February 13, 2016
Big Smiles under Big Montana Skies
Story and Photos by Carolyn Price
Photo at right: Big Sky mountain in southwestern Montana looms large over Seattle hiker Carol Achtmeyer, who takes a break at 8,000 feet elevation.
If you want to fall asleep with a big smile on your face, Montana’s Lone Mountain Ranch is the place to go. Never before had I done so much in two days: horseback riding, hiking, fly fishing, more hiking and, in-between, enjoying gourmet meals that would make any cowboy jealous.
Lone Mountain Ranch bills itself as an upscale dude ranch. Never mind that, just know you can play all day, eat delicious meals that you only read about in foodie magazines and call it good as you gently slumber off in your cozy, designer log cabin.
Our family of four stayed two nights at the Ranch, located six miles from Big Sky Mountain and 20 miles north of Yellowstone Park.
Old Wild West
The Ranch fancies itself as a destination for both East and West Coast visitors. We met fantastic guests from both coasts who were decked out in true Western fashions: Shiny pointy boots, cowboy hats, and Western shirts complete with pearly-snaps neatly tucked into fresh blue jeans fastened with wide iconic belt buckles.
Thankfully, if they had forgotten something, the Ranch’s dude-store supplied it! Regardless of fashion, the pure intention of all visitors is to soak up the clean air and relax Montana-style.
I went fly-fishing with a certified Orvis guide — catching a 6-inch rainbow along the Gallatin River —yes, where “A River Runs Through It” was filmed. My wife, daughter and nephew discovered Montana wildflower season by horseback in the nearby hills.
We regrouped for an easy 60-minute guided nature hike and learned a little history of the Ranch that was first homesteaded in 1915. We ventured to trails near Big Sky Mountain to views of the valley from 8,000 feet.
Finally, we came together in the afternoons to eat snacks and play cards in the Ranch’s open meadow surrounded by guest cabins and the lodge. We delighted in watching guests learn the fine art of land-casting before trying their hand in eddies of the Gallatin.
Lavish Gourmet Meals
What we looked forward to the most each day were the meals.
Our late-June trip afforded us the opportunity to dine on the large expansive deck morning, noon and evening. We gobbled up dishes that had familiar ingredients but were prepared lavishly by Executive Chef Nick Steen, named one of the “10 Best Chefs in the Northwest” by The Culture Trip, a global food, travel and culture magazine. The beauty of what Steen could do with farm-fresh carrots every night astounded us.
Sample this: Deviled eggs with candied bacon and pickled jalapeños; Butternut Squash Bisque with pickled beets, roasted baby carrots and huckleberries; and a trout entrée including various preparations of beets, pistachio mint pesto, Brussels sprouts and sunchoke chips made from Jerusalem artichokes. Locals also come to enjoy meals, fine wine and draft beers in the lodge’s friendly saloon.
It was the Tiramisu dessert, however, that the adults fell for. The kids enjoyed fancy s’mores with homemade marshmallows. We’ll have to return to try Steen’s squid-ink ice cream.
Summer and Winter Resort
Lone Mountain Ranch has as much to brag about in the winter as it does in the summer. With 85 kilometers of groomed trails, and 25 kilometers of snowshoe and dog trails, the resort was once voted the #1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier magazine. It also has great proximity to Big Sky Resort for downhill skiing and Yellowstone for Nordic and cat-skiing winter outings. Lone Mountain Ranch provides shuttles to both.
We would try and stay up as late as we could to marinate in the clean air and good living at the Ranch. But alas, the soothing effects of the small creek outside our open window quickly lulled us to sleep, big Montana smiles spread across our exhausted faces.
Carolyn Price is publisher of OutdoorsNW and wants you to know she tossed back her rainbow trout to live another day.