This Luxury Montana Resort Has Cattle Drives, ATV Rides, and Multicourse Tasting Menus
It was almost midnight as we wound along a country road, moonlight flickering on the Blackfoot River and the mountains silhouetted against the glow. For a moment, the peaks gave way to plains and Big Sky Country revealed itself, then it was back into a dense forest until the pines parted and we pulled up to the Green O, Montana's newest adults-only luxury retreat.
There is a certain kind of getaway wherein the pleasure lies not merely in the over-the-top luxury of the experience, but in just how dramatically that experience contrasts with the surroundings. An elegant multicourse meal in a high-rise city hotel feels indulgent; serve that same meal in the backcountry and it becomes downright miraculous. Therein lies the magic of the Green O, a high-style outpost set on a wooded parcel within the 37,000-acre grounds of the Resort at Paws Up, just under an hour's drive from Missoula.
Paws Up has made a name for itself as an all-inclusive retreat that's family-friendly yet high-end; the Green O cranks up the level of indulgence by several notches, catering to couples looking for a romantic escape and anyone who wants all the activities of the all-inclusive with a more refined atmosphere. The property's 12 standalone houses are scattered along a wooded hillside surrounding Social Haus, the Green O's bar, restaurant, and central gathering space.
Each of the four distinct suite layouts has a novel selling point: Tree Haus, true to its name, sits on stilts gazing over the treeline; Green Haus has a living roof that doubles as a deck and a skylight above the bed for stargazing; Light Haus features an alcove of floor-to-ceiling windows on three walls; and Round Haus's curvilinear, window-filled layout gives guests that immersed-in-nature feel. All come with plenty of dreamy amenities: an outdoor hot tub, multiple fireplaces, a porch swing, and an enormous freestanding soaking tub.
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On the first morning of my stay at the Green O earlier this summer, I drank coffee on the porch swing of my Round Haus in a fluffy robe, watching flames flicker in the fireplace and listening to the calls of a pine siskin in the trees overhead, and felt certain that there was possibly no nicer way to start a day than this.
But that was before I'd ventured to Social Haus for breakfast. Because on top of the high-design houses and romantic setting and roster of Paws Up-hosted activities, the Green O also happens to offer one of the most exciting new hotel dining experiences anywhere in the U.S. If you were to go to the resort and do nothing other than sit in your room and eat at Social Haus three times a day, you would still leave awed—it's that good.
The culinary program is the brainchild of executive chef Brandon Cunningham, a veteran of the Portland, Oregon restaurant scene and of Paws Up, along with James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Krystle Swenson, formerly of Crawford & Son in Raleigh, NC. Breakfast that first morning—a tiny ricotta beignet to start, dusted with dried raspberry powder and dunked in rainier cherry sauce, followed by a whipped omelet stuffed with foraged mushrooms for me and a neat rectangle of pain perdu with shards of peanut toffee and a drizzle of maple-miso syrup for my husband, along with crispy smashed potatoes piled atop a swipe of guajillo romesco—was only the beginning.
The real highlight is dinner, when Cunningham and his team roll out a dizzying multicourse tasting menu. It's worth making room in your schedule and your stomach to arrive early and sample the bar snacks, largely elevated versions of lowbrow favorites, like a chips-and-dip riff consisting of house-made sour cream and onion chips with crème fraîche and a dollop of Montana whitefish caviar.
The Green O's culinary approach defies categorization but is something akin to Western woodland cuisine, with largely local, often foraged ingredients and plenty of live-fire cooking. Cunningham's dishes seem to speak to the setting—Montana, yes, but even Social Haus itself. The building's walls of windows gaze out on the pine groves, and the dining room is oriented around a central open fireplace, making the forest-meets-hearth influence feel particularly apropos.
Dinner that first night was a dizzying eleven courses, all delicately complex without feeling fussy, united by a sense of playfulness and an appreciation for the season. The Green O team often toys with multiple riffs on a single ingredient: one white asparagus dish featured the vegetable prepared three ways, plus a hollandaise laced with maitake-mushroom-infused local honey and slivers of candied maitakes on top. And even the supporting characters of each dish made an impression.
I am still thinking about a single cabbage leaf, braised in smoked beef tallow and charred around the edges, so meltingly flavorful that I'll never again make coleslaw without feeling like I'm squandering the brassica's potential—and that was merely the cloak atop a slice of roast pork coppa. Throughout it all, woodland ingredients were ever present, whether as a focal point (a single morel roasted and served with onion jus as an amuse bouche) or garnish (a confetti of wild rose petals to accent a spring-pea dish).
Of course, there are things to do other than eat, if you are the kind of demanding traveler who does not consider a good meal to be sufficient entertainment for the day. Though the Green O functions as a standalone property, it's only a short drive in your Lexus—every guest gets one for the duration of their stay—to the Wilderness Outpost, the departure point for most Paws Up activities.
Our first morning, we joined a roving gang of ATVs for a dusty spin through the pastures and up to Lookout Rock, where we hopped off our rides and scaled the stone pinnacle to find the Blackfoot River and the foothills of the Garnet Range unfurled below us, an infinite expanse of plains and pine-forested mountains and sky, so much sky. Later that day, we rafted down that snaking green river on a fly-fishing expedition and caught so many trout it began to feel like overkill. On our final afternoon, we joined another family for the Paws Up cattle drive, riding out into the hills to find the herd, then shepherding the cows through the sage-dotted scrublands as they lowed complaints and stopped to graze defiantly.
That evening, as we sat in Social Haus for another magical meal, a man wandered through the dining room with an acoustic guitar in hand, singing gentle lilting tunes that sounded familiar. We struck up a conversation between songs and I learned why: it was Joey Burns of indie rock band Calexico, who'd been invited by a friend on staff to play for the evening. Naturally.
We lingered long past our final course—Swenson's chocolate ganache bar with matcha white chocolate, served with a scoop of spruce-infused mint ice cream—and let the music wash over us. It felt utterly surreal, this meal in this place with this soundtrack, an immersive art experience of sorts while the wilderness pressed in around us.
When we finally stepped back outside, the setting sun was setting the clouds aflame, a wash of pink and orange beneath the blue. My husband, usually an introvert with a cynical streak, turned on his heel, moved by the beauty of nature into a moment of earnest sociability. "You've gotta look outside," he told a group gathered by the bar, "the clouds are like brushstrokes!"
We all stood there on the steps for a moment and watched the light fade over the spires of Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines. A downy woodpecker called somewhere overhead, and I felt certain there was no nicer way to end a day than this.