Rough it — but in a refined way at Paws Up

  • Written by Deborah Stone

After an active day exploring the wilderness playground, head to Spa Town to soothe your tired muscles. Courtesy photo.
In my household, preparing for a camping trip usually involves a flurry of intense activity, from finding the necessary equipment somewhere in the depths of our overflowing garage to methodically checking off all the to-do items on an extensive 10-page list. Then there’s the meticulous packing and re-packing regimen to fit everything in our car.

As we head out, looking like the Joad family with all our earthly belongings strapped to the top of our vehicle, our neighbors line the streets waving goodbye, believing we are off on a grand year-long adventure. Little do they know, we’ll be back in two days. But, yes, it will be an adventure.

We’ll arrive and begin to set up the tent, which typically spurs a heated discussion and the eventual discovery that we’re missing a pole. After my husband concocts something to use from one of our hiking sticks, we proceed to unload everything and then it’s time to start a fire and prepare dinner.

Between swatting at hungry mosquitoes and staving off smoke inhalation, we manage to eat our charred, overcooked meal sometime before midnight. We crawl into our sleeping bags, blurry eyed and exhausted.

But, a blissful night’s sleep is not on the agenda. Rowdy campers nearby begin a karaoke contest. And then we hear that all-too familiar hissing sound, which is coming from the hole in our air mattress – the same hole that we forgot to patch from the last time we went camping.

To top it off, it starts to rain and our tent begins to leak right above our heads. As I lie there like a prisoner undergoing Chinese water torture, I fantasize about a different type of camping.

In my fantasy, I’m lying upon a feather bed draped in 300-thread-count Egyptian silk sheets, while being lulled gently to sleep by the soothing sounds of a nearby river. I’m cozy and dry, yet the great outdoors is right outside my door.

And when I’m hungry, I head for a nearby dining pavilion to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal. A khaki-clad camping butler is at my beck and call and tends to all the details, from providing wine service to arranging a day of exciting adventures. And every evening ends with a ready-made bonfire and a nightly S’mores fest.

It’s a fantasy that can become reality when you visit The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury ranch set along the Blackfoot River in Montana’s pristine wilderness. This grand enclave is a mecca for adrenaline junkies who love the outdoors, but appreciate a high level of comfort and personal service. The resort’s digs range from tastefully appointed, lodge-style private homes to a renovated, historic 1908 farmhouse.

There’s also the Bunkhouse, a former hayloft which is now a six-bed retreat. But, the most unique abodes are found at Tent City and River Camp, where "glamping" has been perfected. Here you can camp in five-star style in your own 270-square-foot, canvas-walled platform tent, complete with king-sized bed, fine linens, electricity, spacious deck, private master bathroom, housekeeping and butler service, gourmet fare and more.

At River Camp, the newer of the two sites, six such structures sit on the banks of the majestic Blackfoot River.

Roughing it in these accommodations means plush pile rugs, fluffy, terry-cloth robes, elk-antler bedside lamps, western artwork adorning the walls and electric blankets and space heaters to take the chill off the night air. Private bathrooms located nearby come equipped with steam showers and heated slate floors.

It’s easy to while away your day in this spectacular setting, doing nothing but simply sitting by the river watching a resident bald eagle family in action.

Or lazing on your deck, reading a book and sipping a cold one. But, most folks come to Paws Up because they have a healthy appetite for wilderness adventures.

Outdoor enthusiasts rejoice upon learning they have nearly 40,000 acres, over 120 trails and 10 miles of the Blackfoot River to explore. They salivate at the menu of activities offered, including horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, ATV touring, rock climbing, special kids’ discovery programs and my personal favorite, sporting clays.

Having never held a gun before, I approached this activity with great apprehension.

I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but knowing that I have a built-in klutz gene, I was prepared for the worst. It was a welcome surprise to discover that not only was I able to hit a number of the clays (once I could actually follow their trajectory patterns), but that I felt empowered by the sport. It was both fun and satisfying in ways I never imagined.

"Just call me Annie Oakley," I said to everyone who would listen to me as I waxed poetic about my experience.

After a full day of playing in the Rockies, many folks opt to head for Spa Town, a cluster of 11 oversized canvas structures nestled at the edge of a sage meadow with expansive, Big Sky Country vistas – the same legendary landscape that once inspired awe in Lewis and Clark. A winding boardwalk takes you to the privacy of your own treatment tent, where a talented massage therapist performs one of the many healing treatments available to soothe sore muscles. And when your stomach grumbles from all the activity and fresh air, take heart in knowing that food is always close at hand.

Meal time is a treat for the senses at Paws Up. The resort prides itself on creating sumptuous five-star cuisine that utilizes fresh, local ingredients from Montana’s agricultural bounty. You might start out the morning with huckleberry French toast and hand-made sausage.

As the sun sets, you’ll feast on specialties such as Rocky Mountain trout sautéed with fresh herbs or grilled elk loin in a mustard demi glace. There are also weekly wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, themed dinners, lavish barbeques and chuck wagon cookouts.

The Resort at Paws Up is the ultimate remedy for urban stress. It’s a wilderness sanctuary with the power to regenerate and revitalize the body, mind and spirit. And it sure beats the heck out of camping the old fashioned way!

If you go:

The Resort at Paws Up is located in Greenough, Montana, about 35 minutes from Missoula. Accommodation and full board packages start at $725 per couple; two night minimum. For more information: or 800/473-0601.

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