Decadent luxury at The Resort at Paws Up
Words Lauren Kramer
Photography courtesy The resort at paws up
It’s early morning and I’m sinking blissfully into the bubbles of a private hot tub on the back deck of my luxury timber home on a ranch in Montana.
The air carries the rich fragrance of pine from the forest that surrounds me. And nearby, where the forest opens up to vast rolling plains of meadows, the horses begin to stir, while the cattle and bison feed quietly in their pastures. I’m struck by the stillness in the air and by the sheer expanse of land that stretches as far as the eye can see. A mist hangs over the meadows, and where they end, densely forested mountains rise out of the Blackfoot River valley.
I feel like I’ve stepped straight into “God’s country,” a place untouched by the march of time and immeasurably distant from the city life I’m so used to.
Montana is peppered with dude ranches where guests come to experience a touch of the “wild west.” This one, The Resort at Paws Up, stands head and shoulders above the rest. Forty-five minutes northeast of Missoula, it’s a working cattle, bison and horse ranch on 37,000 acres of land. For guests, it’s an experience distinguished by authenticity, an unrivalled level of luxury and an extraordinary selection of activities. This is where celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Yellowstone actor Luke Grimes come to hang their Stetsons when they need some downtime, and it’s easy to see why.
Guests stay in luxurious homes defined by Montana’s bold, woodsy décor and outfitted with an attention to detail second to none. Our home has heated floors, a kitchen stocked with complimentary snacks, sodas and wine, and a crackling, wood-burning fireplace that’s irresistibly comforting on a cold night.
On arrival, we’re handed the keys to a new Lexus SUV to drive on the property, as well as reservations for inclusive fine dining meals at Trough and Pomp, two of the resort’s restaurants. Here, we’re treated to sumptuous, exquisitely presented cuisine in a relaxed, dress-code-free environment, where jeans are the choice outfit at any time of day.’
An all-season playground, the resort has an incredible array of well-thought-out wilderness adventures that keep guests engaged throughout their stay. In summer and fall there’s flyfishing, whitewater rafting, archery, clay shooting, a high ropes wilderness course, biking, hiking, a wide range of equestrian experiences—and that’s barely scratching the surface.
It’s late fall when we visit Paws Up, and we sign up for a backcountry tour, settling into an off-road vehicle and venturing into the Garnet Mountain range nearby. The leaves are turning orange and yellow as we leave the burbling creek and climb to higher elevations, pausing to take in magnificent views of the steep terrain below.
Our destination is Garnet, a ghost town that was home to 1,000 back in 1898, when gold prospectors, drawn by the discovery of nuggets in a nearby creek, arrived in droves. They built homes, a hotel, a school, a jail and a general store, but within seven years, they discovered that the rigours of gold extraction far outweighed the riches.
The ghost town that remains gives us a glimpse of their hopes and dreams. We step over cow dung to explore the old saloon, whose bar table sits intact, and the general store, whose tables are cluttered with old shoes, cans and dishes. Rusted bedframes linger in the hotel rooms, and an outhouse with room for three at a time sits empty beneath the tall pines.
We zoom back to the ranch grateful for our decadent creature comforts: a sophisticated dinner of wild sturgeon and Wagyu beef, a soothing hot tub beneath a starlit sky, and a deep sleep ensconced in fine linens.
As city slickers who’ve never held a shotgun, we sign up for clay shooting at the ranch, driving a few kilometres out to a small hill overlooking a pit littered with gravel and clay shells. From the shooting stands, our instructor, Buddy Horton, teaches us to load shotguns with 20-gauge shells and anchor them into our shoulders to reduce the impact of recoil.
The range has six clay houses that eject clays into the air at different angles, and we spend the morning improving our aiming accuracy. At each crack of the barrel, a shot echoes through the Blackfoot Valley, sounding like the distant rumble of an airplane.
“We see coyotes and deer out here all the time,” says Buddy, looking out over the grazing fields that stretch for miles before us.
In the afternoon, we test our aim further with archery, on a course where the targets are life-size rubber versions of animals indigenous to the region. We climb into small tree houses to shoot down below, aiming for fake animals large and small as we learn to handle a bow and arrow. As I become more adept with my aim, I realize this is my kind of hunting: the thrill of shooting an arrow in a danger-free environment with no cost to animal life.
The nights are turning cold in Montana by mid-October, and the first snow is just weeks away. At the ranch, that means a new range of activities becomes available, including fat-tire e-biking on backcountry roads, dogsledding, snowmobiling, tubing, skiing and winter biathlon, where target shooting and cross-country skiing are combined. Equestrian activities like horse whispering, cow croquet, riding and team penning will move to the large indoor arena, and the meadows and treetops will be blanketed in a crisp white sheet of snow.
But in the last days of fall, we can still enjoy bike rides across the expansive property, hikes into the forest and slow drives down to the river. While we cross paths only with a solitary chipmunk and a few squirrels, we hear stories of bear sightings, cougars, mountain lions and the large herd of elk that roams the ranch. This is “God’s country,” after all, and while it’s a brief playground for us, this land belongs first and foremost to them.
On our last day at Paws Up, we spend a quiet afternoon on the porch, inhaling the sense of freedom that comes with a view of acre upon acre of untouched land. As we pack up for the trip back to the Pacific Northwest, we can’t help but wonder why anyone would choose to live in a city when this kind of living, beneath Montana’s big open sky, is still possible.
If you go:
Getting there: The Resort at Paws Up is a 45-minute drive from Missoula, Montana, which is a 1.5-hour flight from Seattle, Washington.
Paws Up offers an array of accommodation options, including adults-only homes at the Green O, and several family-friendly options: glamping tents with slate showers on the banks of the Blackfoot River, Wilderness Estates, Big Timber Homes and Meadow Homes. Each accommodation is a self-contained, lavishly outfitted home decorated with Western flair. Accommodation is inclusive of airport transfers and meals and, with the exception of the glamping tents, includes a Lexus SUV for on-property use. Most activities are fee-based.
For information and reservations, visit pawsup.com or call 1-877-580-6343.