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As heartwarming as it was to watch my daughter Olivia hit certain childhood milestones — her first giggle, her first steps, her first tooth — helping her stack and eat her first s’more is one of my favorite moments so far. But that also had to do with the setting.
Located about 35 miles north of West Yellowstone, Mont., 320 Guest Ranch is magical every day of the year, but particularly so on Wednesday nights in the summer, when more than 100 people attend the property’s Chuckwagon Riverside Barbecue. Every camping meal I’ve ever had was put to shame as we ate hot-off-the-grill ribs and chicken and enjoyed an open bar alongside the Gallatin River. Later, the kids flocked to a bonfire the size of a tractor tire, where a mountain of roasting sticks and a platter brimming with chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows waited. Games under the stars came after dessert — pick-up volleyball, horseshoes and tag, to name a few.
Family memories piled up over the course of our four-night stay at the 300-acre ranch. With a little help from her parents, Olivia reeled in and released her first fish from the stocked on-site trout pond; picked wildflowers right outside of our cabin; and experimented with her new binoculars, following mountain blue birds, azure and shiny, as they flitted from pasture fence to tree branch. Then there was our outing on Smoothie, the caramel-brown pony who trotted Olivia from the barn to the property’s teepee and back again. This type of experience in undoubtedly the biggest draw for the ranch. According to general manager John Richardson, property horses give around 3,000 rides each summer. For older children and adults, two- and four-hour rides and half-day journeys bring guests into the backwoods, where moose and deer sightings are common and the quiet is uncanny.
When it was time for a mid-day nap or when the sun had long said goodbye, we were happy to relax in our two-bedroom riverside log cabin, which was a great blend of rustic charm and modern comfort with its wood-burning fireplace, Western art, Keurig coffeemaker and reliable WiFi-access. There’s no cell service, but you can fire an off an email anytime you’d like. For groups larger than our trio, there’s still a cabin configuration for you, including two-story homes with full kitchens that sleep up to 13 guests. Because of the ranch’s array of cabin sizes, Richardson welcomes many multigenerational celebrations and family reunions each year.
And while guests can easily prepare family meals in their kitchenette or kitchen spaces, 320 Steakhouse and Saloon executive chef Daniel Morgan is ready to ease anyone’s cooking burden. Morgan’s menu is full of local meats and wild game — I highly recommend the Rancho Picante bison with caramelized onions and blue cheese. There’s a “Little Wrangler” menu, too, which offers standard kid-friendly dishes as well as a six-ounce New York strip steak perfect for that little-but-serious carnivore in your clan.
The dining space also serves as the genial and bustling breakfast hall. Continental breakfast is included in room rates, and the morning meal was the only time I really noticed how many people were staying on the ranch. Most of the time, it’s just you, your loved ones and Mother Nature — plus a s’more or two.
Horse-drawn wagon rides and a roping iron are among must-do activities at 320 Guest Ranch, a family-friendly property north of West Yellowstone, Mont. // © 2015 320 Guest Ranch
The ranch has an array of accommodations, including two-bedroom homes with full kitchens. // © 2015 320 Guest Ranch
On Wednesdays during the summer, the ranch hosts its popular Chuckwagon Riverside Barbecue event, complete with an open bar, outdoor games and all-you-can-eat s'mores. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
For younger guests, there's an on-site play structure and plenty of opportunities to feed and ride horses. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
During high season, 320 Restaurant and Saloon offers local meats such as quail and bison, plus complimentary continental breakfast. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
Guests of all ages can try their hand at fly fishing in the property's stocked lake. // © 2015 320 Guest Ranch
Riverside cabins have furnished porches just steps away from the banks of the Gallatin River. // © 2015 Chelsee Lowe
All accommodations feature mountain decor and modern comforts such as Wi-Fi access. // © 2015 320 Guest Ranch
- Accommodations begin at $180 per night during high season.
- 320 Ranch Steakhouse serves local meats and wild game (closed Oct. 1 - Dec. 20 and April 1 - June 15).
- Winter time activities include sleigh rides, dog sledding and cross-country skiing.