Although I’ve lived on both coasts as well as in the Midwest and have driven cross-country a few times, somehow I’d never made it to Montana. I jumped at a chance to go on my first ranch trip, which just so happened to be in this beautiful state at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Much more than your average guest ranch, this is an all-inclusive luxury resort that manages to maintain all of the rustic charm you hope for when taking a ranch vacation.
Situated a comfortable distance from the small town of Philipsburg, Mont., The Ranch covers 6,600 wild and beautiful acres at 5,200 feet elevation. Formerly a working cattle ranch, the property was first homesteaded in the late 1800s.
And if you like food—who doesn’t?—The Ranch at Rock Creek has some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. Executive chef Josh Drage uses locally sourced organic ingredients to cook up dozens of imaginative dishes that pay tribute to the region.
In addition to horseback riding, the Ranch offers fly fishing, many types of shooting, archery, a ropes course, mountain biking, hiking, geocaching and wildlife tours. Another perk is that you can pack lightly. Outfitters provide all of the gear needed for any of the activities. The Ranch is open year-round, and winter excursions include snowshoeing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and sleigh rides.
After arriving and touring the grounds, I was excited to see my room. It turned out that I would be “glamping” in one of the permanent canvas tents. Not to worry, they all have fully built-out bathrooms and cozy gas fireplaces for heat. Each tent at the ranch has a private screen porch facing the Rock Creek, where you can relax while reading or listening to the water.
If you’re not the glamping type, you can stay in rooms at the Granite Lodge or Historic Barn, or rent out cabins of various sizes.
Since the tents are a ways from the lodge, each guest is provided with a mountain bike for getting around. (You can always call the front desk if you’d prefer to have someone pick you up in a vehicle.) Dress code is jeans/casual at all times, which makes hopping around between meals and activities a breeze.
The next morning, it was time to head to the stables for my first ride. There are over 70 head of horses on the ranch, many of them safe for beginners to trail ride. Most are Quarter Horses, although there are also drafts and a variety of other types—certainly something for any rider’s ability.
We set off in a small group led by ranch wranglers. Since Rock Creek is down in a grassy valley, there’s nowhere to go but up, up, up! The hills that rise steeply out of the valley give the horses a real workout and quickly ascend to the most beautiful views you can imagine. Even though it was late May, there were snow-capped peaks in the distance. The landscape varies from cattle rangeland to forests, all with plenty of rugged terrain to keep you busy actually riding your horse.
That evening we had dinner and a hoedown at the Buckle Barn. This enormous space is used to hold events like wedding receptions, and it has an indoor grill and exhaust hood the size of a car that was fired up to cook our food. Before dinner, we went outside to play lawn games and practice roping dummy calves.
Dinner was served in a buffet line, and once again all of the food was fresh and fabulous. As the sun set, a line-dancing lesson commenced, with everyone laughing, stomping and clapping as we learned different dances to every song.
On the Ropes
On day two, I couldn’t wait for my morning activity—the ropes course! I’m a teeny bit of an adrenaline junkie, and swinging and dangling 35 feet in the air seemed like a good idea.
After a safety orientation, we scaled our way to the first platform. There are six lower elements and 13 at full height (35 feet), making the courses suitable for kids or thrill-seeking adults.
After almost two hours of crossing logs, swings and wires, it was time to zip-line down to the ground. Unlike other zip lines, this one didn’t have a handlebar. Once the guide clips you onto the pulley, you just jump off the platform 40 feet above the ground as auto-brakes above you slow your descent along a 45-degree wire to the ground.
Our final evening included watching a rodeo held at the ranch. The female wranglers competed in barrel racing, and local rodeo pros showed off their bronc riding and team roping skills. The festivities concluded with a casual barbecue at the Blue Canteen, a tent kitchen near the cabins. The food, as usual, was delicious.
A few of my new friends and I decided to check out the Silver Dollar Saloon after dinner: it has a four-lane bowling alley (complete with shoes to borrow), a movie theater, pool table, darts and karaoke. Drinks at the saloon are served to guests seated on western-saddle stools, a fun and clever touch.
The next morning, a driver whisked me off on the 100-mile drive back to the airport in Missoula. It was sad to bid farewell to Montana, but I have no doubt I’ll be visiting again soon.
Learn more about The Ranch at Rock Creek and book your visit here.
This article about The Ranch at Rock Creek appeared in the 2021 special edition of Western Life. Click here to subscribe!