The day dawns bright and I’m getting ready to saddle up through a still-chilly autumn meadow, the emerging sun turning the Ponderosa pines a gorgeous shade of lavender. Soon, my horse is taking me across the frigid waters of Blackfoot River on the ride of my life.
I’m in Big Sky Country for the very first time. As far as the eye can see, I’m taking in the breathtaking vistas at The Resort at Paws Up - a 37,000 acre working Montana ranch.
I’d arrived the day before, spending the day acquainting myself with this luxury ranch, where Hollywood A-Listers Leonard DiCaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Usher have all stayed.
Driving the winding dirt roads up to my luxurious home for three nights, I caught sight of a herd of more than 350 bison. The vision of these mammoth creatures was a remarkable Americana moment to behold.
There are 28 timber homes scattered around the property, each overlooking either/and rolling meadows, rivers, creeks and panoramic mountainscapes. Surrounded by thick forests, my four-bedroom refuge boasted a grand stone fireplace, chef’s kitchen, private hot tub, and lots of rich wood and leather furniture.
But you don’t have to be an equestrian to enjoy this luxurious resort. Whether it’s discovering its many hiking trails, trying your hand at fly-fishing, blissing out during an hour Swedish massage, or simply taking the opportunity to just chill out, it’s clear The Ranch has tapped into our contemporary need to commune in the great outdoors.
The expansive property is also a haven for authentic Montana dude ranch activities, like trail riding chuck wagons and cattle drives. The highlight of my trip was the three-hour cattle drive.
My inner cowgirl was put to the test, when within minutes we reach the open pasture where about a hundred Corrientes cows are grazing, seemingly oblivious to our presence.
I soon learn that rounding up 800-pound cows across to the river and back is no easy feat. First off, my horse wasn’t too keen on crossing the river; preferring to graze on the grass instead. Lucky for me, our female wrangler guided me through the corralling process, and firmly but gently, guided my horse towards the herd up a hill of sage brush.
During my October round-up, I discovered that Neophytes like me learn to ride back and forth at the rear of the herd, slowing down to let the wranglers drive cattle in from the sides and avoiding getting into the middle of the herd, which frightens the cows, scattering them in every direction.
After that exhilarating experience, it was time to partake in some of the best farm-to-table cuisine. The fare at Paws Up is as much a reason to take a dude ranch vacation as the western horseback riding experience. The culinary terrain is heavily influenced by fresh, local and ethically sourced fixings.
Local purveyors work together, so that the ingredients are the featured attraction on the ever-changing menus and reflect the agriculture and people of Montana.
Here, you can expect ranch food as good as you'd find in any Michelin-rated restaurant. Shining a limelight on refined rustic ranch gastronomy, diners were held in the aptly named Pomp Restaurant, where culinary delights were paired with fine wines.
This was a chance in a lifetime to experience Montana’s premier luxury ranch resort, which at every turn indulged my every sense.