I must admit to being very intrigued by Paws Up. I’d actually heard of it many years ago, way before Scott Dunn started it’s USA program, and thought, that’s where I want to go, I want to go to Montana and I want to stay there. Well, recently, that little dream became a reality and it didn’t disappoint. It also wasn’t at all what I anticipated or imagined either, once again reconfirming why it’s so important that we visit our properties before ever trying to include them in our guests itineraries. Had I tried to explain it before I’d been, I would have got it all wrong. I was told it was huge (37,000 acres huge) and that cabins were spread out all over the place and really guests were all on their own. Nothing could be further than the truth. Yes, it is that big, when you stand in the reception “village” everywhere that you look as far as the eye can see is part of Paws Up. There’s no doubting that it’s vast, however, it has been designed skilfully so that it retains a village feel. It’ll never be as intimate as some of its competitors, such as the Ranch at Rock Creek or Brush Creek Ranch, however, it’s not trying to be. What it does give though is an alternative. A stunning location with amazing activities, great service, food and that luxurious cabin accommodation stay, yet with a little more flexibility and independence if that’s what you desire. This is not necessarily an inclusive stay. Yes, there is a meal plan which includes three meals daily (buffet breakfast with additional orders and omelette station, huge lunches, a la carte or buffet and then three course dinner with wine or beer) or you can just dine when you wish and otherwise use the fully-equipped kitchen in your private cabin and keep it simple. The wilderness estate cabins even have their own barbecues so you can have that full, luxury, back to nature experience on your private deck overlooking the pine forest.
I could go on and on about Paws Up but this forum is just a taster for now. It is large, but all of the cabin groups (the more basic but still very comfortable Meadow Homes, the larger Big Timber Homes and the even larger and more secluded Wilderness Estate homes) are within a four minute drive of the main village area where the restaurants and bar are, where live music plays a couple of times a week in peak season and there are lawn games and al fresco dining with the stunning Montana mountain backdrop behind you. You don’t have to have a car, every cabin comes equipped with its own private green Kia rental car. If you don’t want to drive at all there’s on demand transfers wherever you need to go within the property and of course, you can walk or cycle the complimentary bikes too. Paws Up’s main philosophy is to get its guests outdoors in this beautiful area, doing fun activities with experienced and fun guides (ours were great) so that at the end of each day you collapse into bed with a smile on your face. The main activities center is absolutely huge. At the moment it looks a little too big but by next summer it’ll have it’s own coffee shop, kids zone and boutique. Here is the hub of activity, where you get kitted up for the activity of choice. All activities are a la carte. You choose what you want to do and the list is pretty impressive. Horse riding (they even do cattle drives), guided hikes, glacier helicopter rides, archery, paint balling, mountain biking, go karting for the kids, fly fishing (the Blackfoot River is famous for this amazing experience) and river floats and white water rafting. You can do two activities a day and you pay as you go. The prices range from around $100 for a 90 minute horse ride through to $4000 for an amazing helicopter trip up to Glacier National Park.
During our visit, Kerri and I chose to do the 90 minute ATV tour in the morning and the rappelling down a 166ft cliff in the afternoon (gulp!). First the ATV. We’re kitted up; helmets, gloves, goggles and scarves as it gets pretty dusty out there, and after a brief but thorough introduction to our vehicles, we’re away. The first five minutes are the most challenging as you get used to these new and quite frankly, very pokey machines. We settle in though pretty quickly and soon are stretching our quad bike legs to the max. It’s on this tour that you realise just how big the property is. You never leave the property at all, it goes to show just how much scope there is. We pass by herds of cattle, look out for Elk and other animals that wander nearby. We go through tunnels, along hillsides and along the Blackfoot River. There is another amazing five hour trip (that does leave the property) and heads over to Garnet, an amazingly intact old mining town, now ghost town, which is normally half an hour drive away. They take along lunch and time is spent on the ATV’s and in the town. Back to our tour and we stop briefly at the lookout where Kerri and I are to rappel later on today. After a quick look over the edge I quickly decide that it is not for me and I will only attend in a supporting capacity on this occasion. Finally we blast back to the activities center, completely full of confidence and itching to get out and have another go. We head off for lunch (the sweet potato waffle fries are amazing) and then it’s time for Kerri to head back to that rock for rappelling. Once again, her guide, Ian, is amazing. She’s nervous (Ian says this is a good thing) but after a once again, thorough briefing on what is to occur, she’s ready to go. Ian says this is the safest of all the activities on the property, far safer than the ATV’s this morning, however, that doesn’t mean much when you’re hanging over a 166ft drop! I head to the bottom to shout moral support from the end of the rope, relieved yet a little guilty for leaving her to take this step on her own. She’s great though, despite a little panic at the top which Ian handles brilliantly (I think he’s done this before) she gently lowers herself down towards me. Shaking but thrilled, she’s safely down in under 10 minutes and totally exhilarated. What a way to end our day and our stay. We pass more willing volunteers on the way back to the car, getting kitted up and loving it. This is what this place is all about, getting out, pushing the comfort zone a little and just being out in this stunning location. We can see why it’s so popular with families, you can pick and choose what you do, the family can split and do what they like. If the children are a bit younger there’s a fantastic whole kids village where camp counsellors conjure imaginative experiences for them to enjoy during the day whilst parents head out on other adventures.
At the end of each day, the dining is there to enjoy or a family barbecue can be lit and enjoyed (along with the hot tub, did I mention all the homes have one?). Even better, this place is less than 45 minutes drive from Missoula airport which has direct connections to Seattle (a great city for a brief stay) or Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix amongst others. It’s not a hike to get here yet you’re in the most stunning location. Is it cheap? No. Is it value? Yes, I would say so. If you like to pick your own stay and activities, have flexibility in what you do, where you eat and when but still enjoy top notch service, accommodation and dining, this place is definitely worth a second look. I’ll certainly be going back.
For more information on our customized vacations North America, give one of our Travel Consultants a call on 020 603 3555 or visit scottdunn.com