Why Your Next Weekend Trip Should Be To Montana
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You likely know Montana is a beautiful, mountainous state, full of wide-open expanses, ranches and actual cowboys. But what you may not realize is how much there is to do there, and not just in the bigger cities you may be familiar with. With that in mind, we ventured to the tiny, picturesque town of Philipsburg, Montana (approximately an hour and a half from the airport in Missoula), to find out how to maximize two days in the true Wild West. And before you book your ticket, there are a couple other interesting things to note about Montana: Much of the state doesn’t have sales tax, so it’s very affordable, and some parts also allow open containers, meaning you can take a drink from a bar to go (à la New Orleans). We thought that may help convince you. Read on for why Montana should be high on your must-visit list.
About a 20 minute drive from Philibsburg is the stunning Ranch at Rock Creek, a five-star guest ranch complete with glamping cabins, full homes and a lodge, all outfitted with the chicest Western decor you've ever seen. Think Buffalo checked flannel sheets, leather chairs and recycled-wood bed frames. Several of the glamping cabins sit along the creek, which means you can be lulled to sleep by the sound of running water. Dreamy.
Staying at the Ranch allows for plenty of activities without leaving the premises, including but are not limited to horseback riding, shooting, fly-fishing and bowling in the on-property alley. About a 30-minute drive from the Ranch takes you to the small but impressive Discovery Basin ski mountain. This old-school hill may have a retro feel thanks to a '70s-esque lodge and slow chairlifts, but it has an impressive array of terrain from rambling blues to a backside rich with double-black steeps. Those who are feeling ambitious can attempt a Western “triathlon” of sorts: skiing, horseback riding and shooting, all the same day. Only in Montana.
When it comes to dining, the cuisine at The Ranch At Rock Creek is a don’t miss thanks to Chef Josh Drage's well-thought-out, Montana-minded "ranch cuisine." For lunch, don't miss the sweet-potato sandwich (sounds weird but it's unforgettable). For dinner, it could be a delectable lamb dish or a drool-worthy truffle pasta–the choices depend on the time of year, but make sure to indulge; you won't regret it. After your meal, head to the Silver Dollar Saloon where you can saddle up to the bar—quite literally considering the bar stools are actual saddles—and enjoy superb Moscow mules or one of the other well-executed seasonal cocktails the bar staff prides themselves on. Bored of just hanging out and drinking? No problem! There is also a bowling alley and a screening room in the saloon. And if you are in need of a bar snack while you imbibe, make sure to ask for the truffle popcorn. You won’t be sorry.
If you’re in Philipsburg, the place to go is the Philipsburg Brewing Co. tap room, where you’re limited to three beers given their alcohol content, but you can be sure that trio will be delicious. With all beers brewed on site and offerings ranging from an IPA to a Raspberry Wheat to a Coffee Porter, it's no surprise these brewskies are popular among locals and tourists alike.
If you want to bring home a souvenir, head to Philipsburg to stroll the tiny town’s quaint boutiques. Make sure to visit Sapphire Gallery while you’re there as this area has been a hotbed for fine gems since the 1890s when miners first discovered them in the appropriately named Sapphire Mountains. In fact, Montana is one of the few places where you can mine for sapphires yourself. That’s right, you can sift through dirt in the attempt to find a literal treasure. You can actually buy a bag of gravel at Sapphire Gallery (as well as several other places around the area) and comb through it on the hunt for something sparkly. Locals swear you almost always find at least a little of what you're looking for.
And a stop in Philipsburg isn’t complete without hitting The Sweet Palace, which is exactly what it sounds like. The vast and impressive candy store features handmade chocolates of all possible varieties, as well as handmade saltwater taffy and caramels and literally every other gummy, jelly bean and hard candy under the sun–or in this case, the big sky. If you have an affinity for sugar, this is a definite don’t miss–plus, it's the perfect way to ensure your trip to Montana has a sweet ending.