Activities at these Harper-recommended ranches provide a true taste of the great American West, and so much more.
Vast, open skies. The rhythmic calls of untamed wildlife. Mother Nature's deliciously earthy aroma. In today's fast-paced world, the simplicity of traditional ranch life has raw appeal. However, the modern Harper-recommended ranch resorts across North America offer much more than just cowboys and campfires. From heli-fishing to hot springs, these guest ranches provide a wide range of activities that appeal to experienced nature lovers and bona fide city slickers alike.
Staff from Montana's Firehole Ranch, Triple Creek Ranch, Ranch at Rock Creek and the Resort at Paws Up, and Colorado's Dunton Hot Springs and Smith Fork Ranch share the following sampling of guests' favorite year-round activities.
"A nature tour with manager Bill McConnell was one of the highlights of the entire trip," shares a Harper guest of Triple Creek Ranch.
One of the best ways to begin a ranch stay, nature hikes enable new guests to acclimate to the unspoiled environment.
At Montana's Triple Creek Ranch, hikers can opt to begin their journeys right outside their cabin door and meander through Bitterroot National Forest, which history buffs will recognize as part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail. Experienced hikers can tackle more rigorous trails like the Trapper Peak Hike, which leads participants to a point five miles up in elevation.
During the popular photography safaris at Dunton Hot Springs in the Colorado Rockies, a professional photographer accompanies guests through some of the most pristine wilderness in the nation, teaching them how to use their cameras to get the best shots.
"Don't miss a float trip down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Big fish and big rocks! Beautiful," says a Harper guest of Smith Fork Ranch.
"We sit at about 8,800 feet, a very high elevation. It's like being in an Alpine setting right here in the U.S." – Edoardo Rossi, executive vice president at Dunton Hot Springs.
Not all ranches welcome guests during the winter months, but those that do offer an entirely different style of adventure than one finds when the weather is warm.
Guests at Dunton Hot Springs can be whisked through the forest on a dog sled, ice climb a frozen waterfall or traverse trails on a snowmobile. The property even offers avalanche education taught by professional ski patrollers, weather forecasters and snow science experts.
Incorporating the spirit of the holidays, visitors at the Resort at Paws Up can climb aboard an enchanting horse-drawn sleigh and ride over powdery hills and frozen terrain, all while sipping hot cider, cocoa or coffee.
At Triple Creek Ranch, guests enjoy skijoring, a Siberian winter sport where a horseback rider pulls a skier through snowy meadows and forest trails.
"We enjoyed our three-night stay very much with our 5- and 7-year-olds. They liked the kids' camp, my 7-year-old got to ride a horse, we spent a lovely day at the lake and rented a boat for the kids to go tubing. The cattle drive for kids 10 and older was amazing!" – recent Harper guest of The Resort at Paws Up.
Think ranches are too rugged for kids? Think again. Unobstructed environments provide innumerable ways for youngsters to get off the couch and appreciate the natural world.
At The Ranch at Rock Creek, the Little Grizzlies Kids' Club caters to children ages 4 through 12. Daily activities with themes like "Wilderness Survival," "the Olden Days" and "Cowboys & Horses" give kids the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Montana ranch life.
Dunton Hot Springs appeals to young guests with organized scavenger hunts. As the entire property was once a 19th-century mining town, the site offers endless opportunities for discovery.
Geocaching, a GPS-navigated treasure hunt, is one of many popular options for young explorers at The Resort at Paws Up.
"Philipsburg, Montana is one of the surviving old mining towns and boasts some great microbreweries and the country's second-largest candy store." Adam Shoen, general manager at The Ranch at Rock Creek.
"Come with a sense of adventure. We have everything else you'll need." – Patrick Little, activities director at The Ranch at Rock Creek.
"I remember sitting on my little porch after a light summer rain, watching a double rainbow over the mountains, and I could actually smell the evergreen trees nearby because the air was so clean." – recent Harper guest of Dunton Hot Springs.
While ranch visitors easily find an abundance of adventurous activities to satisfy their adrenaline cravings, sometimes the best way to enjoy the trip is to sit back, relax and simply appreciate the great outdoors. Miles from hectic everyday life, ranches easily lend themselves to some good old-fashioned pampering.
The Spa at Smith Fork Ranch and Granite Spa at The Ranch at Rock Creek each provide the perfect environments for rest and rejuvenation. "One room contains a deep, freestanding tub, the inviting venue for a 'Saddle Sore Soak' in a custom herbal blend," Mr. Harper recalls. In these serene settings, skilled technicians dole out seasonal massages, facials and body treatments.
As its name suggests, Dunton Hot Springs sits on natural, sulfur-free hot springs, which range in temperature from 85 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. "The reason miners originally settled here was because of the hot springs," explains Executive Vice President Edoardo Rossi. Guests can choose from five soaking options, ranging from an outdoor pool adjacent to the town's original bathhouse to a private experience in the Wellhouse Cabin, which pumps water straight from the springs.
"One of my favorite things about working at The Resort at Paws Up is getting to watch people acclimate to Montana. You can physically see bodies relax, smiles widen and cares slip away after a day of breathing in the fresh mountain air." - Stephanie DeBruycker, concierge at The Resort at Paws Up.
"The sounds of the Blackfoot River put me to sleep every night." – recent Harper guest of The Resort at Paws Up.
"Firehole Ranch sits in the middle of fly-fishing mecca—perfect proximity to the Madison, Yellowstone and Firehole rivers, as well as the infamous "Henry’s Fork." [It's] nirvana for fisherman," shares a recent Harper guest of Firehole Ranch.
The world-class fly-fishing in scenic wilderness rivers is a major draw of North American ranch resorts.
The majestic Blackfoot River, made famous in Robert Redford's film, “A River Runs Through It,” winds its way through the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, making the property a favorite amongst avid fly-fishermen.
Open for less than four months a year and catering to only 20 visitors at a time, guests of Firehole Ranch in West Yellowstone, Montana enjoy some of the best fly-fishing conditions on the planet. Nearby rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone, Gallatin and Firehole provide a backdrop of breathtaking scenery and an abundance of blue ribbon trout.
Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford, Colorado boasts seven miles of private river access and encourages guests to try for a fly-fishing "grand slam" by catching all four species of trout during their stay.
Thrill-seekers relish the excitement of heli-fishing at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana. During this daring activity, guests and a guide fly via helicopter to a remote location to cast their lines into rarely fished waters.
Think ranch grub is all hot dogs and canned beans? Think again. At these Harper-recommended and partnering ranch retreats, every meal is truly a memorable experience all its own.
At Triple Creek Ranch, for example, Executive Chef Jacob Leatherman and his team request dietary information in advance of each guest’s arrival, and menus are planned with specific tastes in mind.
The five star, farm-to-table dishes at Smith Fork Ranch use local game alongside produce harvested on site. For oenophiles, the property’s wine cellar offers more than 400 selections from all over the world and has received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for the past two years. "We expect to earn that recognition again this year," proclaims General Manager Courtney Belmont.
Ranches also provide picturesque settings for annual events that highlight stellar cuisine. For three-days each May and September at the The Resort at Paws Up, Montana Master Grillers and Montana Master Chefs attract some of the country’s finest chefs, smokologists, winemakers, brewers and distillers, all clamoring for the next great bite.
A good old-fashioned cattle drive ranks as one of the most iconic excursions during a ranch stay.
In Montana's Big Sky Country, the unspoiled natural landscape provides a breathtaking backdrop for guests of The Resort at Paws Up to learn to corral, trail and sort the herd.
Would-be cowboys and cowgirls at Triple Creek Ranch can spend a day on horseback wrangling between 100 and 800 head of cattle. "Guests come back from this activity all smiles!" says Catharine Reed, activity and event coordinator.