It usually takes me at least a day to unwind after flying across the country. But relaxation was instantaneous upon arriving at Paws Up, a luxury ranch resort in western Montana, 35 miles from Missoula. Here, nature reigns and stress melts away. Wherever you are on the 37,000 acre property, from horseback riding in vast meadows ringed by snow-capped mountains to fly fishing in the Blackfoot river—made famous in the film “A River Runs Through It”—the vastness of Big Sky country envelops you. With accommodations in 28 upscale vacation homes and 30 riverbank “glamping” tents, The Resort at Paws Up offers a luxurious wilderness vacation like no other I’ve experienced. It’s perfect for active multi-generational retreats. Starting with the 2016-2017 fall/winter season, it’s now open year round. And this summer Paws Up will be opening an additional camp with two three-bedroom tents (the first ever at the resort), as well as four two-bedroom tents, for a total of 36 tented accommodations for the 2017 glamping season.
WARM WEATHER ACTIVITIES
Numerous warm weather adventures include authentic cattle drives—where ranch hands instruct you in driving a herd of cattle to their corrals, sort them, then trail them back to the home pasture—scenic horseback rides, guided fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, rafting, paintball, and more. You can rappel down 180-foot cliffs, zoom along on ATV jaunts, get an adrenaline thrill on the aerial adventure course, and try your hand at sporting clays. This is also a wonderful place to learn skills from archery to horseback riding.
This fabulous eclectic room is actually the interior of a tent! Said to be the birthplace of glamping—aka glamorous camping—Paws Up is expanding its glamping options for the summer of 2017 with a total of 36 one, two, and three-bedroom tents. Clustered in sequestered groups of campsites, the tents all have full bathrooms, luxe bedding, and colorful design featuring such elements as chandeliers crafted from Coca-Cola bottles and even a copper bathtub. Each campsite includes a dining pavilion with a huge stone-and-timber fireplace, an outdoor fire pit, and a dedicated butler. The look is informal, but the service is five-star.
RUSTIC ELEGANCE IN YEAR-ROUND VACATION HOMES
Year-round accommodations at Paws Up include 28 two, three, and four-bedroom vacation homes, which come with a lime-green Kia car to get around the property (van service is also available). Homes are outfitted with such amenities as full kitchens, washers and dryers, and huge stone fireplaces stocked daily with dry logs. The three-bedroom Wilderness Estate home seen here has breathtaking views of mountain-ringed meadows, a secluded outdoor hot tub, and three en-suite bathrooms with jetted tubs and showers.
BLISSING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS
Pampering in the wilderness: The white tents of Spa Town, nestled in a meadow setting and linked together by a wooden boardwalk, include welcome tents with toilets and showers, and individual treatment tents with heated massage tables where expert therapists work their magic while you gaze out at Montana’s Big Sky view. In winter, Spa Town moves into the historical Morris Ranch House on property, and in-home spa services are available year-round for an additional fee.
WINTER WONDERLAND AND FESTIVALS GALORE
Paws Up is also a magical place for an active winter vacation. There are more than a hundred miles of lightly traveled wilderness trails for diverse activities that include snowshoeing, dogsledding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and tubing. There are also interactive wilderness workshops, adventure events, and special holiday packages. It’s hard to imagine a cozier winter wonderland for a Christmas gathering. New Year’s Eve kicks off with a multi-course tasting menu in the award-winning Pomp restaurant, followed by a huge bonfire and impressive fireworks display. In January, Winterfest weekend includes special wine pairings with hearty fare prepared by guest chefs and plenty of winter adventures. Themed weekend packages are offered year-round: if you’re thinking about a multi-gen girls getaway, check out the Cowgirl Spring Roundup. Offered in partnership with the Cowgirl Hall of fame, it includes workshops, trail rides, hiking, and a ranch photography clinic with Barbara Van Cleve.
Foodies alert! If you’re 80 percent vegan like me, you may not expect cuisine in Montana to go beyond red meat. But the farm-to-fork food here is excellent, and it’s art on a plate. Executive Chef Ben Jones adds diversity to locally-sourced Montana ranch cuisine, offering not only the expected beef and game but also delicious vegetarian and vegan options, such as avocado toast for breakfast. He organizes a Paws Up bucket-list event, the fall Montana Master Chefs weekend, featuring all-star guest chefs preparing signature dishes and breaking bread with guests. Other cool cooking weekends include Upper Crust, a baking conference with world-class sweets experts and artisanal pizza makers. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.