There are guest ranches, and then there are these guest ranches. Travelers come from around the world to fish at The Ranch at Rock Creek, to watch eagles fly above the Tetons at Spring Creek Ranch, and to horseback ride in the mountains above Mountain Sky Guest Ranch. They come for the fine dining, western hospitality and the sense of escape. And what do you know? These spots are in our backyard.
THE RANCH AT ROCK CREEK Experience-based Western luxury
The Ranch at Rock Creek has a storied past. Originally a mining claim in the late 1800s, it was homesteaded at the turn of the 20th century and has been a working cattle ranch ever since. Famous as a horse-breeding site in the 1940s, it was even once home to the half brother of the great racehorse Man o’ War.
In 2010, the property took on a new life, opening as a year-round guest ranch on par with the finest accommodations, setting and services in the West. Located just outside of Philipsburg, Montana, its 10 square miles sit on the banks of a prized trout fishery, Rock Creek.
Ranch owner Jim Manley has made tremendous investments into the ranch, creating a world-class equestrian program and well-appointed lodging, and implementing more than $1 million in stream enhancements.
With a 2-1, staff-to-guest ratio, you won’t likely hear the word “no” during your stay.
“It feels like you’re at someone’s home, like hanging out with friends and family,” said Montanan Heather Budd on a fall 2013 visit.
The ranch achieves this fine balance between the Western guest ranch experience and Relais Chateaux-level services by mixing fine dining and backyard Montana adventure, its accommodations varying from cozy lodge rooms to private cabins and riverside glamping tents. This picturesque spot is ideal for family reunions, weddings and romantic getaways. – Eric Ladd
A day in the life
Wake up – breakfast is hearty! (Don’t miss the homemade Bloody Marys.) Then it’s off to fishing, where everyone from novice to advanced anglers will enjoy hunting the elusive Rock Creek brown trout on private waters. Head to the ‘Top-of-the-World’ lookout for a mid-day picnic with a view of the Pintler Mountains, then take an afternoon mountain bike or horseback ride followed by a soak in the cedar plank tub. The four-course dinner is paired with fine wine and topped off with an evening bowling session and late night karaoke at the Silver Dollar Saloon.
In the kitchen
With influences from the Mediterranean and Montana, Chef Josh Drage uses an array of organic ingredients including locally raised beef and greens from the ranch’s garden to create masterful culinary treats ranging from Dutch oven cookouts to wine dinners.
Mountain bike the Geronimo Trail (built by the gurus from Whistler, B.C.); request appetizers streamside at sunset; indulge in the Montana Port for dessert; fish the purple San Juan worm for cutthroat trout; and soak fireside in a claw-foot tub while listening to the river in a glamping tent.
The Ranch at Rock Creek is open year-round and offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh tours and snowmobiling in winter, with Discovery Ski Area just 20 minutes away. Winters here are peaceful – reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting with ice skating ponds, Christmas lights and snow-covered horses.
Rates start at $950/person and are fully inclusive. Find more information at theranchatrockcreek.com, (877) 786-1545
MOUNTAIN SKY GUEST RANCH
When Nelson Story drove the first herd of longhorn cattle from Texas to Montana (think Lonesome Dove), an early winter in 1866 forced him to plant stakes in the exact site where Mountain Sky Ranch sits today.
Tucked in the Gallatin Range west of Emigrant, Montana, the property has been home to cowboys and cattle ever since. 1929 brought a depressed cattle market, forcing then-owner Charles Murphy to welcome “dudes” to the 10,000-acre spread, strapping city slickers to horses and feeding them campfire meals.
Arthur Blank’s 2001 purchase of Mountain Sky firmly placed it among the top luxury guest ranch retreats in the world. Blank remodeled the original structures with modern amenities, giving the visitor a sense of true Montana.
The main lodge still has its original fireplaces and exposed beams. Several cabins, carefully restored, now give visitors a place to rest their heads after a day of adventure.
Today, the ranch is known for activities – horseback riding, golfing, fly fishing, rafting and clay shooting are all offered – as well as its onsite creature comforts and exquisite food.
With several kids’ programs, it’s no wonder that booking is tight, considering 80 percent of guests return annually. – E.J. Daws
A day in the life
Begin with yoga at sunrise, overlooking the ranch and the 11,000-foot peaks of the Absaroka Range in the east.
Devour breakfast before embarking on a backcountry horseback ride. Or take a “meal ride” to a mountain cabin, for deluxe grub cooked over a fire, surrounded with unmatched vistas.
Spend the afternoon golfing on a private, Johnny Miller-designed course, then fly fish in Big Creek’s, gin-clear water.
But don’t ignore the dinner bell – the dining in the lodge will be a highlight of your trip.
Finish by soaking in a hot tub overlooking the range, followed by a nightcap in the original saloon, before retreating to your private cabin and its blazing fireplace.
Packages vary depending on the season. Find more information at mountainsky.com or (800) 548-3392.
SPRING CREEK RANCH
On a clear night, stars illuminate the lofty Teton Range silhouetted in the north, while a bull moose saunters next to the back deck.
Secluded on a 1,000-acre wildlife preserve 700 feet above the Jackson Hole Valley, this year-round, four-star resort is only five miles from Jackson’s bustling town square and 12 from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Accommodations range from western-themed hotel rooms and condos to impressive mountain villas, where deer, elk, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles can be seen on any given day. And the view is always changing: Some days each summit of the Cathedral Group – Teewinot, Owen and the Grand Teton – is visible, while other times the range is blanketed in clouds.
Even locals find themselves escaping to Spring Creek’s convenient serenity. “I like coming up here to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset,” said one woman.
On Friday and Saturday nights, enjoy live music while feasting on mountain-inspired cuisine at Spring Creek’s award-winning Granary Restaurant. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Granary provides impeccable service and options for the whole family – don’t miss the Cajun-spiced elk tenderloin.
Also on the grounds are a visitor and conference center, full-service spa (try receiving your treatment in the teepee!), indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a pool, tennis courts and a corral with 50 horses. Whether here on business, traveling with family and friends, or enjoying a couples’ getaway, Spring Creek will not disappoint. – Maria Wyllie
Wildlife and natural history
The Dawn of Dusk wildlife safari takes guests on a journey through Jackson Hole’s wildlife hotspots, while a tour through Yellowstone National Park typically includes stops at various geysers, the Old Faithful Visitors Center, the Canyon region and the Hayden Valley. For all tours, experienced wildlife biologists tailor excursions exclusively to each group.
For the photo enthusiast
Get to know your camera on the Grand Teton Photo Safari, where a professional photographer takes you to some of the park’s most photogenic locations and provides insight on capturing the best images possible.
Pricing varies by season. Find rates and booking information online at springcreekranch.com, or by calling (800) 443-6139.
This story was first published in the winter 2013/2014 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.