This Montana ranch is the perfect base for adventure

Jul 27, 2023

One of the best places for a respite from the day-to-day (particularly if you’re looking to escape big city life) is Big Sky Country. Montana is the definition of the great outdoors blessed with more than its share of National Parks, mountainous terrain, sweeping prairies and tree-lined rivers. Lewis and Clark trekked this area on their expedition West, and it still merits exploration today. We’ve discovered an ideal homebase for the beginning of an adventure—the Circle Bar Guest Ranch along the Judith River. A sentimental and romantic fact: the river was so named by William Clark as a tribute to his future wife.  

A century of hospitality 

Based in the central Montana city of Hobson, the Circle Bar is a historic dude ranch, which has been welcoming guests since the early 1900s. Visitors can ride UTVs (utility terrain vehicles) or traverse the land as the original inhabitants, the Blackfeet Native Americans, did hundreds of years ago—on horseback. The ranch is surrounded by 2.8 million acres (about the size of Connecticut) of National Forest land where guests can be on the lookout for wild animals. Be sure to bring along a pair of binoculars, as you’ll want to keep your distance from moose, elk and mountain lions. 

Rest your head 

Something we love about this expansive ranch is the accommodation options. Historic cabins feature fireplaces and wet bars, ideal for a private couple’s escape. With names like Outlaw and Sheepherder, you can expect rustic hominess. But don’t bank on sitting in front of a TV—or any other screen for that matter. These spaces are comfortable but do not necessarily meet 21st-century expectations for staying connected. That’s part of the appeal. Instead, we recommend sitting in a log chair on the front porch and enjoying the sights and sounds of mother nature. If you want to bring the kids or a group of friends, the Buffalo Rooms give plenty of space to spread out and the Ranch House has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms (family reunion, anyone?).  

Chow down 

We know that preparing to venture out for the day requires fuel. With all the horseback riding, hiking and biking, you’ll be burning ample calories. Circle Bar offers a rate plan that includes all meals—and these aren’t your average fare. We are talking about hearty waffles smothered in syrup, mouth-watering biscuits and gravy as well as succulent breakfast meats. If you want to stay on the lighter side, there are continental breakfast choices too. Dinner is served in the lodge with a wood-burning fireplace roaring as the backdrop. Feast on pasta, pork chops, locally sourced fish and pile your plate high with tasty sides after a day “on the range.” The ranch is currently set up as a BYOB (bring your own booze) establishment, so feel free to supply your favorite ale or cocktail to sip during dining.   

Adventure awaits 

The beauty of this area is undeniable and the opportunities for adventures and exploration feel endless. Pack a small bag, bring some water and plenty of sunscreen for a day of hiking the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest, which can include checking out the caves near the ranch. We highly recommend borrowing a fat tire e-bike (don’t forget a helmet) from the ranch to ride along Yogo Creek so named for the Yogo Sapphire which can only be found in this swath of Montana.  

This part of the country has drawn explorers, homesteaders and cowboys for decades. In 1880, a Missourian named Charles Marion Russell came to the area near the ranch to try his hand at being a cowboy. What he ended up doing was creating art using various mediums and earning the moniker “The Cowboy Artist.” To learn more about Charles' life, philosophies and artwork, which feature spots in the Judith Basin, we recommend taking the C.M. Russell Auto Tour. This comprehensive tour takes you to locations found in Charles’ artwork while supplying a history of the land, how it used to be, and the parts that still are unspoiled today. 

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