This family-owned and -managed 1,000-acre guest ranch in Lewis and Clark County is paradise for riders of all ages looking to improve technique while learning about equine psychology and Western working life. The owners, Zack and Patty Wirth, and two of their six children, all direct descendants of 1860s Montana homesteaders, breed and train quarter horses and hold wide-ranging riding rights on a neighboring ranch of 85,000 acres. Guests, a maximum 20 at a time, ride according to their interest and level; time in the saddle (or bareback) might be spent in the ring, on scenic trail rides, endurance training, or learning to rope and work with the Wirths’ 30 Corientti and Longhorn cattle.
Four cozy rooms of the same size but with different bed configurations have fireplaces and mountain views. The atmosphere is communal and convivial, the hosts dining with guests and taking note of the weather and individual interests to plan activities. Many teen visitors fulfill dreams of unlimited horse time; for non-riding family members or partners there is guided shooting, hiking, and mountain biking. There’s also technical fly-fishing on the Little Prickly Pear Creek, a spawning ground for rainbow and brown trout. For rock hounds, fossil-rich shale cliffs sit just a mile away from the barn and guest rooms.
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New Age meets traditional Western life. Cell phone and Internet connections are spotty; instead of smartphones and tablets, young guests play with dogs and cats. To experience local life, the Wirths take summer guests to the local rodeos, not tourist-driven events. For a shopping and sightseeing fix, Helena, 28 miles south, has gold-mining-era monuments and an eclectic arts community. Dine at the Silver Star Steakhouse or take a homemade ice cream break at Big Dipper Ice Cream, which has unusual flavors such as huckleberry, cardamom, black licorice, and El Salvador coffee. Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply, a Montana chain specializing in clothes and gear for ranchers, sells Ariat riding boots and other tack. After working up an appetite on Little Prickly Pear Creek, local fly fishers head to Issak’s Restaurant (105 Bridge St.) in tiny Craig, Montana, 19 miles north of the ranch, for casual dining and dancing.
Need to Know
Rooms: 8 rooms. From $260 per person, inclusive of meals and all activities; three-night minimum. Check-in: after lunch; check-out: before lunch. Dining options: Home cooking served family style might include lasagna or Dutch oven–cooked steak and potatoes. All meals include fresh fruit, vegetables, and homemade breads, pies, and cakes; lactose intolerant, gluten-free, vegetarian, and other dietary preferences are creatively accommodated. An outdoor chuckwagon-style meal takes place at least once during each guest’s stay. Spa and gym details: There is no spa or gym on property. Guests can swim in the creek running through the property and soak away saddle sores in a shared hot tub.
Who’s it for: Horse lovers of all ages who want to learn or improve in a relaxed, scenic setting and who don’t expect luxury hotel services. Our favorite rooms: Couples go for rooms with a king bed; there are rooms with two queens for friends sharing; kids love the room with three twin beds. Bring binoculars: Outside of summer, the ranch makes an excellent bird-watching base with nearly 250 migrant or resident species, including thousands of migrating tundra swans and snow geese, plentiful on nearby Freezeout Lake from March to April and November to December.