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This Beloved Western Ranch Resort Has Horse Wranglers, Fine Dining, Mountain Views, and Cozy, Adults-only Tree Houses

In Montana, a wide-open space beckons families, couples, and adventurous spirits.

<p>Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of </p> The Resort at Paws Up on a summer night.

Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of

The Resort at Paws Up on a summer night.

Arriving at The Resort at Paws Up is like driving into the opening scene of Hollywood Western film. Green fields and dark pine forests stretch out before you for miles, until your eyes travel up the ridge line to the mountains in the distance. In the middle of it all, a herd of some 200 bison graze. 

I spent a long weekend with a friend at this bucolic retreat this spring, getting to know a bit of the 37,000 acres that have been home to commercial cattle ranching since the early 1900s. These grounds, which also include the gated, adults-only Green O, a resort within a resort, have rustled up travelers’ enthusiasm for years. But what's behind the staying power of this luxe Montana ranch? I had to find out for myself.



What We Like

  • The Paws Up activity guides are passionate, knowledgable, and quickly adaptable to travelers’ needs.

  • Each log cabin accommodation includes a complimentary Lexus SUV — driving around the property, you’ll feel like you own the place.

  • Amid all the fantastic offerings, the equestrian program stands out for its progressive, thoughtful approach to horsemanship.

  • The Wilderness Outpost boutique offers a treasure trove of Western goods, from designer shearling coats to classic Stetson cowboy hats.



The Rooms

Guests have a lot of options regarding where to stay. For those seeking a log cabin vibe, there are Meadow Homes, Big Timber Homes, and Wilderness Estates. (The Meadow Homes were all refurbished this past winter, and two new ones were just built for this spring.) For travelers who want to feel like they're camping, six seasonal glamping sites will open along the Blackfoot River in the spring and summer months. The last option, ideal for couples and friend getaways, is the adults-only, Scandinavian-style Green O homes, located in a private, wooded sub-section of the resort for maximum privacy.

I stayed at Camp Fortunate, a sprawling three-suite, four-bath lodge in the Wilderness Estates category. The VIP setting included an eight-person outdoor hot tub, an indoor Jacuzzi, and — my favorite — an impressive stone fireplace with a giant tree trunk as the mantle. The aesthetic was everything I could want from a Montana ranch getaway: a steepled pinewood roof, dark leather couches to sink into, and cowboy-inspired art on the walls and coffee tables. On the porch outside, rocking chairs looked out upon a gently rolling hill.

The Wilderness Estates feel like home rentals that have all the perks of a luxury resort. After our car insurance was verified, we were given the keys to a 2022 Lexus NX to drive around the property; our "cabin" had a washer and dryer — much appreciated by hardened New Yorkers like yours truly — and each night, after dinner or drinks, we loaded the dishwasher. But we didn’t cook (although we could have) — on the nights we wanted to cozy up inside, we used the Paws Up app to order room service, from a caviar-topped chef's scramble for breakfast to brownies for dessert on our last evening. 

<p>Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up</p> Inside a Wilderness Estate at Paws Up.

Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Inside a Wilderness Estate at Paws Up.

Food and Drink

With so much to do at Paws Up (we’ll get to that in a moment), it makes sense that the dining is sustaining as well as delicious. At Pomp, the dinner venue, I sipped an Oh My Darlin mocktail made of Seedlip Grove 42, lime juice, and huckleberry syrup made in-house from berries that grow nearby. Then, I ordered a coulotte steak, a cut known for its marbling, flavor, and tenderness, served with espresso jus, potatoes, and toasted cashews.

The cuisine at Green O’s Social Haus tastes just as good, and is styled with an eye for haute presentation. For lunch, I tried a warming chowder made from salsify, an edible root vegetable, sprinkled with bacon and chive oil. My friend and I ate looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows, where dappled sunlight filtered through the surrounding forest.

A highlight was talking to executive pastry chef Krystle Swenson. I loved her homemade ice cream, which tasted like the more-elegant version of a pumpkin spice latte, as Swenson told me about some of the desserts she had recently made. “With the snow we got back in February, I thought, ‘How do I translate the smell of a pine forest with freshly fallen snow into a dessert?’" she told me. "So, I made an ice cream heavily infused with pine and mint.” Swenson is serious about her handmade techniques — she gathered pine boughs on the estate and cut the stems to gather essential oils. To produce the green color, she said, “I used about a pound of mint for one small batch of ice cream.”

<p>Dan Goldberg Photography/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up</p> A spring salad at the 23-seat Social Haus restaurant.

Dan Goldberg Photography/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

A spring salad at the 23-seat Social Haus restaurant.

Experiences and Amenities

The outdoor activities are where Paws Up truly excels, from family-friendly go-kart racing to an aerial ropes course to cattle drives. In the spring and summer, guests have options like river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, clay shooting, and hot-air ballooning. In the winter, you can zoom over the snow-clad grounds on a MoonBike, a cross between a snowmobile and an e-bike. There’s also dog sledding with Jessie Royer, a musher who has raced in 20 of the past 23 Iditarods, the famously grueling 1,000-mile race across Alaska.

Year-round, horseback riding is a big draw. “It’s important to me that it never be a surface-level experience,” said equestrian manager Jackie Kecskes. She started a mustang rescue and rehabilitation program in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management in 2018; now, there are 12 gentled mustangs on the property. “Some would say we’re not even teaching the horses; we're helping them realize what they can already do,” she said. One morning, I met Tonto, one of the first mustangs who were rescued under Kecskes’ watch. With his bright eyes, gentle demeanor, and stocky body, he reminded me of a teddy bear.

Another prime, perhaps unexpected activity at Paws Up? Whiling away an hour or two at the Wilderness Outpost boutique. Just don't call it a gift shop — there are rows upon rows of Stetson cowboy hats, thousand-dollar shearling coats from fashion designer Lindsey Thornburg, glossy photography books, plushies for children, and willow-bark pens made from trees that grow nearby. I felt like a kid myself, ruffling through Pendleton button-downs and pearl-snap shirts from female-owned Wyatt Outdoors. Retail and buying manager Haley Wilson, once a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus before opening her own store, showed me how to properly fit my (newly purchased) hat and sample different customizations: feathers, turquoise pins, rhinestones, braided bands.

<p>Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up</p> A group ride at Paws Up.

Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

A group ride at Paws Up.

The Spa

I was having too much fun to spare a minute for the spa — in retrospect, a big mistake. The Spa Town consists of six treatments tents set up in a meadow — some equipped with heated massage tables, others with showers and hot baths — along with a glass-enclosed yoga studio. Apothecary lessons, yoga classes, and kid-friendly massages are offered in addition to the standard treatments, from facials to hot-stone massages. From October through May, wellness services move indoors to the Morris Ranch House, a home originally built in the 1800s as lodging for ranch hands.

<p>Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up</p> A treatment tent in the Paws Up "Spa Town."

Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

A treatment tent in the Paws Up "Spa Town."

Accessibility and Sustainability

Two ADA-friendly accommodations, the Frog Knobbler Timber Home and the Camp Fortunate Wilderness Estate, include a ramp and railings. Most public spaces — including the Welcome Barn and the three indoor restaurants — consist of one floor and offer wheelchair access. The individual cars, shuttle service, and dog-friendly policies also provide travelers with a greater level of autonomy. For specific inquiries, it's recommended to call the resort ahead of travel.

<p>Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up</p> Guests staying at the Blackfoot River Lodge or the seasonal glamping camps get prime views of the Blackfoot River.

Stuart Thurkilll/Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Guests staying at the Blackfoot River Lodge or the seasonal glamping camps get prime views of the Blackfoot River.

Location

The Resort at Paws Up is part of the Blackfoot Valley, located a half-hour drive northeast of Missoula. A Paws Up staff member picks up guests at the Missoula Montana Airport. Once you've arrived to the property, you can see two mountain ranges at once: the angular white Swan Range, like snow-dusted origami, and the gently rolling Mission Mountains, covered with dark pine forests like days-old stubble. The Blackfoot River, once frequented by tribes such as the Blackfeet, Flathead, and the Nez Percé — and later made famous by Norman Maclean’s novel "A River Runs Through It" — traverses 10 miles through the resort.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

True to its namesake, Paws Up offers dog-friendly accommodations for an additional $50 nightly pet fee. During my stay, I also learned the staff are amenable to watching pup visitors while guests go enjoy resort activities — so the family dog can have a vacation, too.

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