Book now: the green o
There isn’t another soul on the Blackfoot River in western Montana—only me, my fly-fishing guide Greg, and some very shy trout. We’ve been floating along in an Otter raft since midafternoon and nary a tug. As I let my line drift, I have plenty of time to take in the view: towering ponderosa pines; the soundtrack of the babbling river as families of mergansers emerge (think: the daintiest of ducks sporting crazy bed-head), riding the current. Greg, a quintessential young outdoorsman bursting with enthusiasm for life and nature, tells me about the three species of trout we’re seeking—rainbow, brown, and cutthroat—in one breath and his family’s cookie empire in the next. (His parents own Alabama-based Cookie Fix, made famous on the Food Network.)
The wind suddenly picks up and whitecaps manifest out of nowhere. “A river runs through it,” Greg exclaims over the deafening rustle of tamarack trees, paddling fervently against the waves. “The movie . . . and the resort,” he adds, until the unexpected storm commands his full attention. Say what? I retire my pole and hang on for a surprise river-rapids adventure.
Half an hour later, in more placid waters—albeit thoroughly soaked—Greg explains his semi-cryptic statement: that the Blackfoot River was the inspiration for Norman Maclean’s book A River Runs Through It and the eponymous 1992 Oscar-winning film, which broke Brad Pitt big and gave this stretch of rural Montana its moment in the spotlight. The 130-mile-long river also intersects the Resort at Paws Up, a luxury ranch just east of Missoula that I’ll call home for the next few days. Since June 2005, the sprawling 37,000-acre property has been a go-to for well-heeled families looking to swap city life for glamping and cattle drives.
Montana has always been a dream destination of mine; I’ve wanted to prospect for serenity, for breathtaking landscapes, for climbing routes and hiking trails. For years, the 41st state took a backseat to my jet-setting international travels, but when I learned of the green o—a design-forward, adults-only, purposefully lowercased wilderness retreat, opened in 2020 within the Paws Up universe—I knew it was time to prioritize the destination.
So here I am on this balmy September afternoon with my guide Greg, ogling his impeccable cast, waiting for his fly to submerge (the signal something’s biting), dreaming of his mom’s cookies, and working my way through some half-dozen local beers and ciders in the cooler. Paws Up has 105 guides on staff and will arrange for solo or group half-day or full-day excursions any day of the week. Some days you strike gold—metaphorically, at least—and other days the fish don’t bite.
It’s not the fly-fishing expedition I had anticipated, but it’s still an unforgettable downriver journey. In fact, Greg offers to try again tomorrow—he’s adamant I’ll catch something—but this first-timer is fully content with his freshman Montana adventure. Plus, there’s more to check off my Montana bucket list and limited time to do so.
As someone constantly searching for that next-level love match between nature and luxury, I think I found it at the green o. The property has 12 stand-alone, Scandinavian-influenced “hauses,” designed for couples in the thick of the pine- and tamarack-studded forest, with four sleek, contemporary designs. There’s a “tree haus” that reaches canopy level, a “round haus” (fairly literal), a “light haus” outfitted with star-gazing windows and a duo of fireplaces, and a “green haus” with an atrium at its core—all with floor-to-ceiling windows, Wild-West-chic furniture in leather and wrought iron, and ample space to roam. (The average haus is about 1,000 square feet of living space.) My chosen dwelling is a tree haus, a three-story, glass-encased, Tetris-stacked structure with a cylindrical spiral staircase at its center, multiple viewing platforms, a cozy fireplace, and a hot tub at ground level.
Green o guests have exclusive access to the Social Haus, the main hub for fraternizing around a centerpiece fireplace and a kitchen-fronting bar, before and after enjoying Michelin-caliber meals. Instagram-perfect plates—a meatless, celery-root Reuben; Dungeness crab crepes; thick and juicy burgers—are thoughtfully prepared in an open kitchen, where you can watch chef Brandon Cunningham and his team work. It turns into a sort of dinner theater in late evening with nine-course, conversation-worthy tasting menus that change nightly (though an in-room gourmet pizza menu is always available if a languid dinner feels too fussy). Highlights of a recent dinner included beet and huckleberry tartar; oil-poached cod with fennel; and grilled bison and peppers. An inclusive food and drink policy makes it hard to say no to another creative bite or a generous pour of champagne.
Design-forward accommodations and excellent food notwithstanding, the true anchor to Montana remains outdoor adventure. Given that the green o is technically a resort-within-a-resort at Paws Up, guests have free rein over the vast acreage of the parent property and full access to its dude ranch–style activities and mountain programming. It’s not uncommon for the adrenaline-inclined to do two outings per day: maybe a bit of clay shooting, horseback riding, or hiking followed by ATV tours, rafting, archery, and guided fly-fishing—and that’s just in the warmer months. Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and dog sledding are on offer in the winter.
I had to stymie a tendency to overcommit. I knew fly-fishing and horseback riding were two musts, but embracing the Montana environs—thoroughly and at my own pace—was also on my list. Long ambles in the woods and even longer naps in my tree haus allowed me to do just that. The forces and beauty of nature did not disappoint. This is a place where serenity and adventure beckon in equal measure.
While forgoing an activity one day, I sipped some Sudden Wisdom Whiskey (which hails from Missoula-based Montgomery distillery), losing myself in the pine forest’s strata of green, when a hefty black bear emerged. It moved cautiously through the thick brush to a clearing near my hot tub. Our eyes met, I snapped a photo, took another sip, and the bear was off.