Walking along the deck toward our tented cabin, I heard a rustling in the brush to my right. There calmly munching the greenery was a large female moose, along with her calf nearby. I slowed to a shuffle as she picked up her head to evaluate my intentions, and for a moment I was concerned that my path of travel might alarm her given the proximity of her calf to our cabin. Fortunately, she soon returned to feeding and left me with another classic Montana experience at The Ranch at Rock Creek.
Leaving Interstate 90 en route to the ranch from Missoula early in October, we soon found ourselves cruising down the classic open roads of big sky country on the Pintler Scenic Highway, state highway 1. Passing by the historic mining town of Philipsburg, we gained elevation as we drove through ranch country, with the jagged Anaconda Pintler range in the distance. Eventually, the road intersected a pretty mountain stream, and we turned onto Rock Creek Road toward the ranch.
The Ranch at Rock Creek is a luxury property, and part of the Relais & Chateau group, but it retains key elements of its working history and offers guests the rare opportunity to mix classic Western adventure with a truly epicurean experience. Once we checked in, the staff briefed us on the property, and we had an opportunity to organize any activities we wished to book at the Rod & Gun Club.
Guided options included horseback riding (obviously), fly fishing, and shooting. In addition, the ranch offers each guest a mountain bike, which are both useful for getting around the property and to experience the 6,000+ acre ranch’s many trails, including a purpose-built 4-mile singletrack descent called Geronimo. The bikes are also useful to avoid a 10-15 minute walk to and from meals at the main lodge for guests like us staying at the luxury tented cabins at Camp Roosevelt.
Meals at the ranch are truly top-notch, and the property takes special pride in the quality of their cuisine. It’s most certainly not the standard western ranch fare of barbecue brisket and ground chuck, but instead of a standard that would impress even the most epicurean-minded urbanite.
On most nights there was a multi-course tasting menu on offer, complete with wine pairings—sample dishes included elk loin in a huckleberry glaze, seared black cod, Tabasco chicken, and parmesan risotto.
We even had a perfect glass of the local Philipsburg stout ale paired with a creamy onion soup that worked perfectly. Likewise, breakfast offered hearty classic options along with local Montana oatmeal and granola, while lunch includes a steak salad, an organic cheeseburger, and other well-prepared sandwiches. Perhaps our best dinner was served buffet-style at the event building, enabling guests to mix and mingle.
During pre-dinner cocktails in the lodge living room, and after dinner in the saloon, guests have the opportunity to mingle and chat — given the unique nature of the place, we found that many guests have unique (and impressive) stories of their own to tell.
Surprisingly, not only does the saloon have the standard complement of spirits, dart boards, and pool tables, but it also features 4 full size bowling lanes, which we used to full effect on our last night along with a number of other guests.
One day my wife Sylvia and I took our bikes out for a cruise around the valley, enjoying the crisp autumn air and changing foliage. The trail network is well-marked and is mostly based on dirt and gravel roads that crisscross the ranch.
Later on, I went out for a longer solo ride, climbing up the jeep trails to reach the top of Jiminy Peak, earning the right to bomb the buttery-smooth singletrack descent on Geronimo. It was so much fun I decided to climb back up for a second round.
On another day, I drove southeast to Storm Lake to hike into the rugged Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, a hidden gem that’s well off the radar of most outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking up from the lake at 8,000 feet, I crossed Storm Pass at 9,100 feet, already under 4 inches of snow in early October.
Reaching Goat Flat, a broad alpine tundra tableland, I dropped down on the Continental Divide Trail through larch groves already turned golden, reaching the next basin, before climbing back up to Rainbow Pass and Rainbow Mountain. From the summit, I was treated to a stunning panorama of the high peaks of the wilderness, with snow blanketing their north faces.
On the way back, I scrambled up the curiously-named Tiny Mountain, looming over Storm Lake at 9,850 feet. The final section near the summit offered a bit of fun exposure, with the snow and ice making it a bit nervier than it likely would be in summer.
On our final morning, we slept in, recovering from the effects of a bit too much boozy socializing the night before. Once I stepped out into the clear morning air and hopped on my bike however, my foggy head cleared. If that wasn’t enough, as I climbed up a steep jeep road behind the lodge, my pounding heartbeat soon flushed out any remaining impurities.
After a grunt of a climb, I reached the plateau above the valley, and the vistas soon opened up to reveal puffy clouds overhead and jagged mountains in the distance. At the aptly-named Top of the World overlook, where the ranch had set up some picnic benches, I felt like I was looking out over all of Montana, with the classic scene of distant forest-clad peaks rising beyond golden hills of ranchland.
The Ranch at Rock Creek is located in western Montana, about a 90-minute drive from Missoula. Missoula is served by most major airlines, with connections through Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Portland. The ranch offers airport pickup and drop-off, or guests may drive themselves.
Once at the ranch, all activities, food and drinks are included. The exceptions are spa treatments and yoga, both of which are additional costs (at rates that quite absurd to be perfectly honest—about 2x what you might expect to pay at a quality urban or resort spa. And $120 for yoga?). Rates are $850 per night per person, and do not include a 20% ranch fee that likely serves to cover the unlimited food, drink and activities.
The ranch caters to couple, families, friends, and corporate groups and events. With roughly 40 rooms accommodating 80 guests, split between lodge rooms, cabins, and luxury tented cabins, there are multiple options, so it’s important to understand your needs and interests when booking.
Article and photos by Josh Steinitz, originally written for NileGuide