A romantic getaway can mean different things to different people. Some couples' idea of romance has them being pampered from head to toe and indulging in all the creature comforts available to them. Others may prefer isolation and minimalism, like camping under the stars in a tent made for two. Out here in the Wild West, there's an element of romance in the history of the land and the nostalgia that exudes from it. No doubt if you're traveling through Montana, your idea of a romantic getaway is an authentic dude ranch, one oozing with history from days gone by.
THE 63 RANCH
The 63 Ranch in Livingston was the first dude ranch in the state to receive National Historic status ... and for good reason. This 2,500-acre working cattle ranch looks much as it did 75 years ago, when it first began receiving guests. "I grew up here and lived here most of my life," Sandra Cahill, the matriarch of the ranch, explains. "We've added to the size of the ranch since then. We used to be able to accommodate 20 guests. Now we can have 30."
History, along with some of most spectacular mountain views in southwest Montana, make the 63 Ranch one of the most romantic getaways around. After driving 12 miles on a dusty gravel road southeast of downtown Livingston, you and your partner will be rewarded with 360-degree close-up views of the Absaroka Mountains. The area surrounding the ranch is a stunning combination of craggy peaks, rolling grassy meadows, and deep evergreen forests, all connected by the glistening waters of the Yellowstone River.
Tucked among the aspen and pine trees are several rustic, quaint log cabins that have been here since the early days of the ranch. They've been well maintained and modernized (like with electricity, which was brought to the ranch in 1948; no phones or TV in the cabins, though) while preserving the feeling of yesteryear. Couples celebrating a honeymoon or anyone looking for something special can request the honeymoon cabin. (It's the only guest quarters with a king bed.) It has a big deck overlooking the horse corral and the horizon-stretching east-facing views beyond. "If we know in advance the couple is celebrating something, we'll put a bigger bunch of flowers in their cabin," Cahill says. In addition, she says, her cooking crew (as she calls them) will make a cake on the actual day of their celebration. "We've gotten a lot of honeymooners over the years," she remarks. "People are fascinated by the mystique of the West, and the workings of cowboys. We do all of that."
The 63 Ranch has plenty of Old West mystique. Its roots trace back to 1863, when Cahill's father, Paul Christensen, purchased the land in 1929 from the son of homesteader George Bruffey. Christensen had the intention of turning the place into a dude ranch right from the start. The first guests arrived in the summer of 1930. The main lodge, the cabins and most of the other buildings are the original structures from the 1930s. Everywhere there are reminders of years gone by. Inside the main lodge, an old stone fireplace commands your attention, old photographs from the ranch's early days grace the walls, and one of the first telephones ever made still hangs near the back door.
Outside, history abounds. Guests can partake in a guided nature walk or a horseback ride where they'll learn about the prehistoric nature of the area including centuries-old geology.
Like most dude ranches, guests pay one price for a week's stay and everything is included. They can do as much or as little as they want, although, as Cahill says, "We're a riding ranch." No matter what their horse skill level, guests can saddle up on one of 60 horses and go for a stroll morning or afternoon. Of course, there is great fly-fishing nearby, hiking out your front door and historic downtown Livingston with plenty of art galleries and shopping just 12 miles away. "Couples can do as much mingling with other guests as they want, or as little," says Cahill.
For couples seeking romantic time away from the hustle and bustle of life, one wrapped up in western history, 63 Ranch can't be beat. The grounds are tucked among some of the most glorious mountains in Montana, just far enough away from civilization where one can easily get lost in the nostalgia of it all.
For more information: 63 Ranch, 222.0570, www.sixtythree.com, or www.63ranch.com.
- Genevieve Schmitt
Wineglass Mountain Trail Rides
Instead of a motel room, consider a tipi for your romantic getaway.
Wineglass Mountain Trail Rides in Livingston offers guests privacy and solitude - 4,000 acres of it - on Wineglass Mountain, named for a wineglass-shaped clearing on the hillside.
Guests can take a leisurely horseback trail ride above the Paradise Valley to a secluded meadow, where a Sioux-style tipi awaits. Once at the summit, treat yourself to a Montana steak and all the fixings. In the morning awake to fresh-brewed coffee. Don't worry about your lodging - a maid will take care of the tipi for you.
If you're not quite that adventurous, try their cabin. Price is $300 a night, per couple. Wineglass Mountain Trail Rides also offers a "cowgirl camp" for mothers and daughters. During this 4-day trip women learn the ins and outs of "being a cowgirl," and it's all topped with a float trip on the Yellowstone River. Price is $1,200 for two people.
For information, call 222-5599.
GALLATIN GATEWAY HOTEL
Since the opening of the grand old railroad hotel in 1927, the Gallatin Gateway Inn is special place on the way to Yellowstone National Park.
The Inn was built as a stopover on the Milwaukee Railroad for visitors to Yellowstone. It features Spanish architecture and fine carved mahogany woodwork, set among high arched windows that beckon the sun to pour in. A sprawling grounds surround the Inn, giving visitors plenty of room for a stroll.
Listed in 1980 on the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn was once named the Most Romantic Inn in the United States by a Bed & Breakfast Association. Its 35 original rooms are still available as single, double and two-room suites, and while they're not as opulent as the Inn itself, the rooms make for a comfortable stay while enjoying all that the surroundings have to offer, from skiing at Big Sky or Moonlight Basin just down the road, or driving through Yellowstone National Park. Fly fishing on the Gallatin River beckons just beyond the doors of the Gallatin Gateway Inn, and Bozeman, only a 10-minute drive away, is filled with art galleries, fine dining and an eclectic college-town atmosphere set among the Old West.
Since the Inn opened, its restaurant has earned a reputation for its food. From buffalo steaks to fresh fish and pasta, the Inn is known nationwide for its gourmet fare. The latest in a series of accolades was a 2002 DiRoNa Award from the Distinguished Restaurants of North America Association.
What makes the Gallatin Gateway Inn so extraordinary is that despite the Spanish architecture, the world-class food and the southwestern-styled rooms, this hotel is grounded in Montana. On a recent trip there, as couples sauntered through the spacious lobby, a group of senior male hockey players from around the country loaded their gear in a bus for a tournament at the nearby indoor ice rink.
The Gallatin Gateway is a getaway for all kinds of people. But most of all, it's a special place rooted in Montana history.
- Dave Reese
IZAAK WALTON INN
The Izaak Walton Inn in Essex is the perfect place to kick back, recharge, or immerse yourself in the hub of activities for unforgettable adventures.
Part of the charm of the Izaak Walton, located on the southern border of Glacier National Park along U.S. Highway 2, is its simplicity. Built in 1939 to house railroad workers, it has undergone a few updates to make it more appealing to a less rough and tumble crowd. The rooms are homey and comfortable with personal touches, welcoming you to snuggle in for a good rest at the end of the day. The helper locomotives that are used to assist the long trains over Marias Pass, idle outside of the Izaak Walton lulling you to sleep.
The annual Snow Rodeo at the Izaak Walton Inn (Montana Living photo)
The Inn is a stop on the Amtrak Empire Builder, so getting there can be fun. You can take the short jaunt from Belton Station in West Glacier, or hop the train at Whitefish for a morning ride. Instead of the standard "mint on the pillow," I dove into the sampling of their delicious home-made fudge that is left in your room your first night. Also keep in mind that there are no televisions or phones in the room and no cell phone signal to ensure peace and quiet. There are pay phones available in the lobby if you absolutely have to check in with reality. Activities in and around the Izaak Walton are almost endless. If the weather is less than desirable there are books to read by the fireplace, a game room with a pool table, ping pong table, or plenty of decks of cards and games. When the weather is nice, you have the playgrounds of Glacier National Park to the north and the Great Bear Wilderness to the south.
May and June are the times to watch the mountain goat kids at the "Goat Lick," a natural mineral deposit three miles east of the Izaak Walton. There is a viewing area where folks can view the young goats scampering along the cliffs.
It's also common to see mule deer in the area, and the bird watching is fabulous. The hummingbirds are a particular delight. Sit on the porch swing in the summer for your own aerobatic show as they come into the feeders, or stroll by the gardens and be bombarded as they flit from flower to flower. During the summer, guests can catch a ride on the historic red busses and take an all day tour through Glacier National Park. For more adventure, the Izaak Walton can set up horseback trips in or around the Park, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, photo excursions, hiking, and helicopter tours. Bike rentals are also available for you to explore the local area on a more intimate level.
Whether you're ready to kick off a strenuous day outdoors, or need refueling after enjoying the spectacular scenery. The "Dining Car" restaurant at the Izaak Walton provides hearty meals with a style you wouldn't expect in such a remote location. A continental breakfast offering hard-boiled eggs, cereal and pastries is included in your room rate, and is a speedy way to start the day.
For lunch you can try the "Burger of the Day," which is always a tasty creation, or the "Mountain Meadow Salad," sprinkled with berries that is a unique twist on your average salad plate. The dinner entrees are even more creative featuring trout almondine and grilled breast of chicken with a huckleberry-orange sauce. To top it off, splurge with a generous piece of "Mud Pie," huckleberry cobbler, or bread pudding.
There's a two night minimum stay, although whether you're staying two nights or two weeks, you'll never run out of things to do. Rates for the rooms range between $118 to $200 during the peak season of June 16- Sept. 15. Caboose Cottages, which are self-contained cabins with a kitchenette that sleep up to four people, are $595 for three nights. On the Web: www.izaakwaltoninn.com
- Amy Grisak
Hickory House Inn B & B
If idle hands are the devil, MaryJane Rayfield and George Nixon are the holiest folks you'll ever meet.
Five years ago this congenial couple spent a year of intense remodeling to restore this turn-of-the-century home in historic Anaconda. Their hard work has paid off for people looking for a relaxing room, good company, and exceptional food at reasonable prices.
This getaway has four themed rooms available with private baths, as well as a lovely outdoor garden with decks and an outdoor spa. Massages are available upon request. Guests receive a full gourmet breakfast each morning including homemade muffins and a choice of fresh ground gourmet coffee or exotic teas, fruit and juice. Chatting with this happy couple who bring you piping hot food as they weave tales of the town is all part of this lodging experience.
Hickory House is halfway between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. With world-class golf nearby at the Old Works Course designed by Jack Nicklaus, wilderness trails, Discovery Ski Resort, and fabulous fishing waters including Georgetown Lake and Big Hole River, you'll find a perfect room to relax in after exploring the grandeurs of Montana's Gold West country.
Ever-busy, Rayfield and Nixon just negotiated a contract to buy a mansion in the center of downtown Anaconda, and will be moving the getaway there this fall.
"If you liked our original Hickory House, you will absolutely fall in
love with the new one" says Nixon.
Information: (866) 563-5481
On the Web: www.hickoryhouseinn.com
- Brian Schott
Boulder Hot Springs
Adventurous souls seeking a different lodging experience in the wilds of Montana will be drawn to the healing waters of Boulder Hot Springs Inn and Spa south of Helena.
Situated along the edge of Deerlodge National Forest just south of the state capital, Boulder Hot Springs is a Spanish-style mission on 274 acres of pristine land currently undergoing extensive renovations. The surrounding area is dubbed "Peace Valley," as legend claims that it was chosen by the Native Americans as a safe haven where fighting was not permitted.
A feeling of peace permeates the resort today. "The idea of healing is the predominant theme here," says Barb Reiter, 13-year manager of the eclectic resort. "It's a very spiritual atmosphere."
Soaking at Boulder Hot Springs. Montana Living photo
You can feel the history as you walk from your room in a bathrobe and slippers across the creaking floors to the pools. Sounds of yesteryear's Big Bands that played in the main ballroom echo through the large halls and you may even bump into Simone, a wandering local friendly ghost.
And while the hotel now offers a conference facility for large and small groups, as well as the bed and breakfast operation that is open year-round, the greatest attraction are the mineral-rich, thermal waters that range from 104 to 175 degrees and are mixed with cold spring water for more comfortable soaking.
No chemicals are added to the indoor pools and visitors will notice that there is no smell of sulphur. The mineral content here is predominantly sodium.
In terms of romance, soaking with your loved one is relegated to a large outdoor pool that is treated with bromine and maintained at 96 degrees. Three tiled indoor pools offer men and women separate facilities for soaking and bathing. But don't be surprised to see your fellow bathers really getting back to nature - bathing suits are optional in the indoor pools.
Boulder Hot Springs is listed on the National Historic Register. Accommodations are quaint and themed to the history of the area with names like the Homestead and Elkhorn rooms. A hot breakfast is served each morning and also relates to the surrounding land.
"We focus carefully on the foods we serve," says Reiter. "We use as much locally-grown products as possible including organic, pesticide-free pork, lamb and beef."
To reach the Hot Springs from Helena, take U.S. Interstate 15 south to the Boulder exit and follow Highway 69 through the small town. The hot springs are three miles south of Boulder on Montana 69.
On the Web: www.boulderhotsprings.com.
- Brian Schott
THE CABIN EXPERIENCE
No other abode fits the Montana getaway mystique like a cabin.
From rentals that overlook scenic vistas of Glacier or Yellowstone National park, to a quiet mountain retreat, a cabin to yourself can be the perfect getaway.
Here are a few we think you'll like.
GLACIER OUTDOOR CENTER
WEST GLACIER, MONTANA
If you're looking for the perfect base camp to explore the wonders of Glacier National Park, Glacier Raft & Outdoor Company offers spacious
log cabins just one-half mile from the Park's west entrance.
The newly-built cabins are fully-furnished and provide all the comforts of home along with breathtaking views of the mountains that are dubbed
the "crown jewel of the continent." Each cabin offers separate sleeping and living areas, complete kitchen, full bath, television, covered deck, gas grill and gas fireplace. One and two-bedroom cabins can sleep from 6 to 14 guests and are supplied with everything you need to feel at home.
Glacier Raft is Montana's oldest rafting company and offers family whitewater and fly fishing adventures on the Flathead River system surrounding the Park.
Information: 1-800-235-6781 or 406-888-5454 or www.glacierraftco.com.
CABIN CREEK RENTALS
Big Timber, Montana
Cabin Creek was formed by its owners so that they could have a place to get away.
From the fully furnished Big Timber Creek Lodge on 20 acres in Big Timber canyon, to the cozy Crazy Peak cabin, the owners have gone all out to create a unique but comfortable western getaway.
The homes, which sleep from four to 10 each, come fully stocked with everything you need to enjoy your stay - except horses - but you can bring those, too, if you want.
Big Timber Lodge, their largest property, sleeps 10 and is a complete ranch house that features five bedrooms and three baths.
But it's the Crazy Peak cabin that might fit the ideal setting for a romantic getaway. The small, cozy cabin has a loft bedroom and spectacular views of the Crazy Mountains - if you have time to look around. The Mill Creek cabin is a restored historic log cabin.
Rental prices at Cabin Creek properties are based on size, luxury, and the time of year that you may want to stay.
Information: 888-758-1700 or www.cabincreekmt.com