Mountain landscape view at The Ranch at Rock Creek


Big Sky Country in All Its Glory

Heaven on Earth

By Carolyn O’Neil | Photography courtesy of the Ranch at Rock Creek

Indulge your inner cowgirl or cowboy and set off to the great American West for a vacation escape in majestic Montana. Horseback riding and mountain biking trails, streams full of trout, and meadows perfect for scenic hikes await your adventurous soul. But at The Ranch at Rock Creek, the pursuit of Western life also happily includes the luxuries of gourmet grub, claw-foot tubs, and a world-class spa to soothe you into an evening of entertainment. Don’t forget your dancing boots!

Your curated Western adventure begins at the airport in Bozeman, where a “ranch ambassador” collects you and your gear for the spectacular one-and-a-half-hour drive to The Ranch.

The scenery unfolds with pristine national forests on both sides of the highway and snow-capped mountains rising in the distance. The air is clear and clean, and the sky is just as they promised—big and impossibly blue. This is Montana’s Big Sky Country.

Just before you reach The Ranch, you’ll go past Philipsburg, a nineteenth-century mining settlement named after engineer Philip Deidsheimer, who designed and supervised the ore smelter around which locals built the town. There was no gold rush here; the treasures sought in these parts were silver and sapphires. Today, you can take your chances mining for sapphires or buy them in Philipsburg’s quaint gift shops. If you prefer a tastier treasure, don’t miss the town’s old-time candy store.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

Wildlife and Creature Comforts

Set on 6,600 acres of open ranchland with flower-filled meadows, majestic mountains, and babbling streams, The Ranch at Rock Creek welcomes guests to enjoy its rustic spirit and elegant accommodations. A member of Relais & Châteaux and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, The Ranch is named for Rock Creek, the Blue Ribbon trout stream that flows through the property.

A member of Relais & Châteaux and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, The Ranch is named for Rock Creek, the Blue Ribbon trout stream that flows through the property.

Wild deer and moose wander The Ranch freely. (But, make sure not to get too close to a mother moose with her calf, as she can be pretty aggressive protecting her own. Now’s the best time to use your camera’s telescopic lens.) Horses, of course, are a main feature of life at The Ranch, and rides are available for all skill levels. There’s a small arena for rodeos and horse shows, too.

Refined Ranch Life

With twenty-nine accommodations, from one-room suites to five-bedroom log homes, The Ranch is spacious yet intimate. Each cabin, with names like “Sweet Grass” and “Bluebird,” is equipped with mountain bikes to hop on and cruise to the Buckle Barn for yoga, or to breakfast in the Granite Lodge. You can easily walk if you prefer, or call for a ranch vehicle to give you a lift—after all, this is “glamping,” not camping.

Did I mention the swimming pool and hot tub next to the Granite Spa? The spa features a full menu of services, including staff-led workshops on aromatherapy. (The scent of wild orange rejuvenates while lavender oil induces calm.) Atlanta-based Little Barn Apothecary, which sources ingredients from nature such as coconut, pear, ginger, and mint, created the spa’s lovely line of face, body, and hair care products.

Guests tucked away in Western-chic tented cabins, complete with claw-foot bathtubs, Western art, and wood-burning stoves, enjoy a backyard view of sparkling Rock Creek and the peaceful sounds of the water rushing by and the wind rustling through the cottonwood trees. Outdoor fire pits are the perfect places to gather for predinner snacks and cocktails, quietly delivered by the attentive staff, while you choose which jeans, sweater, and boots suit your mood for another evening ahead.

You can truly relax knowing that The Ranch is an all-inclusive property designed to treat guests as houseguests at home. All meals, beverages (including cocktails and wine), and outdoor adventures come with your stay. It’s recommended you choose two activities per day from a list including guided mountain hikes, fly-fishing, horseback riding, a 3-D archery course, trap and skeet shooting, and even a paintball arena. If you choose to hike the trail to the Top of the World at an elevation of 5,818 feet, the staff can deliver a picnic with chilled champagne to help you enjoy breathtaking views of the Sapphire Mountains. Not to worry if you get dusty on the trail or caught in a downpour on the creek—laundry service is included at the resort, too.

Ranch Cuisine

They say that spending time in the great outdoors helps rustle up a healthy appetite, and The Ranch’s culinary team is ready to satisfy it. Regionally inspired cuisine stars Montana-raised beef, bison, elk, lamb, and chicken and seasonally grown organic produce—a far cry from the Old West’s chuck wagon fare of beans and bacon. Executive chef Josh Drage says, “Our ranch cuisine serves up a sense of place with big flavor inspiration from around the world. It’s a balance of hearty fare to get you back out on a horse and lighter dishes you may crave for dinner.” Afternoon tea and coffee are set out in the great room with perfect bites of freshly baked pastries, so enjoy a little lemon bar and petite brownie if you like!

They say that spending time in the great outdoors helps rustle up a healthy appetite, and The Ranch’s culinary team is ready to satisfy it.

The menus reflect The Ranch’s rustic-meets-refined charm. For dinner, how about rainbow trout with beluga lentils and broccoli with preserved-lemon mayonnaise? Or maybe you’re in the mood for country-fried bison steak with Montana-grown farro, collard greens, and corn gravy. Chef Drage’s ranch-to-table cuisine includes creative vegetarian fare, too, including a delicious sweet potato sandwich for lunch. Vegetables play a starring role at every meal, and salad lovers will be impressed with dishes such as organic mixed lettuces with chanterelle mushrooms, celery, fingerling potatoes, and feta cheese from a local farm.

A wonderful wine cellar is at the ready to provide by-the-glass menu pairings or celebratory splurges. Beer lovers have plenty to consider with all of the Montana craft brews on offer, and local distilleries raise the bar with spirits such as the aromatic Whyte Laydie gin from Montgomery Distillery in Missoula.

After dinner, guests can lounge by the fire in the lodge for a quiet nightcap, kick up their heels at weekly Western dances in the Buckle Barn, or head over to the property’s Silver Dollar Saloon. The saloon offers the chance to watch a movie in the private theater, play some billiards, or trade cowboy boots for bowling shoes and knock down a few pins. Then, it’s lights out to rest up for another adventurous day at The Ranch. But not before you gaze up at the heavens to marvel at the millions of brilliant stars illuminating the night in Big Sky Country.

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Montana Meatloaf

Montana Meatloaf recipe from Rock Creek

Sometimes the very best souvenirs are memories of uniquely wonderful meals that add a delicious dimension to travel experiences. This veggie-packed meatloaf recipe, created by Executive Chef Josh Drage of The Ranch at Rock Creek, is beautiful when sliced, revealing jewel-like pieces of carrot and celery. Take a bite, close your eyes, and enjoy a taste of the western Montana ranch lands.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes
3 stalks celery, diced into half-inch cubes
1 medium onion, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 shake hot sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 pound lean ground beef

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large sauté pan, heat oil and sauté shallots until they are soft and starting to caramelize. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until just softened. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg with a large fork, stir in the ricotta, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and sautéed vegetables to combine. Add the bread crumbs and ground beef and gently stir until well mixed. Cook off a test piece in the sauté pan and check seasoning.

Form the mixture into a slender loaf. Spray a baking rack with nonstick cooking spray, and place the loaf on the rack over a sheet pan to allow the fat to drain. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until a meat thermometer reaches 160 degrees (about an hour). Remove from oven, let cool, serve with all the fixin’s, and enjoy!

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