By Mr. TWS
Note from Sweeney: We had such a great time in Montana and there’s going to be more to tell you about the food, drink, accommodations, and activities that we enjoyed from Bozeman to Missoula! But for now, I’m handing over the reins to Mr. TWS to showcase one of the highlights (and his favorite part of the trip) — a trail ride amidst the natural beauty of Big Sky Country.
Big, beautiful skies of Montana
On our June visit to Montana, we experienced many highlights, some well-known, and others that were surprises. As I anticipated our short trip and the great itinerary with a variety of locations, interesting food and drink, and diverse activities, horseback riding seemed especially appropriate for enjoying the natural beauty of the area. Montana is nicknamed Big Sky Country for good reason. There are many wide open spaces with endless beautiful views beneath blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds. As pictured above, the day of our ride offered plenty of this.
Saddle up and go horseback riding in Montana with us!
But first — let’s go to lunch
After a spectacular drive on the scenic route from Missoula, we were treated to a wonderful BBQ lunch along the Clark Fork River in Superior, Montana (about 55 miles northwest of Missoula). Ray Rugg, owner of Rugg’s Outfitting and one of our trail guides was in front of the grill when we arrived cooking local beef burgers for Sweeney and the other members of our group and a piece of fresh salmon for me (the sole pescatarian). Ray’s wife, Jeanne, was in one of the cabins on the property where potato salad, baked beans, and other garnishes were set out. She also had dessert for us — awesome brownies which I think may have been the best I’ve ever tasted (but don’t tell my mother I said that)!
As an extra treat, Adam Hauge of family-owned Dunluce Brewing had come by with four of his craft brews, perfect for the Montana fresh-air lunch.
Though I often prefer beer to wine, I haven’t become the micro connoisseur that many have during the microbrewery explosion. However, I know what I like, and I really liked the four beers Adam brought for us to sample — a blonde, a pale ale, an amber, and a porter. Each was tasty and bore clever names that played on the Dunluce name. I settled on the blonde, “Dun Ridin”, to accompany my meal but switched to a bit more of the porter for the brownies (a perfect match). I’m looking forward to Dunluce widening distribution to California.
The setting in a large meadow along the river surrounded by mountain vistas and the huge blue Montana sky dotted with white fluffy clouds was perfect for our lunch. The two rental cabins and an 18 foot teepee owned by Rugg’s seem like a great accommodation option whether for a couple, a small family, or a larger group using both cabins. From here you could enjoy the peaceful and scenic location but have easy access to the many nearby activities such as fishing, hiking, rafting/kayaking, and of course horseback riding.
Time to get along on the trail
After lunch, it was just a short ride to the ranch to get saddled up and hit the trail.
Ray and his son and business partner Kip, were excellent guides. They gave just enough introductory instructions and cautions, and then introduced us to our horses which had been chosen for each of our small group based on experience, size, and temperament. Mine was a bit larger than the rest named “Tater Tot” and Sweeney’s “Hash Brown” deriving from the same lineage with names all associated with potatoes — I think they started with “Spud”. Sweeney was pleased to be getting Hash Brown since she seemed very gentle and mellow.
Although Sweeney was a little nervous at first, she was able to get almost completely comfortable on Hash Brown before leaving the corral. Then we were off on a 2-hour trail ride that took us through the wide variety of scenes you’d hope to encounter on a beautiful day in Montana.
The trail took us first along a pasture with a variety of green shades and bordered by forests on two sides with the mountains in the background. The sun shined continuously, and the clear blue sky and snow white clouds were perfect. The ride exceeded my expectation because it provided more variety in scenery than I anticipated, winding along a crystal-clear rolling stream, through forested hills, around a beautiful lake, beside picturesque meadows, and past numerous structures that for me aptly epitomized the Old West, always with the sky and mountains in the background and landscape dotted with brilliant wildflowers.
The trail also provided a wide range of ever changing terrains, up and down both small and taller, steeper grades, through narrow tree-lined passages requiring ducking and maneuvering to avoid branches (Sweeney had a minor encounter), and crossing the stream at numerous places with varying widths and depths.
Though much of the ride was a walk for the horse, the steeper grades required them to trot, and the experience required some attention to riding, though I did my best to take photos whenever I could, compelled by the ever-changing, irresistible scenery. The length of the ride seemed just right; the horses and their riders were ready to take a rest. I do have to report that Sweeney had a minor injury — a couple of saddle burns (kind of like the princess and the pea, I guess). She says it was totally worth the pain for the amount of fun she had and would wear heavier pants next time.
Our guides pointed out many aspects of the ride along the way and they seemed perfect for this group. If you go to Montana, don’t miss this activity and I would especially recommend these trail guides.
Time to mosey on
No longer in the saddle but in a car, we headed out from the ranch anticipating our next special Montana moment. We’ll be posting more soon about our Bozeman to Missoula tour — great food, beers, spirits, historic sites, outdoor activities, and even some mining. Stay tuned.