My dad turned 75 this year. Sorry dad, the secret is out. My dad has had a pretty nice life. He's been many places in the world and has acquired a fair amount of "stuff." It's been a good 75 years, but that left my brothers and me with a tough decision on how to celebrate his milestone. We originally threw out the idea of going to Europe to explore our family roots. My dad nixed that idea saying that the grandkids, aged 11 - 16, would be pretty bored. He's selfless, but also a realist. We told him we could do anything he wanted. His reply surprised us. "Can we go to a dude ranch?" Uh, sure. So my 10 family members set out this June for a dude ranch in Montana to celebrate his birthday.
My dad, and for that matter, most of the family, are not real campers. "Roughing it," well, isn't a phrase any of us likes uttering when it comes to traveling. Finding the perfect dude ranch with enough amenities to keep everyone happy seemed like a challenge. Sure we wanted an authentic experience wrangling cattle and shooting clay pigeons, but we also wanted to be able to retire to high thread count sheets and gourmet food and drinks. A lot to ask, until we found Paws Up.
Paws Up is located outside of Missoula, Montana. Ah, Big Sky Country. Endless blue skies, open plains and surrounding mountains - this was the environment we were looking for, but with wifi and camp butlers too (seriously). You can rent one of the cabin across the 37,000 acres PawsUp owns, but we didn't come all this way to stay in a house. We came here to camp. Sort of.
Paws Up has "campgrounds" and this was definitely the kind of camping, or rather glamping, appropriate for my family. In fact, my dad and I stayed in very similar tents while also not roughing it on safari in South Africa.
Each family had their own tent (there are 1 and 2 bedroom options), but these "tents" were complete with modern luxuries. Multiple down comforters lined each king size bed with heated blankets controlled from each side. The bathroom was decked out in dark green and black slate with double sinks and a skylight (insider tip: don't forget to close your bathroom door before going to bed, unless you really want to feel like you're waking up outdoors).
The hammock out front of each cabin made for the perfect resting spot before, or after, happy hour. Of course you have to have a daily happy hour.
There was nothing like coming back from a dusty day on the great plains to put our feet in the water and have a cold beverage.
Paws Up Food
Breakfast and dinner were held in a large tent, complete with fireplace, personal chef and bar. Oh, glamping is good. The food was all well prepared, and they even gave me gluten free and dairy free options. Breakfast was a made to order affair with eggs at the ready, as well as any breakfast meat you want, pancakes, fruit, yogurt and baked goods.
Lunch was held in the Trough each day, near the main lodge. There was always a grill going with elk, bison and beef burgers, as well as salads and a seemingly endless supply of sweet potato fries and onion rings that seemed to appear every day on our table. That detox has been the hardest!
Dinner was served family style every night from a preselected menu that covered most of the bases - steak, tuna, scallops, pasta and lots of veggies. There was always something for everyone, and in most cases, too much for everyone.
The kids could barely wait each night until the campfire was going and the DIY s'mores were in full swing.
With all the eating, we had plenty of energy for the many activities on offer.
What's included in your already fairly pricey per evening charge is access to a few items like a bow and arrow for archery, bikes (that were a little spotty at times), fishing rods to recreate scenes from A River Runs Through It (actually shot there) and a few other cornhole type activities. We did enjoy trying them out, but that was after having more active, additionally priced activities, none of which were inexpensive.
Everyone was a big fan of the ATV riding. You can pretty nicely let loose on these bad boys as you traverse the hilly and picturesque property. We got off a few times to take in the views and clear our lungs from the dust. Some had so much fun that they returned the next day for another ride.
The rest of us drove cattle the next day, riding horseback a la City Slickers. My dad hadn't been on a horse for decades, but it ended up being his favorite activity. It's not everyday you get to drive cattle.
It was an impressive herd with some baby calves just two days old trying to keep up. When the mother couldn't find her calf, she'd let out an ominous moan that was the only way the calf could recognize her parent.
We moved the herd around so they could continue to have lush pastures in which to graze.
Clay Pigeon Shooting
Clay pigeon shooting was another family free-for-all where kids could shoot (smaller guns) right next to adults. The kick back was strong enough that most of us had bruises next to our shoulders when it was all done. And yes, this does look like some sort of NRA ad, but nothing but clay was injured during our shooting time.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting was another beautiful way to take in the stunning Montana scenery. The rapids weren't too rough, but we had a few fun bumps as we skated down the icy water.
Paws Up Take Away
Everyone from 11 to 75 years old enjoyed themselves at Paws Up. It was one of our best family vacations. We were semi-disconnected, but fully connected while taking in the beautiful setting through a variety of adventure activities. While it's not a cheap trip, it created those bonding moments that you can only get while on top of a horse herding a 2 day old calf into greener pastures. Paws Up gave us unique activities to participate in while allowing us to feel world's away.
Happy Birthday FarFar!
Some of my activities at Paws Up were comped, but all opinions are always my own.