Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Montana

Author: Nanci L. Grant-Charlton

Tags : Adventure Trip, Family-Friendly Hotels, Montana, North America, USA
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This family finds going home to Big Sky's exclusive family ranch provides unforgettable outdoor fun all year round.

Thomas Wolfe once said, "You can't go home again", but this summer I discovered that you can go back... to camp with your family. Westerncamp, that is, in the Spanish Peaks of Montana. After perusing books on Montana and Wyoming, I chose Lone Mountain Ranch, located in Big Sky, about an hour drive south of Bozeman. Many dude ranch brochures looked inviting, but Lone Mountain's slogan "Discovery is in our Nature" intrigued me. Like the others, they offer horseback riding, but feature a nature program with Yellowstone National Park as its backyard attraction and, to make it easier, all meals and activities are included in one (large) price.

To give Halle, our 7-year-old, a head start, we spent a few days camping in the park. We were fortunate enough to see many of its geothermal wonders, and a variety of wildlife -- bison, elk, mule deer, hawks, and a possible distant bear sighting. As we drove up the ranch driveway, we were greeted by a moose cow and her calf. Elated, we checked in, and were directed across a small foot bridge to our cabin, which was nestled between two streams front and back.

August 29th is a late date to begin a summer vacation, so we were concerned about the number of kids my daughter could hope to meet. Surprisingly there were 34 children ranging from 3- to 16-years of age.

Winter or Summer, Cabin Comforts

It's important to mention that Lone Mountain was first and foremost a winter ranch. It is considered to have some of the best and most meticulously groomed cross-country trails in America -- all 80kms. Imagine skiing past geysers, fumaroles, and bison. In season, there are hourly shuttles to Big Sky Mountain Ski Resort for downhill skiing. Other winter activities include telemarking, sledding, snowshoeing, sliding and sleigh rides, and of course, fly-fishing for the fanatic. With all sounds blanketed by snow, it's just the place to reacquaint yourself with your significant other.

Our cabin was charming and simple. It had an attached dressing room, bath and included a queen bed and a bunk bed. My favorite was the wood burning stove. It conjured possible afternoon naps with book in hand, nodding off to the crackling fire and the babbling of the streams. Smaller family favorites are the Bald Eagle (built in 1927 and restored), the newer Bighorn, Coyote and Bullmoose, which sleeps up to four in two bedrooms and has a screened-in porch. All cabins include fireplaces and/or wood stoves. There is also lodging that can accommodate large family reunions at The Ridgetop Lodge (up to 18), Douglas Fir (up to 10) or Hilltop (up to eight with a screened-in porch.) All are nearby the ranch store, which provides anything from batteries to great clothing to local crafts and sweets made from indigenous huckleberries.

Lone Mountain's Kids Activities, Great Cuisine, The Great Outdoors

The ranch was a bit intimidating the first day. You are given a folder with a list of every possible activity. First, there was an Ice Cream Social for the kids to meet the staff and to schedule activities (horsebackrides and lessons, camp-outs, cookouts, canoe trips, hikes, wall climbing, archery, etc.) If you never want to see the kids, enroll them in the eco-focussed Youth Adventures program which operates from mid-June until late August for children ages 4-18.

For the grown-ups, the list is essentially the same, plus whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, nature photography in Yellowstone, and excellent massages -- a good thing to have after day one on a horse. The whirlwind sign-up was followed by a wine and cheese reception on the terrace of the Saloon. There, staff and management do not hesitate to remind you that the schedule you've just created is not written in stone!

One realizes quickly that part of the brilliance of the ranch plays out in the dining room, a grand yet intimate room which is very conducive to meeting other families. The food is fresh and based on local game and fish (the home-made desserts ain't bad either) and the staff is attentive. Vegans, don't worry: there is always an outrageously good vegetarian special offered. The wine list has some solid entries. Once a week there is a barbecue under the Pavilion, a tongue and grooved structure set back in the woods.

The next day, after a diverse buffet breakfast (even your kids will find something), we hit the trails for our family orientation ride. After a comprehensive instruction of Do's and Don'ts given by Kristen, head of the riding program, you ride. The philosophy is clear: the best way to learn is by doing. My wrangler, Michel, was supportive and patient in assuaging my fear (I was thrown off a horse at age 8), which I overcame in an hour.

Ah, the trails...You can go anywhere from an elevation of 6,700 up to 11,166 feet. The vistas areextraordinary. Off-trail rides across meadows of flowers and into the woods, distant mountain peaks highlighted with small patches of snow and sunlight. We rode with other families, which was another great way to get to know fellow ranchers. Extra activities for kids ages 4- 18 included animal tracking and casting, flower pressing, leather tooling necklaces and bracelets, making dream catchers, playing with the resident llamas, tether ball, games, reading Native American tales, and learning about the Yellowstone eco-systems at the Nature Center.

The ranch's fishing program, headed by Gary Lewis, is Orvis-endorsed and has a staff of knowledgeable guides. A catch and release policy is strongly promoted. Blue ribbon trout streams include the Gallatin, Firehole, and Yellowstone Rivers, where my husband ascended into Zen fishing bliss as his guide taught him what flies to use and where.

Resort Report Card

Name:Lone Mountain RanchAddress:750 Lone Mountain Ranch Road
Big Sky
Montana
59716
www.lmranch.comPhone:800/514-4644Seasonal Rates:$$$$ - $$$$$Hotel Setting:A+Hotel Staff:AChoice of Activities:BQuality of Amenities:BBonus:A frontier dream come true, but pricey - kids rates in effect only for those under 5.Note:If I were to name all of the staff that make this place great, we'd be here all day.