It’s that time of year when our social media feeds swell with images of friends on vacation. Mykonos! Ibiza! Tulum! Basically, anywhere with a beach. While we have an exceptionally soft spot for summers on the Mediterranean (France and Italy, in particular), we Western gals frequently succumb to nostalgia and need a routine dose of our native frontier. Thankfully, we can still retreat to our sleepy hometowns, but for those in search of a romanticized American West, we recommend Montana’s posh guest ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek.
Rock Creek’s luxuriously edited cowboy culture offers all of the adventure without the risk of life or limb, allowing guests to partake in supervised shooting sports, archery, fishing, and horseback riding by day, and to wind down with twilight cocktails and Dutch oven dinners by night. The ranch’s 6,600-acre spread is meant to feel like one’s home (it was the private family watering hole of its current owner until the decision was made to expand it into an all-inclusive ranch experience in 2010) with activities and accommodations spaciously arranged throughout the property. Whether you choose a room in the main lodge, or a two-story log home, every point of the ranch exudes the rustic qualities of a Ralph Lauren ad.
Adhering to our glamour-and-grit doctrine, we chose a canvas-tented cabin along the creek during a recent stay – our foray into the “glamping” phenomenon. Antique furniture, lavish linens, a gas stove, a screened-in porch, and our own tent-appointed bicycles did not disappoint.
Beyond an amazing night’s sleep, The Rod & Gun Club, The Mercantile, and The Silver Dollar Saloon round out shopping and entertainment.
With all of its stagecoach-style charm, there is a great deal of education and ranch-hand respect to be gleaned from a stay at Rock Creek. Naturalists lead master classes in local wildlife, ecosystems, and geology, with group or tailored outings, and wranglers teach arena and roping lessons, and compete in weekly summer rodeos featuring everything from barrel racing to bucking broncos.
Considering that nothing could be more authentic than mucking one’s own stalls at home, we’ll admit that we’ve long been reluctant to partake in the cliché dude ranch experience. However, The Ranch at Rock Creek proved to be an exhilarating vacation for the horse-loving, outdoorsy type, who longs for a trail ride through rolling meadows followed by a destination picnic, a dip in the pond, and – finally – a disappearance into the day spa.
THE LOCAVORE CUISINE
Chow is no joke in these parts. For sun-uppers, breakfast goes from simple grab-and-go fuel in an outdoor canteen-style setting, to hearty fare served in the Lodge. Eggs are farm fresh (natch) with locally sourced and smoked bacon, and the lemon ricotta with blueberry pancakes are worth the work-it-off hike. In the summer, lunch is a cook-out featuring western specialties like bison burgers, homemade chips & guac, and whatever-the-gardens-produce salads. For dinner, there are about a dozen dining experiences throughout the year, from an outdoor farm-to-table chef’s grill to a Wild West “Overland Route” tasting menu.
THE ELK SIGHTINGS
This is practically guaranteed. Crossing the creek from our tent to the lodge one morning, a view of these majestic creatures pretty much tied the bow on our picturesque stay.
THE ARCHERY LESSONS
If you’ve never had the pleasure of drawing against 40 pounds (we’re cowgirls) of tension-loaded weight, then feeling the thrill of release as an arrow sails through the air toward your target…well, it’s time. Our archery outing began with a safety and technique tutorial followed by a few test runs, before setting off into the hilly woods on a healthy trek along a 3-D course of nearly life-size, faux animals.
THE TOP OF THE WORLD
On horseback or by foot, we highly recommend a climb through wildflower meadows to “The Top of the World,” which offers a stunning view of the surrounding ranch and snow-capped mountains. Rumor has it that Champagne can be requested and served while taking in the scenery. Make time after for a nap. You’ll be tuckered as a wagon wheel.
THE SOCIAL HOUR
The main lodge’s Great Room feels like a lived-in family room, with its wide-hearth fireplace, soft leather couches, array of original artifacts, and an occasional guest picking up a guitar or playing the piano. Expect crafty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at five o’clock, and to make a few friends. Then, for a little nightlife after supper, saddle up (literally) to the bar in the Silver Dollar Saloon, check out its bowling lanes, or tap your toes to a bit of live music.