Looking for a new adventure for your next getaway? Consider a Montana dude ranch vacation. And before you say no, consider this: exquisite scenery, luxe accommodations, gourmet cuisine, spas, outdoor recreation, and concierge services. For those who want to live out their “City Slickers” cattle round-up fantasy, that’s here, too. But there’s more to it than just chaps and spurs. Check out our recommendations for the five best dude ranch vacations in the Big Sky State. Indeed, Montana isn’t just for cowboys anymore.
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, MT
Imagine the soft lope of your palomino as you cross the rich verdant meadow, endless vistas of blue skies above — then, the barn up ahead. You dismount with the support of the expert wrangler, only to be greeted by your Ranch Ambassador who walks you to your signature spa treatment – sagebrush scrub and a restorative massage with essential oils. Heaven. Head to the Great Room in the central Granite Lodge for a cocktail before decamping to the dining room for your four-course dinner and expert wine parings. Montana Beef Tenderloin with Dungeness crab and sauce Béarnaise, anyone?
Welcome to your typical afternoon and evening at the Ranch at Rock Creek, one of the more luxe Montana dude ranch vacations available. Abundant amenities, sumptuously appointed accommodations, and elevated customer service are the hallmarks of Rock Creek. If you’re not the horsey type, don’t fear; there are mountain biking, hiking, ropes course, fly fishing, yoga, shooting sports, photography, and too many other activities to mention. And while you’re enjoying your Aquavit cocktail in front of the fire, the kids are happily ensconced in the care of the friendly staff from the ranch’s Little Grizzlies Kids Club. Need we say more?
Of course, all this happiness costs a pretty penny. The all-inclusive pricing starts at $1,800 a night and climbs to an eye-watering $3,300, depending on season.
Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, MT
If you’d prefer to leave the kids at home, go for the Triple Creek Ranch. This is an adults-only property that caters to luxury-seeking couples who want to get away from it all. Nestled among rolling green hills at the foot of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, the ranch offers a host of activities that make the most of its location – hiking, rafting, mountain biking, snowshoeing, fly fishing, sapphire-panning, or just napping in the hammock among the swaying pines.
If you’re anxious to get in the saddle, there are trail rides across the Bitterroot Valley and an all-day cattle drive (gourmet lunch included) that gets you back in time for a pre-dinner soak in your private hot tub.
Refreshed after your soak, head to the rooftop lounge in the Main Lodge for a tasting from the ranch’s award-winning wine cellar. Visible through the glass wall, the “cellar” boasts endless mahogany racks gently stocking a wide collection of vintages, from single vineyard Chardonnays to mature Bordeaux.
Your luxury cabin at Triple Creek is kitted out with top amenities, including a rustic, wood-themed open floor plan with living area, a wood-burning fireplace, log post king bed, double steam shower, and wrap-around porch with the previously-mentioned private hot tub.
Dining is a main event at Triple Creek and includes menu offerings like Durham Ranch Wagyu Beef with Caramelized Fennel Home Fries, or Roasted Quail with Cilantro Pesto Rice, Crema, and Pineapple Salsa. For an extra $250 per person, you can go for the Chef’s Table Private Dining Experience, a seven-course tasting menu with locally-grown produce, fresh seafood, and exceptional game meats with premium wine pairings.
Rates at Triple Creek start at $1,625 per night for two adults, with Western-themed activities for an extra $150 – 250 per person, per activity.
Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Emigrant, MT
In the heart of Paradise Valley — just down the road from Yellowstone National Park —Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is known for its warm Western hospitality delivered in a majestic Big Sky setting. You won’t find any TVs here and the WiFi and cell service can be spotty, but given the beautiful setting and focus on unplugging, it doesn’t seem to matter. While the ranch offers many and varied activities – hiking, mountain biking, golf, fly fishing, and the rest – the most popular pursuits tend to be on horseback. From atop your steed you can hone your horsemanship, meander through the open meadows of Yellowstone, pen cattle, or try the Working Ranch Experience, which involves assisting the ranch’s livestock manager with, well, managing the livestock.
After a hard day in the saddle, enjoy a late afternoon nap in your rustic but thoughtfully appointed guest cabin. The stone fireplace, warm wood interiors, and distressed leather furnishings make for a cozy and exceedingly relaxing accommodation.
Dining, while casually served, is decidedly upscale in taste. Meals are eaten family style, with everyone together at long wood tables in front of a massive stone fireplace. The menu is overseen by Executive Chef Jonathan Romans, a veteran of the Nashville and New York culinary scene and Montana native who knows how to do fine Western cuisine. Dinner is either three or five courses and includes delights such as Ahi Tuna Sashimi with ginger, scallion sticky rice, and a sweet soy reduction; a palate-cleaning Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet; and Over-Roasted Bison Tenderloin with whipped potatoes, baby carrots, and blackberry demi-glace. Naturally, there is an extensive wine list go with.
The ranch is open from May through October and all-inclusive rates start at $5,020 for the week for adults ($4,290 for children over seven and $3,350 for children six and under).
Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, MT
If you’re angling for that “Spirit of the Mountain West”-kind of experience, Lone Mountain Ranch may be just the ticket. The ranch was first homesteaded over 100 years ago in 1915 as a working cattle and hay-cutting property. Later, it was sold to a Chicago business magnate who converted it to a dude ranch for family and guests who wanted to enjoy an authentic Western experience. Many of the original structures remain, and have been lovingly restored and upgraded to meet the needs of its current 21st century clientele.
For the cowboys and cowgirls in the group, there is plenty of riding along the Montana Rockies, rivers, and grasslands in the area – not to mention evenings around the campfire, live Western music, and sleigh-ride dinners. Mountain biking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, spa-ing, and yoga, among other activities, are available to those who feel just being there is enough West for them. By the way, if you happen to visit in winter, you’re in luck – Lone Mountain is also one of the country’s best Nordic ski destinations, with miles of trails throughout the back country boasting awe-inspiring, snowy vistas.
Accommodations are cozy log cabins featuring wood stoves, rustically themed furniture, and unique Western accents. Antler chandeliers, native-inspired textiles, and natural tile walk-in showers make luxurious touches.
Nationally-known Executive Chef Eric Gruber overseas the formidable dining program at Lone Mountain. Locally-sourced, farm-to-table fare is served in one of two dining rooms (the very Western-sounding, “Horn & Cantle” and “Saloon”) with an emphasis on Big Sky favorites. Try the “Tomahawk” Bone-In Ribeye with broccolini, potato doughnut, and Béarnaise; or the Rabbit Cassoulet with cannellini beans, slab bacon, and grilled tomato. There is an extensive wine list, as well as a sipping menu featuring Montana spirits, whisky, and Scotch.
Rates vary depending on time of year and package, but generally range from about $425-950 per night (for adults) and $250-800 (for kids).
Rocking Z Guest Ranch, Wolf Creek, MT
For a lower-key, but equally satisfying Montana dude ranch vacation, head out to the Rocking Z Guest Ranch in Wolf Creek. The Rocking Z centers the dude ranch experience on horses and horsemanship. They practice the Parelli Natural Horsemanship approach to horse training and management, which features animal behavioral psychology and something called “Horsenality.” Whatever, it works. Whether a true equestrian or novice rider, you’ll find plenty to do and enjoy from the saddle here. You can work the cattle, enjoy a leisurely picnic trail ride, try your hand at barrel racing, team driving, or pick up some tips in the ring.
The ranch has been in the Wirth family since 1864 and includes acres of open green fields cut through by the bubbling Little Prickly Pear Creek. This is good news if you are an angler or wish to be one.
Mountains surround the ranch, making for varied riding experiences, as well as ample opportunity to catch a glimpse of eagles, killdeer, whitetail deer, beavers, coyote, fox, and the very occasional bear or mountain lion. Archery, shooting, and hiking are also available.
Accommodations are spacious but modest, and include natural gas fireplaces, extra-long beds, Western-themed textiles, and rustic wood furniture.
Family-style dining includes favorites like smoked brisket with barbecue-baked beans and cornbread, or fajitas, corn on the cob, and (yes) margaritas. Fresh pies and cakes are always on the menu, and like all cowboy places, coffee is always available. Rates run form $310-417 per person, depending on the season.