By Matt Trainor
Our teeth chattered as we pulled up to a sandy bank on the Blackfoot River to disembark after a three-hour run down some mild rapids. It was, after all, no more than 40 degrees and overcast, but we quickly stripped off our wetsuits, hopped into warm fleeces, and ran to a roaring fire, a cooler of beer and wine (no ice needed), and a gourmet spread of cheeses and fruits. Now, this, I thought, is “roughing it.” I was at the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana: a place that was made and revels in the spirit of Lewis and Clark, but also ensures you needn’t live like they did. It’s a place where you can experience the natural wonder of Montana, steep yourself in its history, get out into nature, and know that when you get back you’ll be pampered to the extreme. It didn’t even feel indulgent to do so after a day like the one I just had; it was deserved. And, as my teeth stopped chattering and the wine warmed up my toes, I took a look around and realized how truly unique this place is.
The taxidermy at baggage claim should have tipped me off when I arrived in Missoula the day before. The fact that it wasn’t some vaguely ironic stuffed deer head on the restaurant wall should have told me something. This was a full woodland diorama, with a mountain lion stalking a buck over by the carousel and a black bear skulking menacingly over by the exit sign. Montana is a place where the pioneer spirit still burns bright. A place where Manifest Destiny was once an actual, executive order more than simply an attitude. Where hunting and fishing and rugged individualism are a part of daily life. But it’s also a place that recognizes what it has, celebrates it, and rolls out a lush and inviting welcome mat to anyone who comes to experience it.
And so it was that a driver from Paws Up picked me up and drove through the cold, rainy weather and delivered me to the resort, just 40 minutes from the airport. “We go through all four seasons in an afternoon here,” my driver told the group as we pulled in. “It was 80 degrees all week last week.” (Quick note: Packing for a trip out here requires layers—lots and lots of layers.) Besides the dramatic weather, the key takeaway from our drive was the relatively unspoiled beauty of Montana’s landscape. It’s the type of rough-hewn, wild country that can usually only be experienced in our largest of national parks, but out here it’s just, well, the backyard. There are pine groves; stunningly large, open plains; wide, rocky rivers; and sheer cliffs. This is the type of country that had Lewis and Clark writing effusive letters back to President Thomas Jefferson in Washington (I resorted to e-mail, but it was still pretty effusive).
There are horses in paddocks for riding, ATVs for revving, and rafts for rowing, among countless other activities for the modern adventurer.
Consisting of more than 37,000 acres, the beautiful grounds of Paws Up certainly possess every amenity a five-star resort could hold, but it’s the exploration of that acreage that visitors really delight in. There are horses in paddocks for riding, ATVs for revving, and rafts for rowing, among countless other activities for the modern adventurer. Guests can even “camp” in a canvas tent down by the Blackfoot River (room service still on call). This is what Paws Up calls “glamping” or “glam camping.” And it is, too. Just picture yourself wrapped in Beacon print blankets by a fireplace, waiting for a chef to come down and prepare an en-suite meal, and you’ll get the idea. For those who prefer a bit more modernity, however, you can book yourself and the whole family into one of the perfectly appointed luxury homes spaced throughout the grounds (Low-speed hybrid Kias are assigned to some of the houses to get you from your home or “glampground” to the dining rooms and activity centers).
Regardless of which lodgings and activities you choose, the unabashedly cheerful staff will help customize your ideal exploration experience. The only difficulty is with the sheer grandeur of the whole place; it’s impossible to do everything in one trip. Maybe that’s why Lewis and Clark chose this corner of the world as part of their journey West and their return trip East—they couldn’t get enough of it. Or maybe it was just the quickest route—I can’t be sure. But I do know that if they had had a place as perfect as the Resort at Paws Up to visit, they might never have made it back at all.