Nestled between the Bitterroot and Rocky Mountains, Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, is a luxury guest ranch unlike any other in the West—or the world. To say that ranch owners Craig and Barbara Barrett have a passion for the western lifestyle is something of an understatement. Five years after purchasing TCR—a Relais & Chateux property named by Travel+Leisure in 2014 as the #1 Best Overall Hotel in the World—the couple acquired the 26,000 acre working cattle ranch nearby. As a result, Triple Creek Ranch guests have the opportunity to participate in authentic ranch activities like gathering cattle, team penning, and even branding. The Barretts are passionate about western art as well; their private collection includes original works with signatures like Russell and Remington. Throughout Triple Creek Ranch, fine paintings and sculptures elevate the guest experience, both in the public areas and in the guest cabins and lodges.
In 2001, Barbara Barrett established Klicks for Chicks, a charitable 62-mile horseback ride to benefit Parkinson’s disease care, research and potential cures. Horses & Heels blogger Raquel Lynn was fortunate to be one of the twelve women who participated in Klicks for Chicks last fall, and shares her story exclusively with COWGIRL readers.
DAY 1, ARRIVAL: As I ascended the winding mountain driveway to Triple Creek Ranch, I tried to spot the herd of wild elk that often graze on the property. Upon arriving, I inhaled the scent of pine and fresh mountain air as I walked to the main lodge peeking out from behind tall pines. Strolling through the rustic entry to check in, I admired the impressive western décor: lifelike bronze sculptures, fine paintings, and tasteful taxidermy.
Triple Creek Ranch has twenty-four one, two, and three-bedroom log cabins spread throughout the 700-acre property—and each of them are unique. Two luxury ranch homes, Osprey and Stage Stop, round out the accommodations. Guests have the ability to truly get away and experience complete privacy, depending on the cabin they select. I stayed in Piquette, a spacious and luxurious one-bedroom cabin. Each cabin varies in layout, but all feature amenities such as enormous steam showers, roomy hot tubs (on the private deck) plush king-sized beds, cozy wood-burning fireplaces, a well-stocked wet bar, and complimentary long-distance telephones. Prior to arrival, I was warned my cellular phone would not have service at Triple Creek (or most places in Montana).
After a long day of traveling, I opted to relax in my lodge the first evening and enjoy room service. I ordered the Spicy Pork Verde. The pork was tender and the verde sauce had just the right amount of heat to keep one coming back for more. I skipped dessert, but the freshly-baked, white chocolate cookies in my room made for an enjoyable late night snack. This meal set the culinary bar high for the rest of the week.
DAY 2: After a leisurely breakfast it was time to begin the Klicks for Chicks ride. The afternoon started out with an easy ride. Triple Creek Ranch donates one dollar per Klick (kilometer), per Chick, to the Summit for Parkinson’s. Barbara Barrett created this equestrian experience in 2001, and each year the available spots fill quickly.
I met the group of women I would be riding with each day: a group of veterinary and equine ophthalmologists sharing a vacation. Leading us were two expert guides from the ranch, Kristin and Kathleen. I was matched up with a stocky Paint horse called Tuff, who lived up to his name. The horses were saddled and bridled and we headed out from the “Rider’s Roost” onto the trail. I took in the breathtaking scenery and before I knew it we had finished our loop just ahead of the sunset.
The ranch currently has fifty-five horses; the remuda is carefully selected based on equine temperament and personality. The animals going on mountain rides must be sure footed, and take every step carefully. Evidence of this was made clear on the Porcupine Saddle ride, which featured steep drop offs next to the trail while we made our way down the range in rocky terrain. The switchbacks carved down the steep mountain, providing breathtaking views of the Bitterroot River below.
DAY 3: A more tranquil ride on the CB Ranch was the mileage for today. CB stands for Craig Barrett. The 26,000-acre working ranch was purchased by the Barretts five years after acquiring Triple Creek Ranch. Apple orchards, vegetable gardens, hay fields and bison and cattle are integral parts of this working ranch. Tuff and I wove our way up the sloping hills and spotted plenty of mule deer, elk, and a golden eagle. We rode alongside the Bitterroot River, which borders almost nine miles of this high country range.
It was a delight to ride the Continental Divide trail and listen to Barbara share stories of Lewis and Clark, who traveled this same land so many years ago. I tried to picture the forests and mountains without any trails, imagining myself on a green horse, camping and hunting for my own dinner.
For lunch, we stopped at Gibbons Pass. Two Triple Creek chefs spent the previous night preparing a gourmet lunch for us, which we took seated around a campfire. A delicious meal, but also a unique experience that helped the group tap into the history of the surrounding area. Gibbons Pass is situated on the North American Continental Divide, and was used by Lewis and Clark. It was a primary route for Native Americans, hunters, and other explorers. The pass is also where the conflict between the Nez Perce Indians and Captain Gibbons ensued. After lunch, we concluded our ride following the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) trail. Nez Perce was a name given to the Indians by white men; these indigenous people called themselves the Nee-Me-Poo.
During the evenings following the rides (we returned to the ranch each evening) we enjoyed creative cocktails and trunk shows from Double H Custom Hat Company, Howard Knight Leather and Sonja Kreis Jewelry. Following the cocktail hour, we would head downstairs to the formal dining room, and the impeccable service and attention that has made Triple Creek Ranch a favorite among discerning travelers from around the world.
Chef Jacob Leatherman has been with Triple Creek Ranch for over ten years. “Jake started here as an intern and we just love him,” stated Barbara Barrett on a ride earlier in the day. Chef Jake prepares a new dinner menu nightly, often incorporating freshly grown produce from the CB Ranch. Expect to find tantalizing appetizers like Cider Braised Pork, and Asian Duck confit. The flavorful main dishes included a satisfying variety: House Made Ravioli, Pan Seared Painted Hills Beef Strip Loin, and Oven Roasted Salmon. Desserts were presented to tantalize the taste buds: Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Oktoberfest Caramel Sauce, Cream Cheese Mousse and Bourbon Ice Cream were all major hits. For the continental crowd, there was always a cheese plate or a flight of sorbet flavors to be enjoyed. The wine cellar, located in the rooftop lounge, features over 700 wines, guaranteeing a perfect pairing for dinner.
While I spent most of my time in the saddle, TCR offers plenty of activities—all inclusive. During warmer months, guest enjoy fly-fishing, archery, tennis, swimming, hiking and panning for the sapphires that are found in the region. I tried my luck at sapphire panning and quickly learned how fun and addictive this activity is! For the ranch prospectors, dirt is transported from a local Montana sapphire mine. After the panning process, I was hoping find an array of green, blue, pink, and yellow sapphires. I finished and, success! I took my colorful sapphires back to the activity center. I decided to keep them raw, to BE placed in a locket, instead of shipping them out for heat treating and cutting. Digging through sediments and getting my hands dirty was absolutely worth it!
The Montana winter brings with it a chance to try new experiences at Triple Creek Ranch, like snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, ice fishing, and skijoring. If this still doesn’t sound like enough to keep you occupied, the ranch offers additional seasonal western adventures. Try dog sledding, snowmobiling, Montana explorations, mountain biking, helicopter tours, trap shooting, Lewis and Clark Adventures, golfing, ATV explorations, guided fly fishing, scenic floats, whitewater rafting, cattle drives, and team penning. Of course, if relaxation is more your style there are massages available too. Or simply relax and breathe in the high mountain air—and the silent cell phones.