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Category: In the press

Working Happy for Our 9th Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star

The Ranch at Rock Creek Earns 9th Consecutive 5-Star Award

Aerial view of The Ranch at Rock Creek

Living out in the wild, it’s easy to disconnect from the buzz of modern life. But every year when we learn we’ve won another Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star, we feel connected to all the hotels who’ve faced all the challenges of the year and achieved the apex of service standards in the hospitality industry. As we think about the meaning of our 9th consecutive five-star award, we want to congratulate our fellow star winners across the globe, and especially each and every member of The Ranch at Rock Creek family.

“COVID has brought many challenges to our industry. However, this team was purposeful in their efforts to stay the course, never cut corners, and provide the level of service that The Ranch at Rock Creek is known for. This team worked the hardest they ever have, and they did it with a smile to provide that respite for our guests during challenging times.” ~ General Manager Jeremy Belnap

Work Here, Work Happy Finalist in the Best-of-the-Year Awards

This year’s award comes with the dual honor of being chosen as a finalist for the Forbes Travel Guide’s Best-of-the-Year Awards accolade “Work Here, Work Happy.” Forbes Travel Guide selects its finalists from hotels, restaurants, spas or brands that have implemented creative ways to attract and retain staff. Most businesses, let alone most hotels, have struggled to be fully staffed in the past few years as they provide a COVID-19 safe workplace. People across the country reevaluated how they wanted to work and live.

The Ranch at Rock Creek Staff gathered at our 2022 Ranch Olympics

This time of great change at work mirrored a time of great change in travel. More than ever, people were breaking away from normal routine, in search of more meaningful interactions with their families and their environment. While many industries could offer remote work, Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star service is in-person, attentive, and built on meaningful connections. Work from home is not an option in hospitality. At The Ranch at Rock Creek, we offer something a little different, work from the wild.

The Ranch at Rock Creek's hiking trails lead to stunning meadows, peaks and forests
The Ranch at Rock Creek nestled between the John Long, Sapphire and Pintler mountain ranges.

Working Happy at The Ranch at Rock Creek

How does one work happy? There are as many answers to that question as there are people, but it was our Executive Committee’s job to try to improve the overall happiness of our staff in ways that would be meaningful. Assistant General Manager Linda Walser explained several ways we approached this question,

“This year we raised our minimum wage to help address the increased cost of living. We provide free housing for all staff living on property and for the full-time staff members who have chosen to live off-property we implemented a housing stipend to offset the cost of living. We recognize that money isn’t the only answer, but part of the equation. We wanted to encourage our staff to prioritize their mental health and give them a safe space to talk through the challenges that they face. We scheduled a licensed therapist to provide on-Ranch monthly therapy sessions, free of cost to our staff. We also had a mandatory recovery blackout before the holidays. We did not allow our staff to work, but encouraged them to get out and do something they enjoy.” 

Hiking at The Ranch at Rock Creek

Other benefits include staff activities and instruction so that employees can make the most of our epic location; ski passes for full-time staff; a staff bike program, shuttles and two daily meals; EMT and other training opportunities; Ranch family meals, and more. Learn more about staff perks here.

“I think now more than ever, people really appreciate the ability to be happy with what they do for a living. Working for The Ranch at Rock Creek for the past year has given me that. The drive delivers stunning views of Big Sky Country and an abundance of wildlife. I’m greeted by my smiling coworkers and friends. A warm work environment paired with the ability to help guests make their Montana getaway dreams come true has created the perfect work environment for me.” ~Reservations Agent Kelsey Shaver

It’s our employees that execute up to 900 service standards daily, so it’s only right that they help answer this question in their own words.

Location, Location, Location

Perhaps the biggest initial draw to The Ranch is its breathtaking, remote location. People looking for a change can trade car horns for pronghorns.

A moose drinks from Welcome Pond at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana
A bull moose dines on aquatic plants at Welcome Pond. Photo by Kelsey McGlothlin.

“I moved out from the Chicago area two years ago without ever even being to Montana, and a big reason I took such a large step outside of my comfort zone was because of the first impression I got of The Ranch and the people who worked there. It definitely took some adjusting to rural life, but the scenery is unmatched and in my opinion some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. I hope to spend many more fun-filled seasons here at The Ranch!” ~ Michael Novak, HR Associate

The staff who work here possess an adventurous spirit. They live next to a Blue Ribbon trout stream and many hike to and from work. For workers who join us for our peak season from May through September, they can spend the long days enjoying mile-high views, easy access to camping on their days off and the chance to learn lifelong hobbies. For those who stay year-round, they live 30 minutes from a ski hill that’s considered by National Geographic as one of the Best-Kept Secrets in North America, and those with families can raise their kids closer to nature, with on-site childcare provided by The Nest at Rock Creek.

Wranglers on Horses on the Fourth of July

“I moved to Montana to work at The Ranch at Rock Creek because the people seem genuinely happy to be here. It’s encouraged to enjoy your surroundings (what isn’t to love about the nature that surrounds us here?) I would have the opportunity to not only excel at my job but in the industry too.” ~ Front Office Manager Brooke Hudsmith

Ranch Community, Ranch Family

Another benefit is living and working with people who value living a wilder life out West. Lifelong friendships are forged on hikes to Top of the World, camping trips, float trips and nights around the campfires at staff housing.

The Ranch's staff housing is nestled in the Montana wilderness, just a short walk or ride from the Granite Lodge.
Staff housing sits near Blue Ribbon Rock Creek and just below Top of the World peak

“Living in staff housing has allowed me to form great friendships, and at the end of the day it feels like I’m part of a big family. I am very grateful for my time here at The Ranch at Rock Creek. I believe it is also such a happy place to work because of our leaders, our managers. They truly care and go the extra mile for us.” ~ Liana Day, Room Attendant

Our staff excel at anticipating guests’ needs, and this may be because they also looked for a place to get away, find respite and relax in the middle of nowhere before they applied to The Ranch.

Lead AM Cook Aidan Garison came to The Ranch from North Carolina after working in a pizza restaurant. He loved the willingness of his managers and co-workers to teach him new methods as a line cook. After a few months, he was cooking outside on cast-iron Dutch ovens and was promoted to Lead AM Cook. He invited several of his best friends to come out and work with him.

Cowboy Breakfast at Piney Pond
Lead AM Cook Aidan Garison cooks a a Dutch oven Cowboy Breakfast.

“It’s a place where your hard work pays off. The guests are receptive and friendly, saying this is one of the best breakfasts they’ve ever had, while they eat outside next to a pond in the middle of Montana. The staff accepted me and guided me, which gave me an incentive to work harder. Managers are receptive to personal requests. There are a lot of jobs where there are no exceptions and that’s not how it is here.” ~ Aidan Garison

Passion Inspires Happy Work

Owner Jim Manley is passionate about providing the best ranch experience in the world, after he searched the American West for 20 years to find the perfect ranch for his family.

Passion projects are part of The Ranch, including converting this old horse trailer into a mobile bar.

The Ranch has also retained many of its leaders. Executive Chef Josh Drage, Activities Director Patrick Little, Kitchen Manager Kelly Fernatt and Maintenance Lead Mike O’Dell have all worked at The Ranch since the beginning 12 years ago. Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry worked here before it became a guest ranch, and 10 years later she returned and won the Manager of the Year Award. General Manager Linda Walser started as a server and moved up the ranks before becoming second-in-command. Their passion is inspiring for those looking to excel in the hospitality industry.

PM Events Lead Kayden Windsor, explained how important this passion was to him in his first days here, “When I was an intern at The Ranch at Rock Creek Executive Chef, Josh Drage was flawless in his execution of instilling his passion in his team members. He shared with me the craftsmanship that went into each element. The way he spoke about it fueled my fire to be the best I could be each day to ensure our final product went out to our guests as perfectly as we could achieve.”

Executive Chef Josh Drage
Executive Chef Josh Drage

“I believe that passion and happiness are closely aligned. When one fades, the other follows which leads to fatigue, increased stress and an unbalanced life. The Ranch encourages its team to enjoy the astonishing nature we are surrounded by and the tight-knit community we all become a part of by being in Philipsburg, Montana. All the practices and ethics this property exemplifies encourage my passion to be the best in the hospitality industry.” ~ Kayden Windsor

We can’t thank our staff enough for all they do. They are the stars of our TripAdvisor reviews for good reason. See below for a few snippets just from our April reviews:

“The staff could not do enough for you – Thank you MaKenna, Brian, Sam, Max, Hannah, Linda, Brook and all the others who took such good care of us!”

“The staff is superb. They made us feel like VIPs from the minute our driver, Neil, met us at the airport.”

“Every single staff member is so nice and the service is world-class.”

If you missed our Earth Week sustainability blog, please take a look at the 22 initiatives our Ranchers support on a daily basis as they provide world-class service to our guests.

Ranch staff at last week's Clark Fork Cleanup
Ranchers on last week’s Clark Fork River Cleanup.

“I feel that with this great change, we have only become better at what we do; making our guests feel special, everyone is a VIP on our watch. I love coming to work knowing that I am part of something bigger than a paycheck; we have a purpose and succeed at all we try for with a united front. I’ve never worked anywhere like The Ranch and that makes me happy to work here.” ~ Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman

Our Ranchers’ dedication has made The Ranch a happy place to work and also a supportive community. It’s the team that inspires us to work harder, happier and a little wilder.

Visit our Careers page to see our current listings and join our team. You can also follow us on LinkedIn. Watch the video below and, if you’re looking for a change, consider making the mountains your office.

Category: In the press

Drift off to sleep with The Ranch’s Calm Sleep Story

The Ranch at Rock Creek on Calm

Narrated in a gentle, unhurried pace, Calm’s sleep stories are meditative tales designed to usher you into dreamland. Thanks to a collaboration with writer Dibs Baer, you can visit The Ranch at Rock Creek on Calm and live a day in the life of one of our wranglers. 

Drift off to sleep under the Big Sky with the tales from Sara Jane as she leaves River House and saddles up her horse for a ride on Repeater Ridge. Inspired by the hardworking females from our past and present, this story pays homage to the homestead history we seek to preserve. Read about how this story came about and look for the special Ranch at Rock Creek discount code for a Calm subscription.

The Inspiration

The Ranch at Rock Creek has made it a mission to help people relax and reconnect to nature. The all-inclusive nature of our hospitality allows guests to be at ease as they explore Montana. During the pandemic we began to foster a community of like-minded souls across the world who crave life in the slow lane. Starting in 2020, we shared “Respite on Rock Creek,” a daily glimpse through a window into our world. Thanks to this daily feature on Instagram, Forbes featured us as one of 10 Boundary-Breaking Accounts Curing Wanderlust on Instagram.

Rock Creek flows through The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg Montana

The changes in our modern world have pushed people to seek a better work/life balance during the last few years, mirroring the reason so many of our staff have moved here in the first place. Our community on Instagram also led us to see how beneficial nature can be, even if it’s a virtual tour.

Dibs Baer at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Images from Dibs’ trip to The Ranch. Courtesy of Travel Curator and Dibs Baer

One of our former guests, writer Dibs Baer got in touch with us in late 2020 with the idea of channeling the peacefulness of The Ranch into a calming story for others.

“During the early months of the pandemic I found that Calm’s sleep stories really helped me with anxiety, especially the travel sleep stories because they felt like an escape. I thought about my happiest place I’ve ever traveled to and it was hands-down The Ranch. It was the most beautiful, uplifting, peaceful trip I’d ever been on and I never forgot it. It sounds cliché but it was kind of spiritual and life-changing. I knew it would make a perfect sleep story.” Author Dibs Baer

When Dibs contacted Calm, they were on board. It was time to begin researching the people who’d been ranching this land since Montana was a territory.

River House, The Ranch at Rock Creek's original homestead
The original homestead at The Ranch at Rock Creek, River House.

The Back Story

The Ranch and Montana, in general, have a history of strong female cowgirls and ranchers. In the 1940s, The Ranch was purchased by F.S. LeGrow. He hired well-known horse trainer, Grover Bowles as The Ranch’s manager. When Grover died, his wife, Hazel, and daughter, Sara Jane, took up the reins running The Ranch. Sara Jane’s Cottage is named after this enterprising woman. 

Cowgirl riding during The Running of the Horses
The Running of the Horses. Photo by Allison Beggs

While the mining and trapping histories of Montana speak primarily of men, ranching is common amongst both men and women. Women across Granite County have long been a large part of the ranches in this area. They are skilled riders, farmers and ranchers. When Dibs began her research, every one of our wranglers was a woman. They interviewed Social Media and Website Manager Krista, Barn Manager Hailey, Lead Wrangler Ariel and Master Naturalist Kelsey to gain insight on the lifestyle and environment.

Bunks in Sara Jane's Cottage at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Rustic bunks in Sara Jane’s Cottage at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

The Sleep Story

The narrator in the sleep story is Sara Jane, in an homage to Sara Jane Bowles. She is also a jill-of-all-trades like most ranchers. She knows a little bit about everything, so she can lend a hand and impart her wisdom during her daily tasks.

Barn Manager Hailey and Wrangler Brittney care for horses on Whiskey Ridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Barn Manager Hailey Laird and Wrangler Brittney Johnston at Whiskey Ridge.

“I don’t mind showing you a little homestead hospitality as I mosey around our ten square miles on my daily chores. You may see why they call it “the Treasure State.” My ancestors may have been looking for gold and silver, but the real natural wonders fly across the big sky and migrate through the land.” ~ From The Ranch at Rock Creek, Calm Sleep Story

We hope you take this leisurely tour of The Ranch’s 6,600 acres. If you find your eyes closing before the end, we don’t blame you. That means Sara Jane, Dibs and Calm have worked their meditative magic. Use our code at calm.com/rockcreek for 40% off a year subscription as you have a listen. Sweet Dreams from Sara Jane Bowles and The Ranch at Rock Creek!

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
We hope you enjoy this relaxing window into our world.

About the Calm Story Author Dibs Baer

Dibs is an LA-based entertainment writer and the author/co-author of six books, including Lady Tigers in the Concrete Jungle: How Softball and Sisterhood Saved Lives in the South Bronx, named a Best New Book by People magazine, and the New York Times bestseller I didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confession of a Reality Show Villain. During a 15-year Stretch in NYC, Dibs was the executive editor of In Touch Weekly and their stories have also appeared in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Seventeen, Gotham, Hamptons and Vegas magazines. See more at dibsbaer.com

About Calm

Calm is the #1 app for sleep and meditation. Our mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place. It’s both simple and big. Through our website, blog, and app—filled with meditations, sleep stories, music, movement, and more—we’re redefining what mental health care looks like in 2021 and beyond. With over 100 million users worldwide, 100,000 new users daily, and our growing partnerships with major companies, we’re having a positive effect on more and more people each day.

Category: In the press

Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Award + The Bright Side of 2020

On the Bright Side

2021 is looking brighter. The first reason is we’ve just earned our 8th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! We are proud of that achievement in a normal year, but during a pandemic, we are thrilled that our staff’s dedication is being recognized for the incredible that feat it is. We congratulate each property that achieved a Forbes Travel Guide destination, judged on 900 separate standards, even as the rules of travel were being rewritten.

General Manager Jon Martin added, “Early in 2020 we were faced with adjusting to a growing pandemic as we tried to anticipate how it would affect our business. Our focus for the entirety of 2020 was to prioritize the safety of our guests, employees and community, without diminishing our levels of service.  Each and every member of our team made adjustments and added new service experiences whenever we had to remove something in response to the pandemic.”

Stars at The Ranch during the announcement that The Ranch has won the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the 8th consecutive year
The Ranch’s summer starscape from Top of the World peak. Photo by Robert Cole Photography.

“When we could have easily found excuses, our team found solutions. It is an honor to see their hard work and dedication rewarded.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

We closed in March and reopened with strict protocols that have proved extremely effective. As we approach a year since our closure, we are looking back to see what has allowed us to remain successful – an exercise in counting our blessings, because we have so many things we are grateful for despite a tough year. We hope you’ll enjoy a helping of stardust from today’s happy announcement.

5 Silver Linings from 2020

1.Rooting in Nature

From the moment The Ranch at Rock Creek became a guest ranch, almost 11 years ago, owner Jim Manley wanted the experience to be rooted in nature. Guests received a bike upon check in for transportation but they were also encouraged to walk and take in the scenery. At a minimum, they would see more wildlife, but more likely, they would adopt a slower pace of Ranch life. This act of trading horsepower for horses and bikes would give us the break we all need on vacation – trading daily stresses and routine for a deeper connection to the world around us.

a corporate group mountain bikes across The Ranch's trailsCross-country biking on our new trails.

We invested in e-bikes to empower our guests to ride around the property and tackle our new cross-country mountain bike trails, and we encouraged people to spend more of the day outside than they would in the course of their daily life. We developed 12 new activities, including sapphire mining, with gravel from the Sapphire Mountains that abut The Ranch, Ride Along with a Rancher, Respite on Rock Creek, and a five peaks challenge. We found over the course of the year that these were competing with horseback riding, fly fishing and shooting sports for the honor of being some of our guests’ favorite activities.

British TV presenter Simon Reeve recently wrote about travel in a recent piece for The Telegraph “Travel is part of our make-up – we need it in our lives. Montana, in a land of neck-craning views, where vast skies are a stage for troupes of dancing clouds, possibilities for adventure are endless. A higher end option for exploring the landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek offers horse-riding, hiking trails and a chance to test your limits with a survival course in frontier skills.”

2. Lower Capacity, Higher Connection

Upon reopening we lowered our capacity to 60% in the summer and 40% in the winter. Many businesses had to make this change to keep indoor environments safe, even as they knew it would limit the viability of their business. Our dining team pivoted to make experiences customizable to people’s comfort levels – whether they were comfortable dining in our dining rooms or in their accommodation.

Food & Beverage Manager Marilyn D’Angelo said, “As peoples’ comfort levels differed, we needed to engage guests on an individual level. We have always styled cuisine to their needs, but now serving had to be styled and customized. The result is that we got to know them even better. We were socially distant but we gained a better connection to our guests.”

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
A couple enjoys coffee on the porch of one of our creekside glamping cabins.

Fresh pastries from our French-trained pastry chef are the best way to start a morning, which is why they’ve been a staple in the Great Room for years. We pivoted into personal service – delivering coffee & pastry orders to our guests each morning to avoid an influx of people in the Granite Lodge. Feedback showed our guests loved reading the news on their scenic porch with their favorite coffee and decadent pastries before heading to their breakfast reservation. Likewise, we created Happy Hour on the Porch as an option for the summer, where a bartender would bring hors d’oeuvres and make an artisan cocktail on their porch at golden hour.

Watch our Relais & Châteaux Delicious Journeys film about Preserving the Legendary West thorough our cuisine.

These new dining experiences posed challenges, but Executive Chef Drage has always sought ways to meld the Montana farm and ranch landscape that produces the ingredients with the elevated finished product. This year our team achieved that in weekly Cowboy Breakfasts on Piney Pond and with daily experiences on the Aspen Deck or on the Granite Lodge Patio.

3.Off the Beaten Career Path

When you live and work in the middle of nowhere like we do, you learn to approach work ready to lend a helping hand. Our employees are trained in ranch-wide Forbes Travel Guide standards and most of our employees train in multiple departments. That was a key to our success this year. Employees were paid to stay home when they were feeling ill, encouraged to seek testing immediately, and given a safe environment to quarantine–with management ensuring that they have everything they needed to be comfortable. When these precautions took place, our staff stepped up to cover for other departments that needed help.

Masseuse Candace Sellman
Spa Massage Therapist, Supervisor and Employee of the Year Winner Candace Sellman (photo taken in 2018).

This was a silver lining, but it also led to other unforeseen benefits – people in different departments became closer and people felt they were in this together. We even created an Employee of the Year category called “Mountain Mover.” The winner, Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman, helped in housekeeping, food & beverage and transportation – doling out a dose of her positivity to each department she helped.

Manager of the Year Award Winner, Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry noted, “Staff came together more than ever before, but you could also see them developing new skills, venturing into areas they may not have tried if it wasn’t for this pandemic. I saw a number of employees find new career paths where they feel even more fulfilled with the work they do and resolved to stay longer in a place they felt even more at home.”

4.Safety as a Foundation

Other employees stood out in their commitment to making The Ranch a safer place. Our HR Manager Cat Johnson believes that this process began with management’s approach to the pandemic, “We count ourselves very fortunate to have ownership that was inclined to keep and support staff we had hired for the year and those that are with us long-term. Our staff is instrumental in the guest service for which we are known. Being able to avoid mass layoffs was an incredible boon for us. It helped that our staff was on board for our newly implemented protocols.”

“These protocols still allowed them to take pride in what they do, where they are and maintain a genuine desire to provide our guests with an amazing experience.” ~ HR Manager Cat Johnson

Group snowshoeing at The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith leads a staff snowshoeing adventure (taken in 2019).

Safety and preparedness play an important part of life in frontier Montana. Recreating responsibly took on a whole new meaning this year as emergency and hospital services were stretched across the country. Another Employee of the Year, Homestead Hero, Eli Smith, was recognized for making The Ranch safer by being an EMT, but for also watching out for ways employees and guests could be safer.

Activities Director Patrick Little is certified to train EMTs and has done so for years. We often have multiple EMTS on property and our community is also safer because we feed more emergency personnel into Granite County. We’ve made countless upgrades to safety, from our horse mounting deck to cleaning procedures that guests may not notice, but have resulted in a foundation of enhanced service standards.

5.Mindful Management

An elevated appreciation for mental health has been imbued into travel and hospitality – an industry known for long shifts and a work hard, play hard mentality. This year has allowed us to put ever more value into work/life balance. The Ranch paid for employees’ health insurance during closure; we encouraged staff to speak with General Manager Jon Martin with any concerns; and when we reopened, we brought in a local therapist to provide free one-on-one sessions with our staff members. The accessibility of a mental health therapist led employees that might not have sought help to find it, but it also emboldened a spirit of mental health support that helped us all. The Ranch was named a Community Leader in the 2020 Trip Savvy Editor’s Choice Awards for our efforts in supporting employees and the environment in 2020.

Woman reads a book by the banks of Rock Creek in Montana
Respite on Rock Creek

We believed that having a healthy staff would also help keep our guests safe. Meanwhile, we found our guests reducing their mental and physical stresses while at The Ranch, just like we were as we skied, hiked and biked the stress away in our time off. Our The Spa at Rock Creek opened up with a litany of new safe protocols which have been extremely effective. We noticed a spirit of people wanting to take better care of themselves. More than any other year, we’ve seen our guests rebook spa services during their stay. Our spa team heard so many stories of people appreciating the healing power of touch in a year when it’s so markedly missing. A massage can help sooth muscles, but it also has the ability to fill a basic human need of connection to others.

Our meditation and Art in Nature activities both provided a therapeutic approach for guests. These activities, as well as no touch treatments like wildcrafting, tea blending and Respite on Rock Creek have inspired us to offer our inaugural Roam & Restore Wellness Weekend this spring – using what we’ve learned through the year to help people reconnect and learn skills to better handle the stressors of pandemic life.

As we look forward to 2021, we are emboldened that our efforts have resulted in better experiences for both employees and guests. Thanks to each of our guests for putting your confidence in us and writing to us or reviewing us on TripAdvisor. Your business and feedback has been invaluable.

As Forbes Travel Guide Editor Jennifer Kester wrote today, “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It’s more important than ever before that properties demonstrate the utmost regard for their guests’ wellbeing: 75 percent of a hotel’s rating is based on its service and genuine care and concern shown by the staff, while 25 percent is determined by the quality of its facilities.When you’re ready to travel again—whether it’s to embark on a far-flung escape or a low-key staycation—check into one of the best hotels in the world.”

The pandemic reminded us that we never know what tomorrow will bring, but we know our team has shined light on the path ahead. We look forward to sharing our sky high standards with more of you in the coming years.

Category: In the press

Ranch Traditions: 7 Years as a Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star, 127 Years as a Homestead

The falling snow might as well be confetti today. We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve earned our 7th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! Forbes Travel Guide is the only independent, global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas, and they judge properties based on 900 rigorous standards. We are so proud of our staff that continues to translate our own unique homestead hospitality into world-class service year after year. 

Horses walking in the snow at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Photo by Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns, who is also our beekeeper and a Master Naturalist who helped rescue a golden eagle near The Ranch last year.

7 Years as a Forbes Five-Star Property

Last year, we made a big announcement when we earned our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award – we were to eliminate single-use plastics by Earth Day.

View of The Ranch at Rock Creek in the spring from a drone
The Ranch continues its sustainability pledge after eliminating single-use plastics in 2019.

We achieved our goal, but continue to work on a robust sustainability program (more about that later this year). Our brief was a difficult one – to ensure our sustainability goal didn’t compromise our service standards. This year’s award is proof that we could raise our standards for sustainability and service simultaneously.

“Since The Ranch opened its doors 10 years ago, we strived to prove that a ranch could combine inspiring activities, amazing cuisine and exceptional luxury service. My team and I are proud to have earned this award again for 2020. Our success is owed to the team of professionals that day in and day out come to work with a simple task of providing our guests with unforgettable experiences.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

Congratulations to all the hotels, restaurants and spas that have worked so hard to earn this award.

10 Years as a Guest Ranch

This year’s announcement comes at the same time as another important announcement, 2020 marks our 10 year anniversary! We will be commemorating our first decade during a special celebration weekend this May.

An RC saddle sits atop a horse, ready for a trail ride

Though it’s not all about the numbers, we’re incredibly proud that eight of those years have been as a Relais & Chateaux property and seven have been as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winner.

Holding these designations has not been easy, but it has been possible for two reasons. The Ranch at Rock Creek was founded in a historic tradition, a working ranch that is also a family ranch for Jim Manley and his family.

The second reason is the same as the basis for our Forbes Travel Guide distinction – our dedicated staff. Executive Chef Josh Drage has been with the property since it began, building a farm-to-table dining program that supports Montana and regional agriculture.

Executive Chef Josh Drage prepares for our fall harvest celebration - carrying a plate of roasted vegetables.Executive Chef Josh Drage.

Activities Director Patrick Little has also been with The Ranch since its first days as an all-inclusive property – building an activities program of over 40 year-round activities and an award-winning kids’ club that allows travelers of all ages to explore our 6,600 acres. Other 10-year employees include Maintenance Associate Mike O’Dell and Kitchen Manager Kelly Fernatt.

Activities Director Pat Little and Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns during photography class led by National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman. Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.

127 Years as a Homestead

Buying their dream ranch also allowed the Manleys to preserve the land and the way of life associated with it. The Ranch still has its original homestead barn and house, both loving restored as accommodations. If you tour the property, you see evidence of the brands and history that have been integral in its formation.

Original homestead at The Ranch at Rock CreekOriginal Homestead at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo circa 1940 courtesy of Judy Staninger Guernsey.

River House is a large luxury home at the world's first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch.
The original homestead, now called River House, at The Ranch at Rock Creek. 

In the 1970s, while the ranch was still a family ranch, the Historic Barn was used as a functioning horse barn. Hay was kept in what we now know as Loft, and Stables was full of riding stock. We were visited recently by a gentleman who lived in River House (see above) while his family owned the ranch at that time. He fondly recalled how he would play basketball in the loft in late winter, after enough hay was tossed out to feed the herd.

Peeking through a wagon wheel to glimpse at The Ranch's treasured Historic Barn accommodations.
The Historic Barn through the spokes of our chuck wagon. 

He also remarked how happy he was that we had kept the original barn door from the Historic Barn. He knew this was the original barn door because he’d carved his initials into the door as a young man and left a tick mark for every time he was thrown from a horse that lived in this barn. The barn door has a roughly carved “GB” underscored by 15 tick marks. These grooves tell the history of a young man learning to ride, while making his mark on our history.

Initials on the HIstoric Barn door
The original Historic Barn door with initials “GB” and 15 tick marks for each time he was thrown from a horse.

“This ranch was homesteaded in 1893 and the spirit of the past 127 years is an important part of The Ranch at Rock Creek. When our guests walk back to their accommodations from dinner they admire the same stars, breathe the same mountain air, and cross the same creek that residents of the ranch have enjoyed for over a century. While we certainly go to great lengths to make each guest’s experience is a luxury one, we always strive to do so while maintaining the authenticity of the West.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

Thank you to each of the guests and staff members who’ve helped us maintain this goal. Stay tuned for more information on how returning guests will be invited to “make their mark” at The Ranch at Rock Creek in our 10th year

Category: In the press

Sustaining Five-Stars & the Future by Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

As we approach 10 years as a property, sustainability is on our minds. We occupy a remote corner of the world, and keeping consistently high standards in the sticks, so to speak, is a challenge. This is why we’re especially pleased that we’ve earned the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the sixth consecutive year! 

A rainbow arches over the Rock Creek valley, home to The Ranch at Rock Creek

Sustaining our Forbes Travel Guide Five Stars

We’re in such exceptional company with other Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winners like The Broadmoor who has sustained their Five-Star designation for 59 years.

“We’re honored to be recognized once again with the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. The team at The Ranch at Rock Creek sets out each day to ensure our guests are treated to memorable, luxury experiences. We are so glad to be affiliated with Forbes Travel Guide which shares our passion for genuine luxury hospitality.

Being out here where we are, there’s a certain responsibility and it just feels wrong having plastic out here. We’re at the headwaters of Rock Creek. Being at the headwaters, I think there’s a mental but real responsibility that anything we do, it affects everyone who’s downstream of us.”

~ General Manager Jon Martin, Quote from interview with the Missoula Current

Sustaining Our Environment

Every year that we’ve garnered this incredible award, we’ve taken a moment on the blog to look back at one of the things that is a cornerstone of who we are and how our incredible staff goes above and beyond to maintain this high quality of service. This year, we are looking toward the future and how we can sustain our FTG stars and our natural environment in the long term.

A springtime scene in the Rock Creek Valley with green grass, mountains and stormy skies

It’s no secret that we value our environment. We employ Master Naturalists, we keep bees and Chef Drage is committed to an always farm-to-table dining experience. Since 2015, we’ve created new sustainability initiatives every year, like river clean-ups, reducing plastic waste and supporting local vendors in the Mercantile.

Now, we are doubling down on sustainability. In 2019, we will eliminate single-use plastics.

Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

Eliminating single-use plastics isn’t a decision we made lightly. It presents an operational challenge to our organization and to our employees. It is difficult, but worthwhile.

“We approach our interactions with guests with a “do whatever it takes” attitude. That same mindset is required for responsible stewardship of our ranch lands. Sustainability efforts require a tremendous investment in both time and money. But everyone at The Ranch, from owner to seasonal worker, understands that the time we take with eco-conscious best practices now is an investment in the resilience of our 6,600 acres that will benefit both us and future generations.” ~ Director of Rooms Linda Walser

One of the things we love about our home state, Montana, is that it’s a little behind the times. Most of the time, this means that once we arrive home – 75 minutes from the nearest city – there is no light pollution to obscure the stars. Asking our guests to walk or ride bikes on property means there isn’t significant traffic or petroleum fumes. However, this low population density also means our state lacks a recycling industry and there are some things we just can’t buy from local vendors.

Last year, our county (like many counties across the country), responding to China’s change in recycling imports by cutting out plastic recycling. There are only a few metals that can be recycled in Granite County. While we’ve continued to recycle what we could, it was obvious that a change had to come from within in order to be sustainable to our environment and keep plastics out of landfills and our beloved Rock Creek.

Our 2019 Earth Day Initiatives

By Earth Day, we have introduced the following major initiatives, in addition to a number of smaller initiatives, in order to eliminate single-use plastics.

1. Eliminating Single-Use Plastic Bottles

Our Rod & Gun Club has been committed to providing refillable options for several years, in the form of Kleen Kanteens, but eliminating water bottles completely requires a more robust plan to ensure we are maintaining accessibility to water throughout a guests’ stay. We are at the top of the Rock Creek watershed, which means that our property receives pure, clean, mineral-rich water! We’re calling on this wonderful natural resource to provide our guests with the clean, cool water they need. In order to ensure its quality, we work with WGM Group in Missoula to ensure that all mineral and chemical levels are safe in our water with monthly tests across our property.

In addition to Kleen Kanteens for activity use, guests will receive two refillable Stanley thermoses that they can bring home or leave here. (We also rewarded our Ranch employees who helped us earn our Five-Stars with a thermos this spring). We have filling stations in our Ranch hubs, like the Granite Lodge, Buckle Barn, Blue Canteen, Buckle Barn and Rod & Gun Club.

Guests at The Ranch at Rock Creek receive a Stanley Thermos to use during their stay and take home to eliminate single-use plastics

Accommodations are stocked with sanitized glass bottles that have been filled with pure Ranch water and sealed with a 100% cellulose seal. A sparkling filling station in our kitchen will allows us to replace bottles of pre-packaged sparkling water throughout The Ranch. Guests who want a more traditionally sealed bottle of water to take with them on adventures will also have access to refillable aluminum water bottles provided by Montana Silver Springs, a Philipsburg-based company.

Co-owner of Philipsburg Brewing Company, Nolan Smith, also purchased Granite Water Works, a bottling plant with access to a freshwater springs, that they could use in their beer, but which they could also use to bottle water. This year, they launched Montana Silver Springs, one of only two companies using Alumi-tek bottles to bottle water in the United States.

“Montana has a really hard time recycling plastic. 10% of our plastic is recycled. 90% of our aluminum is recycled. If you put one of these aluminum bottles in our recycling chain, within 40 days it could be a bottle again.” ~ Nolan Smith.

These practices will reduce our plastic consumption, but also ensure that guests’ hiking, horseback riding, skiing or fly fishing adventures are happy and healthy – with plenty of water to make up for lost sweat.

2. Eliminating Single-Use Toiletry Bottles

Like most hotels, we’ve used single use amenity bottles in our accommodations, replacing them with each guest. Now, we will be using glass etched and reusable plastic, specially chosen to remain sanitary for guests.

We’ve always wanted our toiletries to evoke Montana’s intoxicating aromas in accommodations and bathrooms. Our signature scents include mountain juniper and mountain sage, two plants that are part of the experience of The Ranch, whether you are horseback riding through sagebrush flats, or trekking through juniper bushes on our 3-D archery course.

Our exclusive skin care line was developed by Body Bliss, a Sedona, Arizona-based line. Body Bliss uses no artificial fragrances and their products contain no paraben preservatives, no mineral oils, no harsh laureth and lauryl sulfate cleansers, no phthalates and no formaldehyde donors. They rely on the finest natural and sustainable botanical raw materials to ensure a therapeutic benefit. 

3. Eliminating Small Plastic Items.

Plastic straws are among the top 10 debris items in our oceans, and 90% of all trash floating in the ocean’s is comprised of plastic. Around 44% of all seabirds and mammals have ingested plastic.

For over a year, plastic straws have only been available upon request, but before Earth Day, we replaced them with hay straws, which are made from wheat. Hay Straws are natural, compostable, gluten-free, and do not get soggy in hot or cold drinks! They will be available in dining locations if guests re- quest a straw.

Ranch at Rock Creek guests enjoy cowboy coffee cooked over a Montana campfire

We are also moving away from pre-packaged coffee and creamer in our accommodations. Glass bottles will contain fresh cream, milk or other guest requests. Not only will this be better for the environment, but our guests will enjoy a better quality of coffee during their stay since we will rely more on our vendors like Black Coffee Roasting Company out of Missoula, Montana.

Sometimes the devil is in the details. We’ve had to reach outside our states boundaries to source the smaller single-use plastic items in our organization. We have a team devoted to finding other single-use plastics and replacing them with alternatives. Their dedication and hard work over the past few months has turned our New Year’s resolution to a reality.

Protecting our Treasure State

As we celebrate eliminating single-use plastics this Earth Day, we look forward to establishing new partnerships and new goals that keep Montana’s future in mind.

Rivers and streams cover more than 169,829 miles in the state of Montana, of which 388 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic rivers (rivers with outstanding natural, cultural & recreational values). Rock Creek River holds the Blue Ribbon River designation which is only given to waterways with excellent water quality & quantity, great water accessibility, natural reproduction capacity for fish species, good angling pressure, and specific species of fish occurring naturally. The Ranch at Rock Creek has private access to 4 pristine miles of Rock Creek!

Travelers enjoy four miles of private access to Rock Creek during a fly fishing vacation

We believe commitment to our guests and our environment goes hand in hand. Thanks to all our guests and our community who’ve given us the opportunity to do what we do for almost 10 years.

It’s time to reduce our impact on our natural world, in gratitude for the incredible, inspiring impact it has on us.

Read about our past Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Awards:

World’s First Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ranch

Glamping Under the Five Stars

Lasso the Stars: Inclusivity, Culture & Wild Luxury

Celebrating Five-Years as a Family-Friendly Forbes Five-Star

Category: In the press

Virtuoso Best Family Program: Flint’s Forest Rangers

On Top of the World with Virtuoso Travel

This summer, we have a lot to celebrate. We’re just completing our new Rod & Gun Club. We’ve added yoga to our list of all-inclusive activities. We’re launching a premiere event, Whiskey & Water, in just one month! Our most recent achievement has us feeling like we’re on top of the world—we’ve just received the “Best of the Best” Virtuoso Travel award for Best Family Program!

General Manager Jon Martin accepts our “Best Family Program” award at Virtuoso Travel Week.

This an elite award is from an elite group of travel advisors who strive to elevate luxury travel for each client. Here at The Ranch, we see hundreds of little ones and their families come through our doors every year. Family programming is not an afterthought; it’s part of the foundation of our activities program. Our Flint’s Forest Rangers Kids Club, formerly Little Grizzlies Kids Club, provides an ever-evolving wealth of experiences, each one aimed at heightening kids’ love of outdoor exploration.

On behalf of the team at The Ranch at Rock Creek, we are honored to accept the Virtuoso best family program award and look forward to continuing to provide amazing, memorable experiences for the family clients of our Virtuoso partners. ~ General Manager Jon Martin

Behind-the-Scenes at the Flint’s Forest Rangers Club

Guests aged four to 12 enjoy an authentic Montana experience with themed days focusing on anything from honing horsemanship skills to gaining an appreciation of Montana’s ecosystem and the beautiful Rock Creek running through our property. Our Flint’s Forest Ranger Guides are trained to impart their knowledge about adventure in the great outdoors.

While most children are well-suited to free play, they may not immediately understand how to play safely and creatively in the forest or mountains. One themed day focuses specifically on outdoor skills and safety, so that kids have the tools to navigate their place in a still-wild world. We hope by inspiring our younger generations in our unique valley, each family can head home as responsible stewards and seasoned adventurers.

“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” – Thomas Berry

In addition to the Flint’s Forest Rangers program, kids are welcomed to join in our Ranch-wide events like our weekly summer rodeos. Between rough-stock rides and barrel races, they join in some fun rodeo-themed games. These events allow our Ranch guests to join in and be a part of our Ranch family.

Thank you to Virtuoso Travel agents for this prestigious acknowledgement! This Best Family Program award inspirits our work to innovate experiential travel for guests of all ages.

A multi-generational family spends a day skiing at Discovery Ski Area during their trip to The Ranch at Rock Creek
This winter, The Ranch will continue to include downhill skiing and snowboarding for all guests.

We hope to see you and your family here at The Ranch at Rock Creek soon. You are always welcome in our home.

Category: In the press

Celebrating 5 Years as a Family-Friendly Forbes Five-Star Resort

Five for Five

Five is our lucky number! We’ve just received the Forbes Five-Star award for the fifth consecutive year. Forbes Travel Guide offers the only independent global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas. We’re truly honored to be part of this prestigious family who strives for hospitality perfection – opting to be judged on 900 objective service standards every year.

Photo by Lead Ranch Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.

While many of our buildings are well over a century old, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a young property, and we want to thank our former and current Ranch staff for helping us earn this distinction for five of our eight years in operation.

The Ranch at Rock Creek staff gathers for a photo after the last rodeo of the season

We also want to join Forbes in welcoming two of our Montana neighbors into the Forbes Travel Guide family for the first-time. This year, Triple Creek Ranch, another Relais & Châteaux property, earned four stars and The Resort at Paws Up was given Recommended status. Congratulations friends, on these big achievements. The Treasure State is shining even brighter after this year’s award announcement.

All in the Family Travel

We are honored to be part of the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star family because families with high-standards and a love of travel are at the crux of what we do.  From our inception as an all-inclusive luxury resort in 2010, we knew that the family travel experience was an essential facet of our outdoor-focused amenities.

A multi-generational family enjoys a reunion picnic at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Southwestern Montana

Though we love welcoming corporate retreats, elopements, bachelor/bachelorette parties and other generally adult-focused affairs, the versatility of being family-friendly allows us to ensure that every traveler can find their niche at The Ranch.  (Unless, of course, they don’t enjoy the outdoors).

Last year, we covered the new trend of multi-generational trips on this blog, including tips on making the most of a family trip. This time we want to hone in on why our carefully curated and outdoor-focused style of hospitality ensures memorable, inspiring and personalized family vacations.

Read more…

Category: In the press

What is Experiential Travel?

Since The Ranch at Rock Creek opened in 2010, we’ve centered our guest experience around the Montana traditions of outdoor adventure and family ranching. Guests discover a still-pristine natural world through a spirit of play.

What is Experiential Travel?

As a dedicated experiential travel destination, we want to share our hard-won expertise. Immersion is a passion that reaches every Ranch staff member and department. Some of us grew up here and carry on the traditions of ranching through our work. Others of us came for a season and found such a deep connection to Southwest Montana that it changed how we wanted to live our lives.

Over the past seven years, we’ve also spoken to our guests about what they take away from their visits. So often we hear about a life-changing moment, an unforgettable vacation or a once-in-a-lifetime event. Here, we’ve distilled the criteria that we believe are essential in making a vacation a life-changing experience. We hope you’ll take time to ensure these elements are included before you journey to a culinary class in Italy, the hot springs near Machu Picchu or a ranch vacation in Montana.

Read more…

Category: In the press

Lasso the Stars: Inclusivity, Culture & Wild Luxury

The all-inclusive guest ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek, was awarded Forbes Travel Guide's Five-Stars

The Ranch Receives Fourth Consecutive Five-Star Rating

We are thrilled to announce that we’ve just received the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the fourth straight year! We’ve been the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star ranch, and we are in incredible company. We want to thank all our current and former staff for their commitment in achieving this honor. As Gerard J. Inzerillo, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide explained today in a press release, the 2017 winners demonstrate “a strong culture of service,” based on 800 separate standards.

A Ranch at Rock Creek bartender serves a Pressed Cider Martini cocktail to a guest

“The Ranch at Rock Creek is honored and proud to receive the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the fourth consecutive year. Forbes Travel Guide is our industry’s leader in quality assurance, ensuring we consistently deliver the finest service and unforgettable Montana guest ranch experience for our valued guests. We extend our appreciation to Forbes Travel Guide for their recognition of The Ranch as the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch again in 2017. Congratulations to the fine staff of The Ranch for their commitment to the Forbes Travel Guide standards of excellence and for their passion in delivering exceptional guest experiences every day of the year.” ~ Steve Shotsberger, General Manager

A group enjoys a snowga excursion at The Ranch at Rock Creek

Only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ranch

We are in excellent company, with 352 hotels across the world and 77 hotels in the U.S. achieving this year’s five-star rating. As our General Manager mentioned, we remain the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch and one of the only glamping destinations.

A young moose crosses Rock Creek Road near beautiful Philipsburg, Montana

We are proud of these notable and even curious facts. Our Western hospitality makes The Ranch unique and distinctive among more traditional Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels or resorts. It’s our casually-sophisticated service culture and can-do approach to the guest experience that is referenced time and again in our reviews. We invite you to experience this generous spirit of our staff and the pristine, untamed nature that makes The Ranch so stellar.

Read more…

Category: In the press