Wilderness Meets Luxury at Montana’s Paws Up

Perfect for outdoor rookies, this family ranch-turned-resort offers up adventure with deluxe facilities

Located on 37,000 acres of a breathtakingly beautiful mountain valley outside of Missoula, Montana, the Resort at Paws Up combines rough-and-tumble Western attractions like whitewater rafting, rappelling and hiking with luxurious comfort. The aesthetic is a throwback to turn-of-the-20th-century glamour, when wilderness lovers and tycoons like W. Averell Harriman and Cornelius Vanderbilt wouldn’t dream of going on a camping expedition without a valet, linen napkins and fresh coffee.

We recently had the opportunity to visit Paws Up and experience the glorious Montana hill country, the setting of countless iconic books and movies about outdoor adventure. Expert guides can be engaged in activities including fly-fishing, whitewater rafting on the rapids of the Blackfoot River, and driving a herd of cattle across the brush while horseback riding. And—if mountain biking, hiking or rappelling from nearby Lookout Rock seem too tame—guests can trek through the trees with a polished 20-gauge shotgun slung over a shoulder on the shooting clays course, or careen pell-mell across the grounds on one of the ranch’s ATVs.

This summer, Paws Up is expanding their offerings on more experimental classes—like learning how to drive a wagon team, as well as a go-kart course for younger visitors. There’s also less strenuous activities in Spa Town (accessed by a series of criss-crossing boardwalks) where guests can get massages and other services while overlooking the nearby Swan mountain range in open tents.

Whether you’re tired and dusty, or relaxed and refreshed, returning to your residence is meant to feel like coming home. Paws Up started as a family ranch; the Lipson family purchased the ranch in 1997, which then consisted of 10,000 deeded acres and 27,000 leased acres. They brought with them a herd of quarter horses and the seed stock for a herd of Black Angus cattle, as well as the name. Nadine Lipson is a huge dog lover, and the term “Paws Up” refers to the ecstatic wriggling of a dog lying with its back on the ground to greet you while asking for a belly rub. As the Lipsons began renovating the ranch and gradually transforming it into a resort, the property retained many of its personal and historical details.

Accommodations range from the relatively modest Meadow Homes to the Wilderness Estates, which are secluded, lavish residences with high vaulted ceilings, personal vehicles and hot tubs. Specialty residences include the Morris Ranch House, a historic 100-year-old ranch home, and the Blackfoot River Lodge, a cabin on the banks of the Blackfoot River.

Paws Up is probably most famous for its luxury camping facilities. Set in various locations along and above the creeks and waterways of the Blackfoot River, the “glamping” facilities are stunning and unique, combining an immersive wilderness experience with first-class service and facilities. Each spacious tent comes with its own en suite bathroom with heated floors, set around a gracious dining pavilion where a personal chef and butler await your every request. One of the best spots to spend time, though is by the fire pit, sipping local wine.

This isn’t the destination for the seasoned outdoor camper—but for those who are rookies and want an easier transition into the wilderness and more adventurous vacations, Paws Up is perfect: a week-long getaway allows newcomers to the West experience all that Montana has to offer. Nightly rates include meals and start at $306 per person. For more information on rates, accommodations and activities, check out Paws Up’s website.

Photos by Adrienne So; image of cattle herding courtesy of Paws Up