By Kate Donnelly
October 12, 2019
Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Fall has arrived at The Ranch at Rock Creek, and that’s a good thing. Smack in Big Sky country, just 75 miles south of Missoula, the all-inclusive ranch is situated on 6,600 acres of rolling amber foothills and grassy ridges. The backdrop feels distinctively Old West: part "River Runs Through It," part "Legends of the Fall," a wide expanse teeming with rugged adventure, vast wilderness, horsemanship, hearty farm-to-table meals and bourbon (yes, bourbon).

David DiNisco

The ranch recently hosted its newly-minted Whiskey & Water weekend with Trey Zoeller who aged two barrels of his Kentucky-based, Jefferson’s Bourbon on property for a year. Zoeller’s experiment placed one barrel on a high ridge facing the open elements (heat, freezing temperatures, rain) and the second on a horse-drawn wagon used to take guests around the property. The barrels were tapped and the results were so remarkably good that next year, Jefferson’s is hoping to bottle the collaboration. The festivities also included a chic, family-style lunch over a footbridge and a 5-course, bourbon-pairing dinner. For now, the barrels will continue to age on-site, giving future visitors a chance to literally, taste the elements.

Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek
Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Alas, you’ve come to Montana for the fresh air and unspoiled nature. You won’t sit idle. Hiking enthusiasts opt for the uber-scenic, uphill trek to the “End of the World” where panoramic vistas of the Montana Rockies take center stage. When you return, load up on buttery croissants and robust locally-sourced coffee in lodge’s “living room.” Meanwhile, the ranch’s newly-constructed Rod and Gun Club serves as the de facto meeting point for activities like 3D archery or rifle and clay shooting. It’s also the central hub for fly-fishing. Don a pair of waders and hit the namesake waters where you can hook a rainbow trout (catch-and-release). There’s also horseback riding (the property houses an impressive brood of 75 horses) and the late-afternoon “running of the horses” — where the ranch’s fleet is cast out in an magnificently, highly-orchestrated stampede to graze in open pasture. And, no matter what time of year, wildlife sightings are plentiful: there’s deer, moose and elk, and if you’re on horseback at higher elevation, you may spot bighorn sheep.

To unwind, curl up with a good book or try your hand in art class with in-resident John Piacquadio (who also teaches fly-fishing). There’s also outdoor yoga, meditation and forest bathing. When winter arrives, it’s all about sleigh rides, snowshoeing and off-site skiing excursions. For dry, unsavory skin, the spa’s wild sage scrub is a magic fix.

Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek
Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

The accommodations, a sprawl of 29-rooms (including a mix of single rooms, glamping-style cabins and log homes) are kitted out in dark woods, plaids and buttery leathers. Designer Jet Zarkadas also opted for period Western photos, frontier-style antiques and Navajo rugs. Meanwhile, elevated, homespun suppers are compliments of chef Josh Drage who leans on local grass-fed beef, seasonal vegetables and foraged ingredients. Afterwards, folks retreat to the Silver Dollar Saloon for bowling, billiards, a screening room and karaoke. Outside, a toasty campfire couples nicely with s’mores and hot toddies.

Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek
Courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Rise early — the mornings bring a soft, filtered light creating a golden time to spot wildlife. A brisk walk leads you to breakfast where a hearty spread includes farm-style eggs and cowboy toast. Later, the rustic Buckle Barn hosts two-step barn dances (with live music) and glowing bonfires. Should you need cowboy hats and boots, the ranch provides fashionable loaners, or you can visit the mercantile stocked with flannel shirts, Stetson hats and Patagonia fleeces. Despite your wardrobe, you’ll feel you’ve been plucked from a idyllic Western novel. Just don’t skip the chapter where vast night skies and twinkling stars fill the pages, followed by warm baths (in roomy claw tubs) and nightcaps in your room. And outside, the sound of a murmuring creek lulls you to sleep.

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