Holiday Glamping at Triple Creek Ranch

Holidays can be lonely when it’s not possible to celebrate with family or friends. There are two choices on how to handle the situation: sit at home and feel sorry for yourself or celebrate with new-found friends who become family for a few short days.

My husband and I found ourselves in this exact situation over the Thanksgiving holidays. So we packed our gear and headed for a luxurious glamping holiday at Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, rated the #1 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure readers. You read that right. Glamping has met the big time.

An unusual November cold snap provided a layer of white over the Bitterroot Mountain landscape making arrival at Triple Creek Ranch extra scenic. At the main lodge, a staff member offered a friendly greeting, before introducing one of the activity directors who led us to the luxurious cedar cabin that would be our home for the holiday.

Inside we discovered a comfortable living room with fireplace, bedroom area and a bathroom with his and hers vanity areas. The collection of western art decorating the walls seemed especially apropos for this corner of Montana.

TCR CABIN08 Castle Rock

The activity director pointed out special features like the steam shower, the inclusive stocked bar, basket of homemade cookies that’s refreshed daily and the private outdoor hot tub. She also demonstrated how to work the all-important Keurig coffee maker as well as both the flat panel television in the living area and the DVD player in the bedroom.

It was tempting to relax in front of the romantic fireplace for the entire holiday, or soak in the hot tub, but there was so much to do on the ranch. How could we possible stay indoors?

Horseback rides, hiking and archery competed for our attention. And if there had been just a little more snow, the cross country skis and snowshoes located on the lodge’s back deck would have offered some frozen fun on Triple Creek’s trails. If we’d been hardy fishermen, rods were provided for fly-fishing in the ranch’s stocked pond. Guided trips on the region’s world-class rivers are available at an extra cost.

Triple Creek dining room

Of course all the fun had to be scheduled around meals. I was not about to miss any of the delectable dishes created by Chef Jacob Leatherman. Although meals can be delivered to your cabin for private dining, it was much more fun to dine in the lodge dining room where servers quickly learned our preferences — and our names. And comparing adventures with other guests over a drink in the Rooftop Lounge was a fun beginning to every evening.

Thanksgiving Day began with breakfast in front of the fire in the dining room and a walk on the property to work up an appetite for the huge meal to come. After lunch, my husband joined the horseback ride that ended in a field for the archery competition. I hitched a ride in one of Triple Creek’s car shuttles and sipped hot chocolate in front of a campfire while waiting for the horseback riders to appear.

The lack of archery expertise didn’t keep me from joining the competition. A staff member offered patient instruction on how to use the bow. Guests joked, teased and cheered each other on. And then it was my turn. After a couple of failed attempts, my arrow hit the target twice to win a prize from the Triple Creek gift shop.

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Later, guests relived the day over cocktails at the home of Triple Creek Ranch owners, Craig and Barbara Barrett, who also offered tours of their extensive western art collection. And then it was time to be shuttled back to the lodge for a family style Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Chef Leatherman. At the end of the meal, each guest shared a moment of thankfulness. And by then, we did feel like family.

Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday celebrated at Triple Creek Ranch. Guests arriving for Christmas enjoy a Christmas tree set up in their cabin. To make it even more personal, ship your favorite tree decorations to the ranch and they’ll be waiting for you — either on the tree or for you to decorate. Like everything else at Triple Creek Ranch, it’s your choice.

TCR CABIN20 Chipmunk

I’ve been looking through my selection of digital photos that the ranch emails to each guest. They remind me that you don’t have to be alone for Thanksgiving. Go glamping at Triple Creek Ranch, instead.

Montana Master Chefs at The Resort at Paws Up

There are certain destinations that have topped the culinary bucket lists of countless travelers for decades. Perhaps somewhat cliché, that list includes Tokyo for the finest sushi, Paris for the most buttery croissants, Buenos Aires for flawless sirloin steak, New York City for the best pizza, and this list goes on.

Then there’s Montana, known for its delicious…wait, what exactly is Montana known for? Sure Montana may not be top of mind when planning your culinary pilgrimages, but it should be — especially if The Resort at Paws Up has anything to do with it.

While any given day in Montana provides plenty of opportunities to devour some of America’s tastiest and most perfectly prepared beef, bison and elk, as well as endless huckleberry creations like buckwheat pancakes with huckleberry syrup, The Resort at Paws Up’s program of world class culinary events will provide the extra incentive you’ll need to get on a plane to Missoula.

About The Resort at Paws Up

paws up resort exterior

Set on 37,000 acres in southwestern Montana, The Resort at Paws Up is a luxury working cattle ranch perhaps best known for its apartment-sized glamping “tents.” But there’s also the palatial Wilderness Estates (aka big log homes), 10 miles of the legendary Blackfoot River and endless activities, like rappelling, ATVing, horseback riding, fly fishing and sport clay shooting. Essentially, it’s the incarnation of your childhood wild west imaginings, except with king-sized beds, spa treatments and champagne.

Montana Master Chefs

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While The Resort at Paws Up’s kitchen is usually under the command of the talented and creative Chef Ben Jones (formerly of The Peninsula Chicago), there is one weekend a year where a new crop of America’s best chefs take the reins — and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.

For Montana Master Chefs, held every year at the end of September, the resort flies in select contestants who have competed on the show Top Chef, to cook for and entertain guests. This year, top chefs included Kelly Liken, Brooke Willamson, Elizabeth Binder and Ariane Duarte, who split into pairs and created incredible three course dinners on the first two nights of the program (Thursday and Friday). Each course was paired with carefully selected wine which was presented by the winemakers themselves. The weekend also included a feast of a lunch at Chuck Wagon, an outdoor dining area set along the Blackfoot River which featured lamb shanks cooked over a campfire, bison chili, cornbread, grilled vegetables and so much more.

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But the centerpiece of the Montana Master Chefs weekend was the Top Chef-style cook-off competition which pitted three of the chefs (this year’s contenders were Kelly Liken, Brooke Willamson, Elizabeth Binder) against one and other in a battle royal. With a sous chef selected from the audience and a big timer on the wall counting down, chefs endured challenges like having to take shots of whisky (twice), not being able to speak and cooking with one hand.

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Each chef prepared an appetizer, entree and dessert and presented it to a panel of three judges, which included me (it was a really good day). One plate from each course was then auctioned off to the highest bidding member of the audience by a professional cattle auctioneer. The owners of the ranch then doubled, and in one case tripled, the winning bids, resulting in over $14,000 being raised for the Missoula Food Bank.

A highlight from the competition: elk being the secret ingredient in the entree round. In all three chefs’ creations, it was prepared perfectly rare and served like a piece of art.

More Culinary Events

Montana Master Grillers – Every year over Memorial Day weekend, Paws Up turns into most American males’ idea of heaven. Chefs specializing in grilling and BBQ cooking, smokologists, brewers, winemakers and distillers descend upon the resort to treat guests to grilled lunches and dinners, craft beer, wine and bourbon. Sign me up.

Oktoberfeast – In between cattle drives and fly fishing, you’ll try your hand at sauerkraut making and charcuterie preparation, drink all the local craft beer you want and chow down on German-inspired dinners.

Upper Crust – Run every October over Columbus Day weekend, guests will spend their days learning to make the perfect pie and baking a variety of delicious cookies under the guidance of expert pastry chefs. Of course, there’ll still be plenty of time to head out on adventures and to pig out on your crusty creations.

Long Table Dinners – These three, one-night events held in June, July and August, bring guests together at a single long (very long) table set in unique, outdoor locations around the ranch. You’ll dine on a meal made of local ingredients and meet the purveyors of the meal’s food and drink at a pre-dinner farmer’s market.

Extreme Outdoors

Sitting on a beach. Walking tours. Visiting Museums.

Did simply reading that first line nearly put you to sleep? I nearly feel asleep writing it. Let’s try this again.

Helicopter rides. White water rafting. Off-roading.

If reading that line spiked your heart rate, I’d reckon you’re longing for a good old fashioned outdoor adventure. But not just any romp in the wilderness, you fancy something a little more extreme. Well my thrill-seeking friend, you are far from alone.

In fact, more travelers than ever before are ditching their Mai Tais, walking shoes and audio guides for water bottles, hiking boots and helmets as they seek out the thrills of adventure travel. This thirst for heart-pounding activities has turned adventure travel into a $263 billion a year industry (that doesn’t include the $82 billion spent on related adventure gear, apparel and accessories) and the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel industry according to a 2013 study conducted by George Washington University.

While extreme outdoor adventure can, in some cases, be found near traditional hotels, why would you just dip your toe into the great outdoors when you could jump all the way in? Why drive into nature for only a few hours when you could stay, eat, sleep, and play in nature 24-hours a day?

That’s where glamping comes in. With glamping, you can experience the comforts of a hotel, all while being within the epicenter of the outdoor adventures you’re seeking. And the sounds of crickets, babbling brooks and crackling campfires, those won’t be coming from a sound machine.

So to get you thinking about your wild escape, here are just a few epic outdoor activities and a sampling of properties that’ll let you release your inner adrenaline junky like never before.

Helicopter Adventures

PHOTO 1 Image Credit “Nimmo Bay Website”

For the ultimate in helicopter adventures, look no further than Nimmo Bay, a tiny, family-owned wilderness resort located in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. Here, you can heli fly fish, heli kayak, heli stand up paddle board, heli hike or just heli picnic. What exactly does that mean? It means you and your provided gear will be picked up by a chopper and flown to remote and pristine locations to fly fish, kayak, paddle board, hike or dine. Now that’s extreme!

Rappelling

PHOTO 2 Image Credit “The Resort at Paws Up Website”

Picture this: you’re standing on the edge of a 170 foot cliff, the Blackfoot River tumbles by below and beyond that, a picture perfect Montana valley-scape. This is the scene for your rappelling adventure at The Resort at Paws Up. With harness and ropes secure, you turn around, back facing the 170 drop below, and take your first step off and down the cliff. A few leaps and bounds later, you’ll be at the bottom smiling from ear to ear ready to do it again.

Hot Air Ballooning

PHOTO 3 Image Credit “Mahali Mzuri Website”

The views on the ground at Sir Richard Branson’s safari camp, Mahali Mzuri, in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve are legendary (from the comfort of your tent’s balcony you’ll see giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and more). But gently and quietly float hundreds of feet above the ground in a hot air balloon at sunrise, and this landscape, one of the world’s most awe-inspiring, will truly get your heart racing like never before.

Hunting

PHOTO 4 Image Credit “ Brush Creek Ranch Website”

If your idea of a extreme outdoor adventure calls for a little more firepower, then hunting at Wyoming’s The Lodge and Spa at Brush Creek Ranch is for you. Amidst massages and fine dining, you can head out into the 30,000 acre property with expert guides to hunt for ducks, deer, antelope, elk and more. The trill of the hunt never felt this good.

River & Ocean Kayaking

PHOTO 5 Image Credit:Credit “Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Website”

While Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, located on west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has it all (from heli adventures, to rock climbing, to fishing and horseback riding), don’t pass up the opportunity to hone your kayaking skills under the supervision of expert guides. Whether you want to learn to navigate small rapids or paddle in search of bears, whales and eagles, you’ll end your day feeling even more confident for tomorrow’s extreme adventures.

Trevor Morrow is a Los Angeles based travel who runs the experiential, adventure and luxury travel blog TrevorMorrowTravel.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @trevormorrow.

Main Image Credit:“ Brush Creek Ranch Website”