Family dude ranch vacations at Lone Mountain - Top50's Jody Dahl pays a visit

BY Jody Dahl | Fri 14 Oct, 2011

“The chefs noticed that we didn't have the type of bread you like, so they specifically made some for you today.”

It’s not every day you get that kind of attention to detail, but at Lone Mountain Guest Ranch, it’s all part of the service. And this was no one-off from Lindy, one of Lone Mountain’s many dedicated serving staff; arriving at breakfast on our last morning, I found a bag of popcorn had been snuck next to my plate – a thoughtful and truly individual touch of Lindy’s that made my recent stay at this family dude ranch so memorable.

Having just left Lone Mountain after a short vacation, I had to write down some of the many highlights – not because I’m likely to forget them, but because I’m still invigorated with the energy and life exuded by this Montana dude ranch.

I’ve been on many family dude ranch vacations, but I can honestly say the atmosphere at Lone Mountain is truly unique. From the moment my husband Toby and I set foot on this family dude ranch we felt like part of a very large family. After a warm welcome from Marketing and Sales Director PJ Wirchansky and his wife and riding director, Lisa Marie, we were shown to our clean, cosy and tastefully decorated cabin. Astounded by the beauty of the ranch, we quickly settled ourselves into the authentic cabin accommodations so we could take some time to explore – on horseback, of course.

Lone Mountain Guest Ranch

Lisa Marie was waiting for us at the barn for our introduction to Lone Mountain’s horse riding program. Their eclectic group of Draft crosses are perfectly suited to walk and climb the trails around the ranch, and we felt totally safe on-board these comfortable horses, able to engage in pleasant conversation with Lisa Marie as she gave us a tour of the area. Chatting to Lisa Marie about the history of the ranch, no one can deny her love of horses and the program she runs at Lone Mountain. And there’s no better way to enjoy the stunning scenery – set outside the village of Big Sky, Lone Mountain treated us to some incredible views as the mountains rose up all around us.

Lone Mountain Guest Ranch

Arriving back at the barn, it was hard not to notice how happy the younger guests were, as were their parents. Lone Mountain prides itself on its children’s program, which includes ropes courses – a real confidence booster for even the quietest kids, who work together as a team to tackle ropes up to 20 metres high, all under the safe guidance of trained staff. Watching children of all ages from totally different backgrounds interacting together and getting along so well, I half wished I’d brought my own three children along with me. All could have tackled the ropes – the course is safe enough for even young children, but goes big enough that older kids and teens would get a kick from it. And that’s not all – this family dude ranch offers plenty of other team activities, fishing, rafting, overnight camp-outs into Yellowstone National Park, plus a rodeo every Saturday at the ranch. On second thoughts it was probably best to leave my kids at home – I’d have had trouble dragging them away!


A wonderful evening followed, spent with PJ and Lone Mountain’s managers, Mark and Kim Parlet, as well writer Irene Rawlings and photographer David Foxhoven. After a tour of the kitchens by Head Chef Bill Baskin (who was enthusiastic about his food and wines as Toby and I were about sampling them), we eagerly settled down to dinner. Wine from Lone Mountain's extensive selection filled glasses all round, while appetizers of watermelon and ginger salad, and leg of lamb were savored. The family dude ranch’s friendly, professional serving staff were always one step ahead, keep our wine glasses full and ensuring delicious breads were always on hand between courses. Entrees of bison flank steaks, herb crusted chicken and the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever eaten didn’t spend long on our plates, so delicious were Chef Bill’s creations. After an evening filled with great wine, food, conversation and company, the only place I could have wanted to retreat was my plush bed back at the cabin. Despite its high guest capacity (the ranch can take up to 75 guests at any one time) and focus on family vacations, there’s something very peaceful about Lone Mountain – in such quiet and tranquil surroundings I had no trouble falling asleep to the sound of the crystal clear creek running through the ranch.

A great night’s sleep later, it was time to sample yet more of Bill Baskin’s wonderful food – and not too soon, in my opinion! Breakfast comprised of made-to-order pecan-stuffed flapjacks, omlets, eggs, bacon and hash browns – plus a multitude of offerings from the breakfast buffet. It was the perfect way to end a truly wonderful stay at Lone Mountain, and it was with sadness at not being able to stay longer that we bid our farewells to our hosts, and to the guests whom we’d gotten to know so well during our short time at the ranch.

Toby and I came away from Lone Mountain with same smiles on our faces as those worn by all of the family dude ranch’s guests and staff. In fact, so friendly and non-pretentious were the team that often, we had trouble working out whether they worked there or were taking vacation! Full of the life and energy exuded by this guest ranch, we left feeling positively invigorated for the five-hour drive to the next stop on our exciting ranch journey...

If I could sum up the vibe at Lone Mountain in one word, it would be ‘synergy’. Everyone evidently loves working at the ranch and also with each other, something that’s reflected in the high standard of service received by every guest. From the serving staff who get to know all their guests as individuals, to the wranglers who make the incredible riding so special, to the behind-the-scenes team who care about every aspect of your stay – everyone at Lone Mountain treats their guests as individuals to make their family dude ranch vacations the best they’ve ever had. It’s certainly top of my family’s list so far...


Lone Mountain: ‘Must-do’s!

- Spend time getting to know Mark and Kim. Mark’s a real live-wire and Kim is the epitome of classy elegance.

- Visit with Chef Bill. He clearly loves working at Lone Mountain and it comes through in his food, right through from the ingredients – sourced locally to support Montana farmers and ranchers – to the exquisite dishes he creates with them.

- Take your children! Even if you’re looking to ‘get away from it all’, Lone Mountain’s children's program means you can enjoy time alone while the kids have a blast. There’s a great courtyard play area for the kids, while mom and dad can sit on the deck with a drink while keeping an eye on their kids below and getting to know the other parents. Family dude ranch vacations don’t get better than that!

- Show your kids the ropes. Literally! The dude ranch’s great children’s program includes a top-notch ropes course, which acts as a real confidence-booster for any kid. Even those reluctant to leave Mom and Dad’s sides will get stuck in with other kids and tackle the ropes!

- Go fly fishing. Although we didn’t get a chance to have a go, an English guest at the resort raved about it(and he'd been fishing elsewhere in Montana). It’s one of the ranch’s most popular activities thanks to easy access to the Gallatin and Madison rivers. Fly fishing at this Orvis-endorsed ranch does come with an additional fee, but according to guests, it is beyond worth it - and something not to be missed.

TAGS: lone mountain guest ranch, family dude ranches, family dude ranch vacations, lone mountain guest reviews, horse riding holidays, dude ranch vacations, orvis-endorsed fishing lodge, fly fishing

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