I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to have stayed in some amazing places around the world. One such place is Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. It’s more than just where to stay in Yellowstone Country, though; it is an entirely authentic Montana experience.
National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World
National Geographic identifies a collection of lodges across the globe as “Unique Lodges of the World“. Lone Mountain Ranch is part of that collection. What does it mean to be one of these Unique Lodges of the World? From the organization’s website, these lodges “invite guests to discover some of the planet’s most treasured places, while helping to protect those places for generations to come.” The unique lodges also must be committed to preserving natural and cultural heritage while placing great value on authenticity. It’s no short order but Lone Mountain Ranch gets the job done.
Lone Mountain Ranch is an extraordinary wilderness retreat, situated just 18 miles beyond the northwest border of Yellowstone National Park. Being so close to Yellowstone and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and dense pine forests, guests immediately get the feeling that they are truly in one of the planet’s most treasured places.
The authentic Lone Mountain Ranch experience is steeped in its history and heritage. The cabins that serve as guest quarters today were built by hand more than a century ago when the site was first established as a horse and cattle ranch. Currently, there are 27 cabins, all of which have been restored to preserve that authenticity. The cabins range from 1 to 6 bedrooms, making Lone Mountain Ranch an optimal choice for families and large groups. The cozy 1-bedroom cabins are also great for romantic getaways.
The cabins are named after local flora and fauna. I stayed in the Cougar cabin. (Insert jokes here.) Cougar is a 1-bedroom cabin and part of a duplex with Blackbear, sharing the front porch, but each cabin has its own entry and utmost privacy. I was smitten the moment I walked into my cabin. The king size bed looked so cozy, especially being so close to the wood-burning stove/fireplace (firewood is provided). There’s also a daybed next to the cabin’s front window, which can be for an additional guest or just another spot to relax and gaze at the majestic Montana scenery. What caught my eye right away, though, was the record player on a stand next to the daybed and the stack of vinyl records on the shelf below. Because the cabins aren’t already perfect enough, they had to go and add these record players. I took full advantage of this surprising and fun amenity, spending a relaxing evening in front of my fireplace listening to music. In my stack were records by the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams – it’s like they knew me.
Food and drink
Horn & Cantle is Lone Mountain Ranch’s on-site restaurant and also one of Big Sky’s top dining destinations. The newly renovated restaurant is gorgeously rustic and unpretentious. Executive Chef Eric Gruber and team deliver “an authentic Montana culinary experience with a unique perspective”. By being committed to using only locally-sourced products and seasonal ingredients, Horn & Cantle is able to promote and preserve the region’s natural and cultural heritage through its culinary offerings.
The Saloon is right next door to Horn & Cantle and it’s just as warm and inviting. Sample from the list of unique craft cocktails or enjoy a pint of a local brew while savoring small bites. (Might I recommend The Flannel Shirt cocktail, made with Highland Scotch, apple cider, Averna, and lemon?) Whatever is in your glass and on your plate, you’re sure to enjoy the live music and the stunning Big Sky scenic backdrop. Or find a spot by the fireplace on the adjoining outdoor patio and cozy up with a beverage.
Activities at Lone Mountain Ranch
No matter the season, activities and adventures abound at Lone Mountain Ranch. Some activities vary by season and some are available year-round.
- Horseback riding: Lone Mountain Ranch wranglers take small groups of riders, of all ages and levels of experience, on backcountry trail rides or leisurely rides around the ranch.
- Mountain biking: Bikes are available for guest use to hit the trails behind the property. Guides are available upon request.
- Whitewater rafting: Half-day and full-day guided rafting trips are available June-August on the Gallatin River. Rapids range from Class I to Class IV.
- Nordic skiing: Lone Mountain Ranch was voted Cross Country Skier magazine’s #1 Nordic ski destination in North America. Guides are available for skiers of all levels on more than 50 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
- Downhill skiing: Packages and on-demand shuttle service are available for Lone Mountain Ranch guests to ski the majestic slopes of nearby Big Sky Resort.
- Snowshoeing: Guests can traverse the trails on their own or with a guide. Snowshoes are available for rent at the on-site Outdoor Shop.
- Dog-sledding: The ranch can make arrangements for a dog-sled adventure with one of their partners. (Or you can make your own arrangements with Spirit of the North Sled Dog Adventures, which hosted me for my very first dog-sledding experience. Spirit of the North takes guests through breathtaking Moonlight Basin in Big Sky.)
- Backcountry skiing: Explore the northwest corner of Yellowstone or Gallatin National Forest with a naturalist guide. Routes vary from easy to difficult and guided tours are available.
- Yellowstone National Park: Ranch guides are also accredited Yellowstone guides with full access to the park. (I recommend visiting in winter for solitude and prime wildlife-viewing opportunities.)
- Fly fishing: Lone Mountain Ranch sets up guests with local fly-fishing guides to fish the legendary Madison and Gallatin Rivers for blue-ribbon rainbow, brown, and brook trout. In winter, access the streams by cross-country skis or snowshoes.
- Massage + yoga: Certified yoga instructors and massage therapists help to put your mind and body at ease before or after your ranch adventures.
Special seasonal offerings
- Outdoor Youth Adventures Program: Lone Mountain Ranch was voted “Best Family Ranch” by Top 50 Ranches. I have a feeling their Outdoor Youth Adventures Program has something to do with it. Guided outdoor experiences are available for guests aged 4-12 and are geared toward building confidence, developing an appreciation for nature, and just having fun. (Available June-August)
- Sleigh Ride Dinner: I intentionally saved this for last because the experience is nothing short of magical. Available December- March, guests are taken by horse-drawn sleigh up to the ranch’s North Fork Cabin. The cabin is lit solely by oil lanterns and is toasty warm. Guests are served a multi-course prime-rib dinner, prepared at the cabin in 100-year-old stoves, while being serenaded by a good ole singing cowboy. Throughout the entire experience, all I could think was, “I need to get my dad up here. I need to get my kids up here.” Rounding out the experience was the view of the night sky. The number of stars was just unreal. That winter Montana sky was bright enough to light the horses’ way back down to our cabins.
I visited Lone Mountain Ranch in winter so there was an added sense of serenity which complemented my authentic experience quite nicely. It’s easy to see why Lone Mountain Ranch has garnered so many awards and why it’s included as one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
My winter wonderland experience, including my stay at Lone Mountain Ranch, was sponsored by Yellowstone Country Montana and its partners. As always, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.