Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings may have warned “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” but if they’d seen The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana, they’d be singing a different tune...
It’s Montana, so of course there are cowboys, but it’s also the only Forbes Five Star Guest Lodge in the world, a charter member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, and a Relais & Chateaux property, so while this is cowboy country, its cowboy luxe.
Despite the ultra-luxurious all-inclusive accommodations, the Ranch at Rock Creek still manages to look and feel the way you expect the American West would-expansive, rugged, real, and with a sense of solitude that comes with having over 2,500 hectares of pristine mountain and valley land to relax and play on.
While the Ranch draws most of its visitors during summer, I went in winter, when it turns into a snowy playground for outdoor and wellness enthusiasts. What I traded in degrees on the thermometer, I got back in having fewer guests around to intrude on my Montana Zen, and some special activities that can only be had in winter like the Indulgent Frontiersman.
SURVIVAL SKILLS. Inspired by Montanan Hugh Glass, the protagonist in The Revenant, only less gory and scary, the Indulgent Frontiersman program is designed to teach survival skills while doing outdoor activities like snowmobiling and horseback riding. During my snowmobile excursion through pristine National Forest land covered with evergreen trees dripping with pure white snow, I got a chance to channel my inner 19th century Frontierswoman.
My guide taught me how to navigate before Google Maps existed, and in a worst case scenario how to survive an overnight in the harsh Montana climate by creating shelter, finding food and using some supplies that I was smart enough to bring, because a good Frontiersperson anticipates a problem before it happens. Thankfully, the only somewhat scary thing I encountered was the fear I felt when I took a hill too fast and sent the snowmobile airborne!
I soothe my nerves with a glass of wine by the roaring fire and chat up my fellow guests who are enjoying an après activity beverage before heading into the dining room to sample Chef Josh Drage’s tasting menu. Served in the Granite Lodge, the menu is a four to eight course exploration of Northwest favorites like Steelhead trout and Willow Spring Lamb Porterhouse, each course paired with wine. This is as far from a cowboy chuckwagon as you can get!
BOWLING. After dinner our group heads to the Silver Dollar Saloon to compete on the bowling alley. Growing up in the American Midwest where bowling is a sport, I easily win this one, but then am totally put to shame on the Karaoke stage by a rousing rendition my friend does of “Fight for Your Right to Party,” by the Beastie Boys.
Overly stuffed and overserved with Rombauer Chardonnay and champagne all evening, I waddle back to my abode, the Sarah Jane Cottage, a four-bedroom luxury log cabin home that comfortably sleeps eight, and includes a gorgeous copper tub in one of the rooms. In addition to private log homes guests can elect a room in the main lodge, or glamp in luxury-tented accommodations, my favorite is Sweet Grass, featuring two bedrooms, each with a claw foot tub and gas stove fireplace.
The next morning I drag myself out of bed before sunrise for yoga in the Buckle Barn. The early morning start time was easily forgotten as our small group set our mats within a circle of candles to perform moon salutations followed by sun salutations as we watched sunrise light up the fresh snow. It was the best yoga experience I’ve ever had and I was glad I had opted for it instead of snowga (yoga in the snow!)
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. It put me in the perfect frame of mind to try one of the Ranch’s newest experiences, a photography program that was created by National Geographic specifically for the Ranch. The Montana vistas draped in snow, the animals, and the various activities make it nearly impossible to take a bad shot, but with the tips and tricks of Pulitzer Prize winning National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman, who created the program, and the use of the Olympus OM-D cameras the Ranch supplies, I start having dreams of not only my words, but my images getting published one day.
There are so many winter activities at the Ranch, it’s hard to decide which to pursue. I love that whatever you pick, the Ranch will outfit you. This means you don’t have to lug winter boats, riding gear, skiing gear or anything bulky with you. They even have cowboy boots and hats! Hee haw!
LOTS OF ACTIVITIES. For most people, horseback riding on the range is the top selection. Horse and trail selection is suited to each individual’s experience and preference. The Ranch has 75 horses to ride in true Western style. Arena and roping lessons are also offered.
I’m not a rider, so I peruse the exhaustive list of downhill skiing, snowcat tours, fat tire biking, sledding, skating, sleigh riding and finally settle on snowshoeing combined with shooting. A new version of the biathlon? The Ranch offers clays, traps and skeet, and a rifle and pistol area. We end up shooting pistols, which I have never been good at and today was no different.
I found myself wishing I were at the rifle range, especially when I heard they had the gun I used to own. But this isn’t about the result, it’s about the experience, and the setting can’t be beat. After my Wild West shooting experience, I strap on the snowshoes to walk to the Nordic bonfire, complete with a local distillery serving spiked cider and hot chocolate. What a perfect way to warm up.
MASSAGE FOR TWO. After a strenuous day on the range, revive with some spa time. In winter, choose the Twin Pines Massage and Foot Soak for two. The service starts as you and your sweetie warm up in the cedar sauna with an oil blend created specifically for you. Afterwards you’ll enjoy private massages before reuniting for a foot soak while sipping on champagne or cocktails. Not a bad après snowshoe activity.
While last night’s dinner was fancy, tonight’s is pure fun. The entire ranch participates in the wood-fired grill and barn dance. The buffet features elevated Montana comfort food like organic beef meatloaf, cast-iron chicken and a brownie sundae. Local band sho down kicks off the party, playing country classics from Garth Brooks to modern tunes by Luke Bryant and Zac Brown Band.
Despite being a bad dancer, when the entire barn participates in the line dance, I clumsily join in. Group choreographed moves are clearly above my talent, but thankfully, I can keep up (sort of) with the cute cowboy who asks me to dance. As I’m twirled and dipped around the dance floor, I think Willie and Waylon were so wrong…Mama’s you want your babies to grow up to be cowboys!
Good to know
The Ranch at Rock Creek is an all-inclusive property. All meals, premium alcoholic beverages, activities, outfitting, airport transfers and gratuities are included (spa services are extra). www.theranchatrockcreek.com
Fly Delta, United, or Alaska Air to Missoula