A river laced with ice and snow winds through rolling hills studded with a thick forest of evergreens. Mountain ranges provide the snowy backdrop. On a frosty hike along the banks of the Blackfoot River, Alan and I stop to inspect bobcat tracks before looking up to see a bald eagle sitting majestically in the trees. Later, we relax by the fire in a luxurious log home. Does this sound like a winter paradise to you? That’s what we found when The Resort at Paws Up invited us for a visit.
Welcome to winter in the Blackfoot Valley of Montana at The Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000 acre working ranch an hour north of Missoula. But don’t let the word “working” fool you. The staff at Paws Up has anticipated every detail to create a heady combination of luxury and activities in a wilderness setting. The only work required of guests is to enjoy themselves. Most visitors to Paws Up arrive in the summer for a glamping experience on the banks of the Blackfoot River. They stay in tents complete with ensuite bathrooms that include a double vanity, slate shower and heated slate floor. During the day activities like hiking, fly fishing and horseback riding provide the entertainment. At night, guests enjoy dinner in the camp dining pavilion before making smores around the campfire.
The Resort at Paws Up is popular with families in July and August. If you’re looking for a quieter experience, consider booking a stay in June or September.
But Alan and I wanted to visit this luxurious Montana resort in the winter, hopefully when the ranch was wearing a mantle of snow. We got our wish, sort of, on a 2-night stay in mid-January. While there was a slight covering of snow on the ground, it wasn’t enough to go snowshoeing so Jeff Butts, who heads the Guide Activities Department, led us on a slightly snowy hike along the Blackfoot River and up the hill to Lookout Rock. In summer, guests rappel down the rock’s sheer face; but scenery was today’s goal as we looked out over the expansive ranch from our rocky vantage point.
It snowed enough on the second night of our stay to enjoy a sleigh ride the next morning. When wrangler, Steve, pulled up in front of the Saddle Club at Paws Up—a state-of-the-art equestrian facility that deserves an article of its own—in a red sleigh pulled by two Percheron Draft Horses wearing sleigh bells and Santa hats, we were definitely in for an adventure where the horses do most of the work. Our only job was to stay warm.
Once Alan and I were snuggly tucked under blankets, Steve gave Pete and Re-Pete the go ahead. Sleigh bells jingled and jangled as the two horses trotted across the snowy field. Although Alan had rolled his eyes when I told him that I wanted to go on a sleigh ride, he was soon laughing like a kid. Yes, it’s that much fun—and romantic.
In addition to snowshoeing and hiking, The Resort at Paws Up also offers snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, dog sledding and biathlon. Some activities require an extra fee. Check the Winter Specials page for packages or this list for inclusive activities.
Although there were plenty of winter activities available, it was tempting to spend the day relaxing at our accommodations, Blue Bomber, one of the Big Timber Homes. The resort has three levels of vacation homes: Meadow, Big Timber and Wilderness Estates plus the Morris Ranch House and Blackfoot River Lodge for larger families.
The 1,440 sq. ft. log house, Blue Bomber, included a great room with rock fireplace and flat screen television. A well-equipped kitchen area (but not so well-equipped that I needed to cook dinner) was located in a corner of the room plus an upstairs loft provided a cozy sitting area and extra bedroom. In the master bedroom a second flat screen television was tucked inside an armoire but the master bath was the real star of the show. With heated slate floors and a shower large enough to be a room of its own, I could have spent serious time here. But then I would have missed the hot tub on the back deck or the wooded view from the long, covered front porch. I don’t usually write about furnishings and design, but those topics deserve a mention. Rustic chic comes to mind in describing the leather furnishings, Native American rugs, and well-thought-out accessories in both the Blue Bomber and also the public spaces at Paws Up. The attention to detail resulted in exactly what I would expect in a luxury wilderness resort.
Meals are included in the nightly rate at The Resort at Paws Up (alcohol is extra) and focus on local products as much as possible. Huckleberry pancakes anyone? During the winter, breakfast and lunch are served at The Trough, where hearty portions are meant to fuel your busy day. Dinner is served at Pomp, a rustic but elegant dining room. Alan and I discovered that dining on an elk steak in front of the fireplace is just the right touch to end a day of winter fun on this Montana ranch.
The Resort at Paws Up operates on a limited schedule during the winter. Check the website for details.
Now that Alan and I have experienced winter at Paws Up, our travel feet are itching to return for a couple of nights in a tent beside the Blackfoot River.
Disclosure: The Resort at Paws Up provided this travel experience. As always, the opinions are our own.