Montana Revisited

Our family cabin in southwestern Montana was the chosen venue for the 33rd “summit,” an annual reunion of my five college roommates. A far cry from the urban sanctuaries and beach venues that have hosted prior summits, I had a hunch that the “last great place” would resonate with my friends and that endless vistas and fresh air would do us all a world of good. I pulled my “western gear” out of storage, planned a few menus, sourced a yoga teacher who made house calls, and the next thing I knew, I was driving 100 miles – mind you in my brother’s gigantic white pickup truck – to Bozeman to collect my pals!

One of the highlights that I planned was a visit to The Ranch at Rock Creek, a luxury guest ranch set on 6,600 acres (which is 10 square miles) between Butte and Missoula, near the historic mining town of Phillipsburg. This is one of our favorite recommendations for discerning clients looking for a “true western experience” without sacrificing “true comforts.”

It had been four years since my last visit to RRC, and I knew that they’d made a lot of enhancements, plus I hoped it might plant seeds in my friends’ minds for a return to the region with their families. So, at the invitation of Josh Erickson, Ranch Reservations Manager, we came for lunch and a great tour of the property, and, as I suspected, it was a huge highlight of the weekend.

Our visit coincided with their annual “Whiskey & Water Weekend,” which spotlights the heady combination of aged spirits and fly fishing: “revel in Relais & Châteaux caliber cuisine, casting and telling fish tales over a fine whiskey or two.” There’s simply nothing not to like! Partnering with Jefferson’s Bourbon, the weekend was full of special events, including fly tying lessons, fly fishing challenges, whiskey tastings, and wagon rides, and a multi-course, farm-to-table dinner (with bourbon pairings, of course) set up on a bridge that spanned Rock Creek!

Lunch was served outside on the patio bathed in beautiful Montana sunshine. It was an elaborate buffet with a myriad of salads and chef stations grilling and frying up fish to order. We opted for rosé instead of bourbon but enjoyed strains of Kentucky bluegrass as we were serenaded by the “Timber Rattlers,” featuring a guitar, fiddle, and banjo.

The Granite Lodge, which is the heart of the ranch, is exactly as I remembered it: a Western-themed stone and timber structure with a cozy, inviting Great Room, reception, and dining room. A third of the ranch’s accommodations are housed here.

The Silver Dollar Saloon is a hive of activity each evening with its 4-lane bowling alley, cinema, karaoke set up and bar stools made out of old saddles. Next door is the five-room, full-service spa with signature treatments and new herbal tea blending concierge. Should you require some retail therapy to complement the spa therapy, the Mercantile has an array of beautiful gifts and attire – exactly what you need to channel your inner cowgirl!

New since my last visit, the Rod & Gun Club was completely re-imagined and greatly expanded. This is the staging area for all of the ranch’s non-equine activities and now includes a casting platform overlooking a small pond – perfect for mentoring neophyte anglers. Attractive and inviting, it also has plenty of room to tuck in and relax, be it around the fireplace or on the deck, with lush hanging baskets of flowers.

Mollie and her college roommates on the new casting platform at the Rod and Gun Club.

In addition to the rooms in the main lodge, there are seven private log homes (ranging from two to five bedrooms) dotted around the property and 10 “Canvas Cabins” located close to the stream. These 790 square feet over-the-top luxury tents have en suite bathrooms, a wood stove, and huge king size beds! Some are furnished as family units with a king plus two twin beds.

Trapper Cabin, which is open all year round is my favorite – as it’s in a secluded private setting, and would be perfect for a honeymoon!

New this year, are a handful of covered Conestoga wagons for the true “Homesteader Experience.” I think this would be fun for kids to camp out for one night and feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie!”

The Ranch at Rock Creek is a big operation with 180 staff looking after a maximum of 125 guests. Add to this their stable of 80 horses for endless trail rides! In addition to these themed-weekends, their normal program includes fun things like Cowboy Breakfast every Friday, Tuesday night rodeo, a hoe-down BBQ/square dance in the barn and a “sip & paint” session. There’s hiking, mountain biking, a ropes course, Sporting Clays, archery, and of course the miles of private access to one of the top trout streams in the state – and it’s all included – so you won’t feel nickeled and dimed at the end of your stay.

Rock Creek is one of five Blue Ribbon Waterways in the U.S., which is awarded to notable high-quality fisheries approved by Congress.

If you wish to explore a bit further afield, Phillipsburg is just 20 minutes away – its charming Main Street is like taking a step back in time with an old fashioned candy store called The Sweet Palace, which makes sinfully delicious caramels in dozens of flavors and believe it or not, jewelry shops selling real sapphires, mined in Montana! Also of note, is the store “Grass Roots” which specializes in Montana handicrafts…I got into a bit of trouble there!

There are lots of other attractions nearby, including ghost towns, rodeos, historic sites, and battlefields. The minimum stay is four-nights in the peak summer season, but I say, go for seven or ten nights – you will be beguiled by the beauty of the place!

We left the RRC with a self-made promise not to wait another four years to return – what a magical day it had been! The weekend flew by, I drove more miles in those four days than in the prior eight months of the year combined; but it’s amazing how much ground you can cover when the speed limit is 80 mph! We hiked and picnicked in Lost Creek State Park, we ate like queens, we savored the most spectacular sunsets imaginable, and we relished the gift of 38 years of friendship in each other’s lives. Thank you, Montana!