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Montana Family VacationGo Wild in Montana
Long gone are the days when boys played cowboys and Indians and all little girls wanted for their birthdays was a pony. Yet there’s still something primal about our fascination with the Wild West and galloping across the plains. Follow that call to Paws Up in western Montana, a working cattle ranch that offers everything from horseback riding, river rafting, and rappelling to paintball wars and chuck wagon rides. Yee-haw.
Good For: Families who love outdoor adventure but don’t want to rough it.
- Glamping has never looked so good. If you like the idea of camping but don’t want to spend your vacation sleeping on the ground, try Paws Up’s glamorous camping – and experience the great outdoors without sacrificing luxury.
- Whether you’re an experienced rider or you’ve never been in the saddle before, the resort’s matchmaking wrangler will pair you up with the perfect horse.
- ATV rides are one of the best ways to explore the 37,000 acres of Rocky Mountain wilderness that most kids only see on TV. Even though you need to be 16 years old to ride one, kids 8 and up can hitch a ride with mom or dad.
- Join the Kids Corps of Discovery, which features diverse programs like daily feedings of the baby animals at the Cowpokes’ Corral.
Suggested Stay: 4–7 days
What to Know: Unlike more traditional dude ranches, Paws Up does not operate with a pre-packaged, weekly itinerary. Instead, you’ll be able to do what you want, when you want. Just make sure to pack some cowboy boots because horseback riding is the main event. Trail rides through meadows and forests of ancient Ponderosa pines appeal to the whole family. But Paws Up isn’t just for summertime getaways. Over the holidays, Montana is blanketed in white, and activities include dog sledding and snowmobiling. Santa Claus is even guaranteed to make a personal visit.
If you love the idea of reconnecting with nature but prefer direct access to warm towels and indoor plumbing, Paws Up has you covered. The two-bedroom tented suites come complete with the trademarked The Last Best Beds and a bathroom with a large slate shower. The campsites also have their own dining pavilions with stone-and-timber fireplaces and an outdoor fire pit for a night of stories and s’mores. And don’t worry about packing food. Each camp comes with a private chef who’ll prepare your gourmet meals. There’s even a personal “camping butler” to ensure that all creature comforts are available.
Cabin Sweet Cabin
But if you still can’t stomach the idea of sleeping with just a layer of canvas between you and the wilderness, you can opt for a luxury home. Besides four solid walls and high-vaulted ceilings, each cabin includes flat-screen TVs with DVD players, high-speed WiFi, a full kitchen, a loft game room, and master suites with bathrooms outfitted with a spacious slate shower, a jetted spa tub, sumptuous spa products, and plush towels. Is the family divided on camp vs. cabin? Split time between both or ask for a luxury home that includes a private tent.
Remember Billy Crystal in City Slickers? That cattle drive looked like serious business. No worries here. The trail rides at Paws Up offer horseback riding at a relaxed pace, making it easy for children and beginners. And, if you’re feeling adventurous and have more experience, sign up for their cattle drive. Just drop the younger kids off at the Junior Wrangler Program and saddle up with a seasoned ranch hand who will help you drive a herd of cattle across rolling pastures.
Trotting the trails works up an appetite. The cuisine at Paws Up blends sophisticated culinary techniques with local meats and produce. The Pomp restaurant has a menu of dishes like Rocky Mountain trout, sautéed with herbs, and paired with a Napa Valley Chardonnay. At the more casual Trough, start the day with huckleberries picked in the surrounding mountains with pancakes and handmade sausage. Or, forget dining rooms entirely and jump on the resort’s old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon to Blackfoot River for an authentic chuck wagon lunch or dinner.
Never tried fly-fishing? There’s no better place to learn than the Blackfoot River, immortalized in Norman McLean’s A River Runs Through It. You can also get out on the water without a rod. For a leisurely float, try the Clearwater canoe trail. Or, negotiate Class I and II rapids in a raft or inflatable kayak. For a spike in adrenaline, hit the river for a full-day whitewater adventure down Alberton Gorge. If your kids can’t go too long without technology, send them on a high-tech geocaching scavenger hunt. Using a handheld GPS device, they’ll explore the property’s vast hiking trails in search of hidden "caches" of coupons that can be redeemed for fun prizes. Lewis and Clark would be proud.
(All photos courtesy of Paws Up)