Jackie Magid, an independent contractor with Classic Travel, is just back from The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana. Read her report below.
The Ranch at Rock Creek, an ultra-luxe dude ranch in Montana, is on the top of almost every list and has earned every hospitality accolade (including a Forbes five-star rating for six consecutive years) under the sun since it opened as a guest ranch in 2010.
What is the all the fuss about it? Does this place really live up to its hype? Are all the ranchers really as good-looking as they appear in the photos? These were the things I was willing to get to the bottom of (for the sake of research, of course). So, last summer, I dusted off my favorite cowboy boots and hat from the back of my closet and gathered my family for a week-long trip to Big Sky country. We arrived at the timber gates to the 6,000-acre ranch where a bald eagle greeted us, as if on cue. Serendipitous? Perhaps. But I digress…
The short answer to all of the above is a resounding "Yes." The Ranch of Rock Creek was one of the best—scratch that—the best family vacation our family of five has taken together to date (and we have been to a lot of amazing places). Several months later, my two daughters are still talking about their time on the ranch and asking when we are going back. That rarely happens.
So, the silver-dollar question is what is it that makes this place so special and nearly impossible to get a reservation that you need to book over a year in advance?
Well, I can’t think of place where, over the course of week, we had so much fun and laughs together (some at my expense, like when I fell completely in full gear in the river while fly-fishing), learned so many new activities and ate such incredible meals, all with the backdrop of the most stunning scenery. Every day, we had a custom-designed program ensuring no two days were alike. Our days were filled with such activities as clay shooting, riflery, 3D archery, fly-fishing and horseback riding with incredible personal guides whose passion and enthusiasm was infectious. Enjoy something a lot or want to try something new? You do it again in a different place or way. After watching a rodeo, I took a barrel racing lesson on a patient horse named Boca (newfound respect for these guys as it is much harder than it looks!). Tip: Book a deep massage afterword as you will need it. The staff, at a 2-to-1 ratio for a maximum of 100 guests staying at any one time on the ranch, is here to work around your needs 24/7.
In between it all, we visited a ghost mining town, got a sugar high after raiding a vintage candy store (The Sweet Palace) in town, biked along cattle and sheep in beautiful meadows, and hung out with four-legged animals such as Flint, the resident lab (who was grounded for rolling in too much dung) and Thelma and Louise, the resident trouble-making sheep duo. And yet there was still was plenty of time for heavenly massages at the spa and naps creek-side on our deck. How can one vacation be exhilarating and relaxing at the same time?
All this activity works up a hearty appetite. You will be thankful for that because the food is outrageously good here (you ain’t gonna find Fruit Loops on the breakfast menu at this ranch). We loved that the format for meals was ever-changing. One day, it was a five-course tasting menu in the Dining Room at the Lodge; another, a down-home barbecue with live music in the Buckle Barn. Our favorite was the Cowboy Breakfast at Piney Pond: A team of Belgian draft horses driven by wranglers takes you to a secluded picnic campsite in a stunning meadow where a dutch oven campfire breakfast is awaiting you. Despite all the activities you may do here, expect to leave with your jeans feeling a bit more snug on the waist.
We headed to the Silver Dollar Saloon after dinner every night to bowl, shoot pool and mingle with the other guests. I can proudly boast that our family shut the saloon down each and every night before heading to bed. Speaking of… There are a variety of unique accommodations to choose from at the Ranch, from multi-bedroom log homes for large groups and families to canvas glamping tents to cozy rooms at the main lodge. We had the opportunity to experience both the family wing at the Granite Lodge as well as the Bull and Apache riverside glamping tents along the river during our stay. You can’t go wrong with whatever you are lucky to get but the tents, with gas stoves and screened porches and decks facing the river, were our favorite.
On our last day at Ranch Creek, my husband and daughter went fly-fishing again (a new passion she has continued after the Ranch) while I enjoyed a private two-hour horse ride in the mountains with my guide Matt (a carbon copy of a young Matthew McConaughey) atop best friends, Tank and Shorty. I don’t recall taking in such magnificent scenery, except perhaps the Maasai Mara or Big Island, Hawaii. Afterwards, our family watched the inspiring sight of the 80 ranch horses gallop out in the sunset for the night. It was a sight to behold.
"What happens at the Ranch, stays at the Ranch." Those were the parting words of warning to us from one of the guests (a repeat who comes to the Ranch three times a year since it opened) after our last night of bowling, bad karaoke and perhaps a few shots for us adults on our last night at the saloon. Sorry dude. I just can’t keep my mouth shut.