We’ve always dreamt about going to Montana, and who hasn’t? The land of Big Sky, where buffalo roam, cowboys rule the rolling hills, and A River Runs Through It… it’s the wild west at its most romantic. Ever since the railroad blazed a trail across the country in the late 1800s, Montana has captured the imagination of city slickers. The pioneers were proud of their new frontier, and the tradition of inviting guests to experience ranch life has long been woven into the state’s fabric. More than a century of hospitality experience also makes Montana one of the finest places to get rugged. We had the chance to find the best dude ranches in Montana to make these cowboy dreams come true.


The Resort at Paws Up

best dude ranches in Montana
One of many intimate glamping camps at Paws Up.

Driving down the dirt roads of Western Montana, we reached The Village at Paws Up, and indeed it was a world unto itself. We’ve experienced over 100 luxury resorts and have heard about the highly acclaimed Paws Up for years, but still couldn’t imagine a place quite like this. It’s on 37,000 acres with the Blackfoot River running through it (yea, the one from the Brad Pitt film) and they’ve spread the lodging across the full expanse of land. They have a dozen different glamping camps and neighborhoods of luxury homes, so even though the resort can sleep a few hundred people, it still feels intimate and inviting.


Adventure Central

Mike & Anne explore the Greenough backcountry.

The heart of Paws Up is the Wilderness Outpost. Every Montanan activity you could possibly imagine starts here. Classic country pursuits like horseback riding, riflery, and fly fishing to adrenaline sports like rappelling, mountain biking, obstacle training, and more are on tap. We opted for the ATV trails to make a dent in these tens of thousands of acres.


Driving Cattle

Cowboy Mike driving a herd of cattle.

Not just for recreation, 7,000 acres of Paws Up is a working Black Angus ranch. When we saw “cattle drive” on the activity menu, we put on our boots and spurs! We saddled up with our wrangler, a young Montanan who grew up on a horse ranch, and trotted over to the 30 head of cattle in need of greener pastures. We’ll admit, we’re not experienced riders but with a highly trained horse and a newfound cowboy confidence, we rounded up them dogies! Galloping after stray calves, hollering yeehaw, and guiding a herd was so empowering and even cooler than in the movies.


The Ranch at Rock Creek

best dude ranches in Montana
Entering The Ranch at Rock Creek, the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide five-star guest ranch.

Traveling from Greenough southwards to Philipburg, we reached The Ranch at Rock Creek, continuing on our quest to find the best dude ranches in Montana. We knew this 19th-century-homestead-turned-glamping retreat would be nothing short of amazing with the amount of accolades on its door, including that of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, Relais & Chateaux, and a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch (the world’s one and only). Though we also wondered if all that praise would get to a hotel’s head—not here. We were welcomed with open arms and a huckleberry spritz.


Blue Ribbon Fly Fishing

Mike fly fishing Rock Creek, a Blue Ribbon fishery.

It would be all too easy to spend our days luxuriating in the ranch’s chic cabins, full-service spa, and the all-inclusive Blue Canteen, but the Rod & Gun Club was calling. The Ranch at Rock Creek is on a Blue Ribbon trout stream, which means pristine waters, thousands of fish per square mile, and some of the best angling you can get in the States. Even though we had never fly fished a day in our lives, we geared up like pros, with Simms waders, artfully tied flies, and rods suited to our statures. The Ranch has pro-guides leading float trips, but Rock Creek runs through the center of the property so you can just walk right in. We took a quick casting lesson to make sure we caught more fish than trees, and before we knew it…Mike had a cutthroat trout on the line!


BBQ at the Buckle Barn

Anne enjoying a little gourmet BBQ, one of the ever-changing dining options at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

Perhaps our favorite thing about RRC is that it’s full of surprises, especially at dinnertime. Each night is different, whether it’s Dutch ovens over a bonfire, sunset cocktails and ice skating at Bikini Pond, or a BBQ at the Buckle Barn after a rodeo… we were lucky enough to catch the latter.


Rodeo Spectacular

Bucking bronco at the Ranch at Rock Creek rodeo.

We spent the day horseback riding the riverside trails and taking calf roping lessons to get in the rodeo spirit, then twilight came. Guests filled Camp Roosevelt Arena, and half the staff was gearing up to ride. It would seem a dangerous business decision to have your top employees ride a bucking bronco or barrel racing at top speed, but they’re Montanan. They’ve done this before… even competed professionally. With American flags waving, cowboys in their best chaps, and stallions running wild, the love of the west was infectious.


Best Dude Ranches in Montana

Bison Quest
Buffalo roaming the mountains beyond Townsend, Montana.

By this point in our Montana travels, we’d bonded with broncos, cattle, trout, and bald eagles, but to top off our wildlife of the west experience, we needed to commune with the American Buffalo. We heard about Bison Quest and were as intrigued by the prospect of shaggy bull sightings, as we were to meet the founders. The husband-wife team, Dr. Craig and Pam Knowles, have sixty years of combined wildlife biology experience and after working for the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and dozens of other conservation projects, they decided to share their knowledge and love of animals with guests at their buffalo ranch. They rescued an abused herd a decade ago and bought hundreds of acres for them to roam. Pam and Craig came out to greet us, with chickens, dogs, and even deer following them like they were animal whisperers. (There isn’t a receptionist or front desk; this is a real working ranch and everything is powered by the passion and hard work of the Knowles.) We hopped in the pickup truck and headed down to the our private two-cabin camp. Amazing enough, we had the entire place to ourselves—the Knowles never take more than one group at a time to maximize the guest experience. We had brownies and iced tea in the cook tent, then we were off to find the herd. Sitting in the bed of the truck, we went off-roading until we discovered dozens of bison grazing the hills. We locked eyes and these 1,000-pound beauties lumbered toward us. We were surrounded by perhaps the greatest symbol of the American West.

Montana Mini Guide

Where to Land: Fly into Missoula, the hub of western Montana, and rent a car for a ranch road trip. If you have dreams of extending your trip to Yellowstone you can fly out of the spunky Bozeman; a great town in its own right.
When to Go: June-October is ideal for cowboy pursuits. Snow-bunnies will love the winter-sport opportunities that January-March bring.
What to Pack: Bring a pair of cowboy boots and hat (or grab ’em at the ranch), dressing the part adds to the revelry of the West. Leave white clothes at home; darker colors will fair better in the dust. Pack layers; the temperature changes dramatically throughout the day.
HoneyTrek Tip: Combo your trip to two of America’s greatest National Parks: Yellowstone to the south or Glacier to the north. Arrive at dawn when the wildlife are at their most active and the crowds are still sleeping.

Where to Next

After all our time getting Comfortably Wild in the USA, it’s time for a little international glamping…so we are teaming up with YALA (the largest luxury safari tent manufacturer in Europe). Follow along on our journey over on our Instagram Stories YALA channel!

Happy Glamping,
Mike & Anne

6 thoughts on “Getting Wild West in Montana

  • April 15, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Anne, you look like a real cowgirl! Mike the fishing looks great! So good to see you guys. Will be good to keep up with you on your travels.

    • January 14, 2021 at 1:13 pm

      Thanks for the love Linda…we had so much fun #glamping all over Montana!

  • September 1, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    Wow, did you really get to experience all of those glamping places? Lucky you. Ranch at Rock Creek has been on my super bucket list for a while now, was it worth it?

    • March 12, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      Yeah we did get to experience them. We were doing research for our glamping book (it is actually the first and only guide to glamping in North America). If you wanna check it out it’s called “Comfortably Wild”. As for RARC, it’s definitely a splurge….but OMG is it worth every penny. The experience of a lifetime!

  • January 23, 2020 at 11:29 am

    Did you guys like Montana? We drove through there a few years back, but didn’t have time to stop, and everything was so hazy from the forest fires. We totally need to go back.

    • January 26, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      Oh man we loved Montana. Have you heard of Glacier National Park? It was one of the coolest NP’s around. In related news, when did you drive through there? Cause we drove it two years back and had some wicked haze from the forest fires as well. Maybe we were there at the same time 🙂


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