The great state of Montana boasts an untamed, rugged wilderness that lures many an adventure seeker year after year. Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana, flanking the Canadian border, spans more than one million acres of pristine, protected parkland. Teeming with a vast array of plant species and wildlife, the park’s two mountain ranges and 130 plus lakes create a natural playground for anyone desiring an authentic outdoor experience.
Montana is also big-sky cowboy country, made up of rolling grasslands, grazing cattle and manly men. Drive four hours south from Glacier National Park and you’ll find the luxury dude ranch “The Resort at Paws Up”. Covering more than 37,000 acres, Paws Up offers a more pampered and refined wilderness experience, while honouring Montana’s proud cowboy culture. The resort is ideal for those wanting the thrill of the great outdoors without having to actually pack provisions, set up a tent, sleep on the ground or forgo running water. My husband and I are just those types of people.
Paws Up actually immerses you in pristine nature, while spoiling you with comfort – transforming even the most refined city slicker into an expert outdoorsman. The resort offers luxury ranch house and tented accommodation options that sleep anywhere from two up to eight people. Wanting the full cowboy experience, we booked a tent at the property’s newest camp, “Cliffside”. The setting is truly stunning. Perched on a cliff overlooking Montana’s famous Blackfoot River, which was used as the location for the Brad Pitt movie A River Runs through It, the camp consists of six spacious canvass tents nestled under a canopy of towering pines and a large, communal open-air dining pavilion with outdoor fire pit and seating area.
Our camp butlers Ben and Clyde greeted us upon arrival and explained the lay of the land. We quickly learned that food is a large part of the Paws Up experience. Breakfast and the nightly four-course dinner would be cooked onsite by our extremely gregarious and skilled chef Niffer. For lunch we’d be shuttled up to Trough restaurant for a home-cooked, western style 3-course meal. And, if we ever felt peckish, the camp fridge and pantry could be raided for mac-and-cheese, chocolate bars, chips and other such low calorie snacks.Although the weather had been extremely warm leading up to our arrival, we were hit with a few thunder and lightening storms during our stay. While camping in the rain is usually miserable, our experience was actually enhanced by it. Snuggling under the duvet of our plush king bed and listening to the rain patter against the tent roof lulled us into the soundest of sleeps. And, if it wasn’t the birds chirping and crisp morning air in our tent we may have forgotten that we were even camping, as the heated slate floors, rain shower, dual vanity and towel warmer in our ensuite were a far cry from the stereotypical campsite bathroom.
Perhaps what surprised me most about our time at Paws Up was the camaraderie between guests and staff. During the day our campmates were off on one of the thirty plus activities offered throughout the resort, but after dinner we gathered around the campfire roasting marshmallows and sharing stories. There were two other couples at the Cliffside camp with us. One couple were both CIA agents who had visited Paws Up six months prior and had come back for a 50th birthday celebration, and the other were both in the shipping business. The combination of characters made for very interesting conversation. We were regaled with many tales of animal mishaps in the shipping industry, including an orangutan that escaped from its cage on an international transport flight and ate the accompanying avocado shipment. The nightly fireside chats also allowed us to learn more about the resort’s many activities.
My goal at Paws Up was to do as little as possible; reading by the fire, leisurely walks, a game of horseshoes and billiards at The Lewis & Clark Reception Bar. Feeling slightly guilty for our lack of activity we did book a gentle trail ride on what might have been the ranch’s slowest horses Spook and Bubba, which we followed with a couples massage in an open-air tent at Spa Town. Our shipping industry campmates on the other hand booked one to two activities a day for the entire weeklong duration of their stay. They went fly fishing on the Blackfoot River (their favourite activity), enjoyed multiple spa treatments at Spa Town, did a cattle drive, took the clay shooting course and archery lessons, went on an ATV tour, rappelled, hiked and mountain biked. Needless to say, the typical five-pound holiday weight gain was likely avoided our enthusiastic new friends.
Paws Up is a year round destination, with the exception of the tented camps which are only available May through September. Spring, summer and fall in Montana are beautiful, however we’ll definitely return during the Christmas season to experience a true winter wonderland. The Resort at Paws Up is located 35 minutes northeast of the Missoula airport in Montana, which Alaska Airlines flies to daily via Seattle.