Layered up like an onion, we were dressed for the unpredictable spring weather that presents itself in Montana. The itinerary said we would ride out rain or shine and fortunately, today, Mother Nature cooperated and the sun shined on us as we enjoyed a cattle drive at The Resort at Paws Up. April in Montana means the birthing of calves surrounded in fresh, green grass, with hillsides awash in golden hues of yellow balsam root and wild flowers galore. It’s also the weekend of the annual Cowgirl Spring Roundup in Greenough, outside of Missoula. This is a weekend of girlfriend bonding, gourmet eating, workshop learning and spa time. I’ll write more about this deeply enriching event at another time. Today we focus on a horseback riding vacation at Paws Up, a working cattle ranch in western Montana.
Luxury guest ranch
Fortunately for me, I’ve been to other luxury ranch hideaway’s in Montana. This is not my first rodeo, if you know what I mean. Montana brings out the best in dude ranches; fabulous horses, farm to table cuisine, outdoor activities to keep your heart pumping and scenery that makes even amateur photographers look like pros. I can tell you that I was honestly quite pleased with the caliber of horse flesh and quality of personnel at Paws Up. The wranglers were personable, yet knowledgeable and the waitstaff was eager to please and happy to explain the difference between elk meat served with a port wine demi or huckleberry glaze. In fact, my waitress at Pomp, the fine dining restaurant at the resort, brought both sauces for me to try, and that pretty much sums up my weekend. Try it all was the battle cry – you can sleep when you’re headed home on the airplane.
Sadly, I didn’t have time to try all of the activities at Paws Up. You’ll need at least a week here to fly fish or raft the Blackfork River that flows through the resort. I wasn’t able to take a guided ATV ride to Garnet Ghost Town, looking down on Greenough Valley, or challenge myself on the Skyline aerial course, but I did conjure up my cowgirl wild west spirit. Along with the other cowgirls, we were wined and dined and looked after like royalty. Hey, if Paws Up is good enough for Gwyneth Palthrow and her posse, it’s certainly good enough for me!
This place would be ideal for a multi-generational family vacation as there’s something for every activity level. Even non equestrians will find plenty to keep themselves occupied, with hikes along the Grizzlyman Fitness Trail or hanging out at the spa.
Cowgirls left to right: Bonnie Vessels, Chelsea Drake, Lynn German, Dodie Bumgardner, Angel Myers & Laura Hastert.
Montana horseback riding vacation
What makes Paws Up unique compared to other resorts or guest ranches? According to Horse Manager Dustin Call, “what makes us different is our ability to completely and fully balance a luxury experience with an active one. In my experience, having worked at and visited many different guest ranches, many of which were very high end, most places have to lean one way or another. If they have truly outstanding luxury cuisine and accommodations, they tend to have a selection of token activities to keep you occupied. If they have truly outstanding activities and outdoor experiences, they tend to have nice accommodations, but nowhere near what you would truly call luxury. Paws Up is the only place I’ve seen that really shines on both ends of this spectrum.”
One of the highlights of a vacation on this black Angus cattle ranch is the chance for a real cattle drive.
“I didn’t really have a cattle drive on my bucket list,” said Laura Hastert from Lemont, Illinois. “But I do now,” said the single mother of three. “I can say to myself, ‘self you did a cattle drive!’ Even if it was a 5 star cattle drive.”
What makes this cattle drive 5 star? The wranglers match each horse to rider. I have had both of my hips replaced, so mounting blocks are appreciated when it comes to riding after total hip replacements. All guests use mounting blocks as it is better for the horse’s backs and easier on the riders, too. Out on the trail we learned how to cut a cow from the herd and what it means to connect with our horse.
There are also plenty of options when it comes to lodging at The Resort at Paws Up. Large parties might enjoy the Wilderness Estate homes with hot tubs on the back deck and canvas tents outside for the kids to sleep away from parents if those choose. There are big timber log cabins, meadow homes and the famous glamping tents. If I were coming here for a romantic getaway or honeymoon, I’d stay at Eagle Cliff tent, overlooking the Blackfoot River. With heated bathroom floors and butler service, now that’s my kind of glamping!
Speaking of glamping. What’s a luxury dude ranch vacation at a high-end resort without some spa time? Spa town is a string of seven white canvas tents situated on a wooden boardwalk, overlooking a grassy meadow and out to the Swan Mountain range. After a day in the saddle or paddling the Blackfoot, you’ll want to spend some quality time with a Paws Up massage therapist – trust me on this…
When you see the sign for The Bull Barn, look for the elevator silo on the side of the building. The elevator silo was used to lift the bulls to the upper level for showing on the auction stage. These auctions took place until as recently as 2005. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @nancydbrown and if you love beautiful travel photography, follow @nancydbrown on Instagram.
The Resort at Paws Up is open almost year-round, with the exception of early December, as well as February and March, when the resort is closed for the season. The ranch is pet-friendly, however, dogs are not allowed in tented accommodations. Transportation to and from Missoula International Airport is included in the resort fee, as is transportation on the resort, WiFi, access to the Grizzlyman Fitness Center and use of the trail system on property. Check the website for special events and current pricing.
If You Go:
The Resort at Paws Up (800) 473-0601
40060 Paws Up Road
Greenough, Montana 59823
Dude ranch review, photography and YouTube video by travel writer and active adventure blogger Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of The Resort at Paws Up while researching additional articles for publication. All opinions are my own.