Monday, July 28, 2014

Girls Getaway to Missoula, MT

The bonhomie of Triple Creek Ranch ( is apparent from the moment you
meet your driver at the Missoula airport. I was greeted with thoughtfully prepared chilled drinks, fruit, sandwiches and fresh baked cookies. The landscape is breathtaking and the 90-minute drive passes by in a flash. When I visited in June, majestic mountain peaks were still holding on to the remnants of snow from a long winter. Although I had emails to attend to and would soon lose my mobile signal, I could hardly tear my eyes away from the lush green forests and brilliant blue sky. The sprawling ranch is a luxuriously sharp contrast to rural Darby, which is best known for Jimmy’s Double H Hats ( and a candy store ( filled with huckleberry delights.

This is the kind of place where you don’t need to lock your doors. It’s easy to make friends with anyone and everyone you encounter. On my first night, I met a lovely lady at dinner who invited me to go sapphire panning with her the next day! Washing, sifting and tumbling the stones is definitely a workout for your arms. I found more than a dozen stones, although most were pretty tiny. The bigger ones can be sent to Sri Lanka to be fired and cut. Be warned – combing through the rocks to find coruscating gems can be pretty addicting.

Although Triple Creek is a luxurious retreat, guests are so down-to-earth and friendly. Dinner is an
elaborate multi-course affair, with an entirely new menu each evening. Yet there’s no dress code and it’s totally fine, even encouraged, to dine in jeans. I wore a sundress and heels the first evening and jeans, a tee and ponytail the next. Owners Craig and Barbara Barrett even invite guests down to their home on property, Elk Meadow, for weekly barbecues in the summer. The ranch boasts an incredible collection of original Western artwork with more than 700 original pieces from sculptures to paintings throughout the property. There is even artwork in the kitchen for the cooks to enjoy.

The array of outdoor activities is endless. Depending on your interests you can learn to fly fish, go horseback riding, spot all kinds of native wildlife on a nature safari, shoot some arrows in an archery class, or even go on a cattle drive.  I had never been fishing before, but my guide, Rick Thomas of Fly Fishing Always ( was a wonderfully patient teacher. I managed to catch my first fish, a 15-inch German brown trout, after a few bites. Trout of all kinds abound in the pristine waters of the Bitterroot River, but you may be tempted to just stare at the storybook scenery around you, in which case a leisurely scenic float is perhaps a better option.

I also had the chance to go on a half-day off-trail horseback ride on the 26,000 acre CB Ranch, just
down the road from Triple Creek and under the same ownership. My horse, Daisy, was lively but well-behaved and we traversed the hills and valleys like pros. All the hard work of climbing up the hills are worth it when you enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking Darby and the mountains beyond. This is definitely not your typical one-hour trail ride where you plod along a well-worn path. Next time I think I’ll be ready for a cattle drive!

There’s no spa, but some cabins have steam showers, which is a nice way to unwind after washing away the dirt and grime of the day. And you can always get a massage in your room if you wish. At the end of an adventurous day, gather by the firepit and toast some s’mores with friends new and old.

Throughout the year, there are themed weekends including vintner weekends in the spring and artist workshops in the fall. The weekend I visited, we were celebrating the ranch’s 20th anniversary with owners Craig and Barbara Barrett. He’s a former Intel CEO and she is a former ambassador to Finland, among many other accomplishments. For the occasion, there was a cocktail competition and the winning cocktail will be on the ranch’s menu. I entered on a whim. I’ve never made a cocktail before in my life, but love gin & tonics, so I did a uniquely Montana twist on my favorite drink, muddling huckleberries and basil with a local gin (Whyte Laydie). I’m told that even when there’s no bartender around, you are free to get behind the bar and make your own drinks anytime. That’s a first!

Triple Creek Ranch gently nudges you outside your comfort zone and makes it easy to try something Klicks for Chicks women’s horseback riding adventure from Thursday, October 9th to Monday, October 13th ( Come alone or with a group and by the end you’re guaranteed to have made some new girlfriends.
new. It’s a safe and welcoming place to learn – like a sophisticated sleepaway camp for adults. One upcoming event just for the ladies is the

Getting there: Missoula (MSO) is the nearest airport, serviced by United, Delta, Frontier, Alaskan and Allegiant airlines. The city is worth taking a day to explore as well. Shop at Cloth & Crown ( and One Eleven Boutique ( for on-trend clothes and locally made jewelry or peek into Butterfly Herbs ( for an eclectic array of spices, coffee and Chinese herbs. Watch the sun set while dining at The Keep ( – its panoramic views of the city are matched by simply prepared, delicious food. Stay at the charming Gibson Mansion (, for first-rate beds and breakfasts. Hosts Tom and Nancy bring you fresh-baked scones along with tea or coffee to your room on a tray and a multi-course meal awaits in the dining room. I can’t think of a better way to start my day.

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