Travel: Rock Creek reprieve |

Travel: Rock Creek reprieve

Caramie Schnell
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyTake a horseback ride along the meandering Rock Creek, or better yet, request a ride up the surrounding hills and onto a ridge where you can get a view of the surrounding mountain ranges and the ranch below.

During a snowstorm, the world falls quiet. And never has it felt so silent as it did when autumn teetered on the edge of winter at a remote Montana guest ranch in late October. Chubby white flakes began to fall from the sky about an hour after we arrived at the Ranch at Rock Creek, a luxury guest ranch in southwestern Montana.

There’s nothing that compares to sitting in an outdoor hot tub as snow coats the world around you, which is why my favorite partner-in-travel, Holly, and I pulled on our swimsuits, plucked the thick robes from our cabin’s closet and hightailed it a block to the steaming tub.

In the time it took to drink a beer a piece, the snow stopped and the sun peeked through a few stray clouds. We watched as dark clusters of honking geese flew over every 10 minutes or so, en route to warmer climes. Then a smaller flock of snow geese flapped directly overhead. Glimmering in the late-afternoon light, they looked like facets of a diamond.

Each fall, without fail, Holly and I go on an adventure together. Now that Holly has sweet-as-peach-pie, 6-month-old baby Lucy, this vacation needed to be a little closer to her home, in Missoula. The Ranch at Rock Creek is a 90-minute drive from her piece of Montana, and, with activities ranging from fly fishing and horseback riding to skeet shooting and even outdoor paint ball, we figured it’d be hard not to have some sort of adventure.

The Ranch at Rock Creek was originally a mining claim in the late 1800s, and homesteaded around the turn of the century. It was a working cattle ranch up until owner Jim Manley purchased it in 2007. Manley combed Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana for 20-some years, searching for the ranch he’d dreamt of owning since he was kid. With plenty of space to roam –nearly 10 square miles – and four miles of private, pristine fly fishing waters weaving its way through the property, it’s easy to see why he chose this ranch.

There wasn’t another guest in sight as we walked into the Granite Lodge to check in. Behind the front desk sat Jeannine, one of the property’s managers. She asked if we’d eaten lunch and without a second thought, we abandoned the hodge-podge picnic lunch in the backseat of the car in favor of juicy steak sandwiches and warm sweet potato fries in the dining room. Afterwards, we followed Jeannine to our digs for the next two nights: Cattail Cabin. Two bikes, already sized for each of us, were parked in the log bike rack in the driveway.

Though one of the newest homes on the ranch, Cattail blends in with the other buildings seamlessly. It has two master suites, a full kitchen, log fireplace and two-and-a-half bathrooms, replete with clawfoot bathtubs. The spacious, modern floor plan juxtaposed nicely with rustic decor and timeless and familiar touches, like the Pendleton wool blankets within an arms reach of every chair, sofa and bed. Unlike many new resorts that attempt to simultaneously be contemporary and rustic (ceramic elk mounts, anyone?), the Ranch at Rock Creek’s decor is true to its homesteading roots with reclaimed wood beams, leather furniture and pioneer antiques, like the pair of carved tobacco pipes, sprinkled throughout. It was the surprisingly large book collection, filled with both historical reads about Montana’s heritage mixed in with at least 10 titles on my “must-read” list, that really surprised me. There must’ve been 60 or more books in our cabin alone, an amenity I’ve never encountered before and one that made it really feel like home.

If I ever make it back to the ranch, I want to “glamp” in one of the luxury wall tents on the property, which Jeannine gave us a tour of, along with some of the other cabins and rooms in the Granite Lodge. With multiple light-filled rooms, gas fireplaces and indoor plumbing, some of the tents are large enough to fit a family of 4 or more. Plus one could sip wine from the porch overlooking Rock Creek, and later, while tucked in a warm bed, listen to the water rush by at night. My kind of camping, indeed.

After our leisurely hot tub soak, we enjoyed a four-course meal with wine pairings that was as good as anything I’ve eaten in Vail. Executive Chef Josh Drage prides himself on using Montana meats and vegetables when he can, like the crispy-skinned Montana trout we enjoyed that night. It was the homemade semolina gnocchi and Brussels sprouts course the following night that really wowed us, though.

The next morning, after coffee and a breakfast of Greek yogurt with homemade granola and fresh berries, we headed towards the rod and gun club. As we crossed the creek, a bald eagle soared a hundred feet straight above us and we wondered aloud if the staff could somehow cue the wildlife. After pulling on cowboy boots, and donning hats and mittens, we were ready for our morning horseback ride. We told our talented guide (she could canter without moving her upper body) that despite not being the most experienced riders, we didn’t want a tail-to-muzzle ride along the river, but something that challenged us a bit. She happily obliged, taking us up the nearby hills to the top of a snow-covered ridge where we could see the splendor of the nearby Pintler and Sapphire mountain peaks. Like all of the staff at the ranch, she was warm and genuine.

After the chilly ride, we warmed up with coffee, crispy pork chop sandwiches and more of those sweet potato fries before heading back out into the cold, this time with shot guns in tow. Our shooting instructor, Jeff, taught us (well me; Holly is a Montana girl, which means she has her own shotgun and an Italian bird dog named Millie) proper gun safety, and how to load, hold and shoot the guns before setting us lose on the clay pigeons. With 20-gauges in our hands and big grins on our faces, we played a round of Annie Oakley, a shooting game which Holly promptly won. And of course, later, after sneaking in a quick hike, we stuck with tradition and climbed in the hot tub to warm up. This time it didn’t snow, but silence was all around.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at

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