been to the third dude ranch on the list — Triple Creek. It’s an adults-only resort in Darby, where the emphasis is on romance, whether it’s the romance of the Old West found in cattle drives, or the pale blue lights that bring couples to the resort in winter.

A girl can always dream, and I’m holding out hope that my husband will surprise me with a stay at Triple Creek Ranch for an upcoming anniversary. In the meantime, I’m content to share lodging with girlfriends who appreciate cowboys and karaoke as much as I do.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I’ll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at www.ginnyprior.com.


The Ranch at Rock Creek, www.theranchatrockcreek.com
The Resort at Paws Up, www.pawsup.com
Triple Creek Ranch, www.triplecreekranch.com


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