Montana Working-Ranch Vacation

Saddle up, and get ready to work, eat and play with some of the country's hardest-working ranchers on an intimate working ranch vacation in Montana.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil

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Photo by: Dan Bannister

Dan Bannister

Live out your cowboy dreams in Big Sky Country, and immerse yourself in ranch life with the hard-working cowboys and cowgirls who keep the ranch tradition thriving in Montana. There are over 20 working ranches that invite guests to spend time riding horses, trailing cattle and experiencing ranch life in an intimate way. The ranchers are happy to tailor a trip to your interests whether that's waking up with the cattle and putting in a full day's work or simply gaining a new appreciation for life on the range surrounded by natural beauty, stunning wildlife and national parks.

Your working-ranch vacation includes accommodations, food and ranch activities for a flat fee, though occasionally you will need extra money for additional off-site excursions. A working-ranch vacation differs from the classic dude-ranch getaway because you are the only guests at the ranch, making for an intimate and more personalized experience. Saddle up, and get ready to work, eat and play with some of the country's hardest-working ranchers.

Metcalf Ranch
Big Timber, Montana
When Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain wanted an authentic Montana ranch experience, he headed to the Metcalf Ranch's Rocking M Bunkhouse beneath the Absarokee Mountains. Follow his lead to this Lower Deer Creek Ranch in Big Timber, and enjoy the Metcalf family's warm hospitality, delicious food and activities galore including horseback rides for all levels, river-rafting trips, fishing trips, picnics in a field of wildflowers and excursions to Yellowstone National Park, roughly 2.5 hours away. Ranch owner Susan Metcalf will help guests tailor a vacation and activities that suit their interests. For example, set off on a riding adventure for dinner at "The Top of the World," and enjoy hearty home-cooked food and an expansive view of the gorgeous countryside. At night, relax in a rocking chair and do some stargazing from the private bunkhouse's wide porch before snuggling into the hand-hewn log queen-size beds in the 2-bedroom log cabin on the banks of the creek.

Baron Ranch
Absarokee, Montana
Spend time with a fifth-generation ranching family at Baron Ranch, also known as Paintbrush Adventures, where horse-lovers can customize their dream trip to include plenty of riding adventures. Owner Wanda Wilcox has been recognized by the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame for her pioneer spirit and stewardship of the land. For your American West adventure, stay in the plush and secluded cabin on the Stillwater River, and spend your day immersed in ranch life, setting off on scenic rides ranging from 1-hour jaunts to full-day excursions with time for swimming and fishing. For more time on horseback, set off on a multiday pack trip through winding mountain trails in the Beartooth Mountains and sleep under the stars. With over 100 horses to choose from, all levels of riders are easily accommodated.

Z Bar T
Dillon, Montana
Experienced riders can embark on a journey to the Old West when they join the Welborn family and take off on a more rigorous experience with Z Bar T's Cow Camp. The Welborns invite a maximum of 2 guests at a time to assist with the long rides as they trail their cattle to the high mountain pastures for summer grazing. Guests must forgo indoor plumbing and build up stamina to saddle-up for 3 consecutive days of roughing it on the trail with long days of riding and campfire cooking at a high elevation of 7,000 feet. In return, visitors are rewarded with astonishing views of the wide open ranges and a remarkable ranch experience.

Woodford Ranch
Mosby, Montana
Solo travelers or couples who truly want to immerse themselves in ranch life may supplant themselves into the daily workings of Woodford Ranch, staying in 1 of 2 guest rooms in the family home. The Woodford family's ranch roots stretch back to the homesteading days of the 1800s, growing the family land from 160 to 17,000 acres of rolling prairie and buttes. Depending on the time of year, guests jump right into the role of ranch hand and spend a good part of the day in the saddle, assisting with daily tasks like gathering and moving the cattle and tending to the animals' needs depending on the season. Jay Woodford and his sons are happy to demonstrate roping skills, and if you're visiting during rodeo season on select weekends in July and August, you can get an insider's look at the wild rodeo action.

Skelton Ranch
Bynum, Montana
Ride into the Big Sky Country at the Skelton ranch where the family works tirelessly to preserve the area's frontier land and the stunning nature that has made the area a historically rich wonder. Located along the Rocky Mountain Front, guests can set off on horseback-riding excursions and guided nature tours. Give your legs and rear a break from the saddle, and spend time exploring nearby Glacier National Park and the Two Dinosaur Medicine Center, both easy day trips. Back at the ranch, Steve is happy to share his horsemanship skills and even some secrets of horse-whispering. At night, gather with the Skelton family for evening feast of ranch-raised beef prepared and campfire tales.

For more information on working-ranch vacations in Montana, explore the unique options available through Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations.

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