Camping in Comfort

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The Resort at Paws Up | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

Relax, reconnect and follow your sense of adventure while glamping in Montana.

By Sharon Stello

 

Far from the city lights, thousands of stars glimmer in the night sky. As you gaze upward, glass of wine or hot chocolate in hand, try to pick out the constellations while sitting around a crackling campfire. No doubt, it’s been a while since you connected like this, with nature or with friends and family. And, when it’s time to retire for the night, luxury tents are already set up only steps away. Fall asleep to the sound of the wind in the pines and the rushing river nearby.

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The Resort at Paws Up | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, which offers glamping from mid-May through mid-October on its 37,000-acre working cattle and bison ranch, makes it easy to have a wilderness experience with all the comforts of home—not to mention a butler to bring anything you might need. Six campgrounds with safari-style tents are available for couples, families and groups. The resort also boasts 28 luxury homes for those opting not to camp. And shuttles are ready to whisk you to the adventure center for over 70 activities, like horseback or ATV riding, mountain biking, rafting, fly-fishing along the Blackfoot River and more, the spa for soothing treatments or to restaurants serving gourmet cuisine; the resort now has three James Beard-nominated chefs on-site.

Here, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: refined living and rugged outdoor experiences.

 

Awe-Inspiring Amenities

With 36 tents ranging from 500 to more than 1,000 square feet, complete with heating and air-conditioning, Wi-Fi access, private decks and attached bathrooms with a shower and heated granite tile floors—not to mention daily full-service housekeeping—these glamping accommodations are far from roughing it.

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All the creature comforts of home at North Bank Camp at The Resort at Paws Up | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

Some include two or even three rooms for families or groups staying together. And the main room features what the resort dubs The Last Best Bed, an extremely comfortable king-size setup with down duvet comforters and pillows. Western-chic decor includes furniture and artwork hand-selected by the owners and exuding a sense of rustic elegance. Think chandeliers made of glass bottles, timber and wrought-iron headboards, distressed wooden cupboards and Southwest-style rugs. Some tents also include a copper tub to soak your cares away.

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Relax around the camp fire. | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

Campgrounds are situated along the banks of the Blackfoot River or Elk Creek, while others are on the clifftop above these scenic waterways. A Dining Pavilion at each campground offers made-to-order breakfast and dinner, or you can request a shuttle ride to visit one of the resort’s restaurants. Depending on the camp, games like cornhole, horseshoes, pingpong and foosball are available along with an assortment of board games to play by the pavilion’s fireplace. Take a stroll or borrow mountain bikes to explore local trails, keeping an eye out for deer that may be spotted along the river or amidst the trees. Then, gather around the fire pit at night to roast marshmallows for s’mores, tell ghost stories or just get lost in the flickering flames as they dance in the darkness.

 

Elevated Eats

When it comes to dining at Paws Up, this is no ordinary camping fare. At the campgrounds, choose from morning meals like chopped steak hash, avocado toast, buttermilk biscuits and country gravy or an egg scramble with bison sausage, plus an array of fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal. Camp dinners feature items like chile-dusted black Angus steak, grilled bison filet with black garlic jus and broccolini, roasted rainbow trout or king salmon with mashed potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, bok choy and sherry vinaigrette. And make sure to save room for desserts like baked cobbler. Each dining pavilion is also stocked with snacks and beverages for late-night munching; the camp host can even whip up a cocktail or pour guests a glass of wine or a local microbrew.

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Service at The Resort at Paws Up features a butler and gourmet food. | Photo by Dan Goldberg

For a meal away from camp, take a shuttle to the resort’s central area for casual fine dining with Western flair at Trough for breakfast—the huckleberry pancakes are a must try—or lunch, which ranges from hand-cut meats and locally sourced vegetables to salads, burgers and sandwiches plus dishes like chili made with wagyu beef, local grain risotto with English peas and a roasted half chicken with huckleberry jus. An espresso and smoothie bar is also offered, or head next door to Tank, a full-service cocktail bar that also provides an abbreviated food menu in a casual environment with a fireplace and TVs—although your attention will be drawn instead to the stunning views outside.

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Glamping at The Resort at Paws Up includes many scenic views. | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

Over near the Wilderness Outpost, the resort’s activities center, Shed beckons with smoked and flame-grilled food options like burgers, pulled pork, wings and sausage as well as grilled corn and other seasonal veggies such as “cauliflower burnt ends.” What started as a food truck near the forest’s edge became so popular that it was turned into a permanent fixture. Enjoy Shed’s wood-fired fare for lunch and dinner, with live music on Monday and Friday evenings. The building is also a sight to behold: Like a house frame without walls, the rustic architecture allows for open-air dining.

While at Paws Up, make sure to experience the traditional chuck wagon at least once. Guests are whisked to a scenic site on the ranch for a barbecue dinner with live music and activities like a horse-drawn wagon ride plus the opportunity to practice ax throwing and roping skills. Then, pile your plate with pork ribs, flame-roasted chicken, prime rib, corn, baked potatoes and baked beans. For dessert, choose from fruit cobbler made in a Dutch oven, s’mores or both.

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Enjoy access to a spa. | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

For fine dining, make a reservation at the resort’s signature restaurant, Pomp, whose moniker is a nod to the son of Native American woman Sacagawea, who aided the Lewis and Clark expedition; William Clark gave the boy the nickname Pomp, short for Pompey. The restaurant offers “refined rustic ranch” dishes, which change with the seasons and feature local ingredients. Consider potato and wild onion soup with Oregon black truffle, spot prawn ceviche, filet mignon or dry-aged bison rib-eye with roasted red potatoes, grilled asparagus and smoked herb butter, or cedar plank salmon with morel mushrooms, fiddleheads and peas.

 

Big Sky Adventures

In between eating and relaxing, the resort offers a plethora of guided activities. From archery to trap shooting, equestrian outings and canoeing, it’s like summer camp on steroids.

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Activities at the ranch abound, from rafting (pictured) to fly-fishing. | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

For experienced horsemen and women, as well as those who have never stepped foot in a stirrup, there are seemingly endless opportunities to hop in the saddle and explore the surrounding Rocky Mountain wilderness. Sign up for a trail ride through conifer forests and past ponds and wide open meadows, or take part in an authentic cattle drive over the area’s rugged landscape, wrangling and moving herds of 800-pound Corriente cows into pastures.

There are also arena lessons for kids and adults, pony rides, team penning and a Junior Wrangler Program. Or take a horse whispering workshop aimed at building mutual trust and respect between the human and animal: Tailored to each individual, participants work with a ranch horse, an adopted mustang or even an entire herd of horses, learning to adjust body language to get the desired response.

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A cattle drive at The Resort at Paws Up | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

For a different kind of riding, climb into an ATV for a guided drive across the ranch. Kick up the dust while powering over hills and steering past fields and trees. There are also places along the path to park and scramble up the rocks to a lookout with views of the river.

For those who want to be out on the water, try your hand at fly-fishing for western trout on the legendary Blackfoot, Clearwater or Missouri rivers in this “golden triangle.” Step into a raft with elevated seats for a better vantage point and let one of the resort’s patient guides take you through the basics of casting and reeling in a fish—or help take your skills to the next level. Relax as you float down the river, then experience the rush of adrenaline when you feel a tug on the line.

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A chuck wagon dinner | Photo by Stuart Thurlkill

With these kinds of Montana adventures, you’ll have memories that last a lifetime and stories to share for years to come—including hooking that fish, which likely gets bigger every time you tell the tale.


While You’re Here

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Enjoy music, food and drinks at Top Hat Lounge. | Photo by Neubauer Media

After flying into Missoula, Montana, or while waiting for your flight home, make sure to take a tour of the Smokejumper Visitor Center, which is located right at the airport. Missoula is home to the country’s largest base for smokejumpers, specially trained firefighters who jump from planes to make an initial attack on remote wildland blazes.

The free tour includes a visit to the ready room, smokejumper loft and the National Smokejumper Memorial. The museum also includes a fire lookout tower built in 1930 and, during summer months, smokejumper aircraft are also on-site. Visitors might even see smokejumpers being dispatched to a fire. (406-329-4934; visitmt.com)

On your drive up to the resort, consider stopping at Wild Skies Raptor Center, which is open only by appointment with at least 24 hours’ notice, so call ahead and schedule a visit to learn about the nonprofit’s raptor conservation and rehabilitation efforts. From hawks to owls, the center treats injured birds and releases them back into the wild once they’re ready. The center also has 14 “ambassador” raptors, which live there as part of an education and outreach program. (406-210-3468; wildskies.org)

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Check out Wild Skies Raptor Center’s hawks and owls. | Photo by Jesse Varnado

To hear some tunes, head to Top Hat Lounge, a historic music venue that features local performers and national touring artists. Free concerts can be found here nearly every week and it’s also a modern gastropub where you can enjoy a cocktail and dishes like the carne asada burger, lemon coconut curry mussels or spicy jerk chicken wrap while soaking in the music. (Top Hat Lounge: 406-728-9865; logjampresents.com)

Or check out the Union Club Bar and Grill, with local bands, a dance floor, food and drinks in Union Hall, a downtown landmark that has been around for more than a century. (Union Club Bar and Grill: 406-728-7980; unionclubbarandgrill.com)

If country music is more your speed, make your way to the Sunrise Saloon and Casino on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  (Sunrise Saloon and Casino: 406-728-1559; sunrisesaloonandcasino.com)

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Joan Zen performs at Union Club Bar and Grill. | Photo by 3rd Street Photography

Beer lovers will want to stop at Big Sky Brewing Co. to try a glass beer like Moose Drool, an American brown ale, or a pale ale called Space Goat. Tours are also available by calling ahead and the brewery sponsors a summer concert series on select dates, with artists like Nickel Creek and Dwight Yoakam, at an amphitheater right outside the brewery. (Big Sky Brewing Co.: 406-549-2777; bigskybrew.com)

Another option for drinks and entertainment is Draught Works Brewery, with a wrap-around patio to relax on while sipping one of 19 handcrafted brews on draft—plus wine, cider, seltzer, kombucha, root beer and nonalcoholic beer. Live music is presented three times a week and there’s a dedicated kids space, making it a family-friendly environment. (Draught Works Brewery: 406-541-1592; draughtworksbrewery.com)

 

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