Gone Glamping at Paws Up, Montana

Pinnacle Camp Silver

Even when he’s not armed with a hatchet, Tom Black is an imposing fellow. A former NBA star turned world champion axe thrower, the 7-footer is teaching our group the optimum form for nailing a bullseye. With Black’s instruction, I was eventually hitting the target instead of the ground.

We were here soaking in the splendor of Big Sky Country as the first “glamping” guests at The Resort at Paws Up in Montana. I hung my hat in the 565-sf, 1-bedroom Silver King tent—one of six luxury canvas retreats perched on a bluff overlooking Blackfoot River and Elk Creek.

With well-heeled amenities like a camp butler, there’s not too much “roughing it.” When the temperature dipped into the 40s at night, for example, I simply cranked up the electric blanket over my king feather bed with 300-count linens. Plush pile accent rugs warm the wood floors, and the slate tile and towel racks in the oversize ensuite bathroom are heated. Which, I have to say, is beyond fantastic on a brisk spring morning.

Cowboy chic runs amok with rustic furnishings, Western art, a jetted tub and separate slate shower with a Montana-sized rain showerhead. There is even a porch with Adirondack chairs so you can kick back and gaze down at the river.

There’s nothing like sleeping to the lullaby of the mighty Blackfoot, then awakening when one of the butlers taps on the tent door. Wesley and Ryan did everything from starting our nightly campfires for gourmet s’mores to arranging transportation to the ranch’s Wilderness Outpost for our daily activities.

The main breakfast tent is a cut above too, with its fireplace, leather sofas, family-style dining tables and floor-to-ceiling curtains opening up to the river and towering conifers. Each morning, chef Amber brought new meaning to haute grilling as she prepped shortcakes with warm huckleberry syrup and chicken apple sausages.

The big picture here is how these canvas communities couple with more traditional accommodations to provide planners with mega-flexibility. A buyout for 214 combines 24 tents and 28 well-appointed vacation homes in 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom layouts.

“It’s really two experiences in one destination,” says John Romfo, director of sales. “Our flexibility allows attendees to stay in a home during the bulk of their program, as well as spend a night or two in a luxury tent.”

Tapping into Paws Up’s hefty menu of activities, members of our group channeled their inner wrangler on a cattle drive, blew away sporting clays with shotguns, tackled whitewater rapids and visited the spa tent.

I opted to canoe beautiful Seeley Lake and rip across the range on an ATV, spotting bald eagles in the clear blue sky above. Then we all convened for a chuckwagon lunch along the Blackfoot, with chef Tom grilling up a campfire feast of pork tenderloin, sweet corn on the cob and Dutch apple cobbler.

This fall, the new Bull Barn Conference Center opened inside a huge restored barn. The 5,000 sf of multi-level function space handles groups up to 200 pax. Group dining venues include the 5,000-sf Cook Shack that houses the 85-seat Pomp and 65-seat Trough restaurants, next to the upscale bar, Tank.

For a fun group event, check out Montana’s largest equestrian center. The grandiose 76,000-sf Saddle Club is tricked out with a huge riding arena, where cattle dogs herd the bovine as cowboy Mike Doud gives a crash course on horsemanship and the cowpoke lifestyle.

Overlooking the arena, we sipped local craft beer inside the 25-pax Skybox. We then moseyed into the Tack Room restaurant with walls filled with saddles and other equestrian accoutrements. The big farm-to-table spread shined with sauteed quail legs, grilled salmon, wild rice pilaf, organic greens and a carving station of grilled elk short loin. I have never slept so well in a tent as I did that night.