Originally appeared in May 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
By Elaine Srnka, Virtuoso Editorial Director
Photography by Pam Voth
(This year's Klicks for Chicks event will be held October 13-18.
To attend, contact your Virtuoso advisor – or use the Connect button below to find an advisor.)
On a crisp, clear morning in western Montana
a dozen women set out for an all-day trail ride. As our horses navigated past lakes, over creeks, and through meadows and mountain passes, the group’s chatter and laughter rang through the Bitterroot Valley, surely alerting any deer, elk, and other wildlife in our vicinity.
“Can I borrow your lip balm?” someone asked. “Who else has a wedgie?” lamented another. “Does this saddle make my butt look big?” one quipped.
Cowboys probably don’t ask each other those sorts of questions. Cowboys probably don’t talk much at all when they’re riding. But we weren’t cowboys, or even cowgirls – just a group of women coming together for a few days of fun at Triple Creek Ranch, a luxurious adults-only retreat in Darby, Montana.
I’d first heard about Klicks for Chicks, Triple Creek’s annual women-only 100-kilometer ride for charity, a few months earlier. (A “klick” is a kilometer, and the resort donates a dollar to Parkinson’s research for every one ridden.) Initially I was excited about the prospect of adventure at a fancy ranch with gourmet meals and plush guest cabins. But then self-doubt set in. “You live in the city. You don’t ride horses. You wear jeans for fashion, not function. You can’t do this.” This internal monologue went on for a few days, punctuated by an occasional pep talk: “It’ll be fun. It’ll be good for you. Don’t be a wimp.” Virtuoso travel advisors backed up my braver side.
“It’s an extraordinary experience,” assured Katie McCormack Krinkie, a McLean, Virginia-based advisor. “I visited several years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite weekends of all time.” Granted, she went for a wine weekend, not a 100-kilometer horse ride. I ignored my negative self, booked the trip – and bought a proper pair of Wranglers.
As advisor Marsha Dolbow of Yorba Linda, California, points out, “It’s like going to your own mountain home, but with a great staff to handle all of your needs. It feels remote, but it’s fairly easy to get to.” Most Triple Creek guests fly into Missoula International Airport, about 75 miles north of the ranch (which offers transfers, and two helipads if you really want to avoid the drive). Surrounded by 4 million acres of national forest in the Bitterroot Mountain Range of the Montana Rockies, Triple Creek sprawls over 800 acres with pristine scenery and views in every direction. Each of the 24 log cabins dotting the property differs, so consult with your travel advisor.
Ranging from 500 to 3,000 square feet, some offer more privacy, while others offer close proximity to the main lodge. Most have outdoor hot tubs; some feature bathroom steam showers or whirlpool tubs. All have decks, fireplaces, and enormous log-post beds. The multiroom (and multistory) cabins make ideal retreats for groups of friends or families with children 16 and older.
Though the cabins are cozy, the outdoors beckons with activities that range from cider pressing (using apples, pears, and other fruits from the ranch’s orchards) and sapphire panning (a seductively addictive pastime) to fishing of all sorts, hiking, archery, ATV rides, winter dogsledding – the list goes on. The resort’s all-inclusive pricing means you can try myriad activities (and meals and cocktails) with no surprises at checkout.
Horseback riding draws many guests, particularly my group of women. Most of us met for the first time at a welcome cocktail reception, where we toasted our cowgirl weekend with huckleberry lemon-drop martinis, made with Triple Creek’s berries. The women ranged in age from mid-thirties to mid-sixties, from the U.S., Canada, and Germany, and while most had equestrian experience, a few of us had ridden only occasionally.
Guests come for the adventure, scenery, escape, the chance to disconnect (there’s Wi-Fi but no cell service) – and the food. Chef Jacob Leatherman’s menus source local ingredients: Lunch might include buffalo pastrami and grilled quail croque monsieur sandwiches; for dinner, pan-roasted cod with fava beans and leeks or braised pork cheek with caramelized mushrooms, all paired with wines from an impressive cellar.
In the morning, we donned loaned dusters, chaps, hats, and gloves, and saddled up. Two wranglers paired us with horses based on our abilities. Tonto must go easy on beginners, because he got stuck with me. Barbara Barrett, who owns Triple Creek Ranch with her husband, Craig, led the way. We started out slowly, picking our way past gleaming aspens as Barbara pointed out flora and fauna, and related area history. Over the course of our ride – up to 36 klicks a day – we crossed the Continental Divide, followed the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and learned about the flight of the Nez Perce Indian tribe in the late 1800s. One day we stopped for lunch – grilled chicken, chops, and fish; piping-hot chowder; skillet cornbread – prepared by the chef and his team, who camped out in the woods overnight so they could set up before we arrived. Though we shared lots of laughs, there was time for reflection and taking in the beauty of our surroundings. Bald eagles soaring overhead added a certain majesty.
I must admit to a bit of a girl crush on Barbara, whose impressive résumé (ambassador to Finland, United Nations advisor, Harvard fellow, at least a dozen board posts, pilot, astronaut trainee, one-time candidate for Arizona governor, philanthropist) means she can tell some remarkable stories. Craig, retired chairman and CEO of Intel, is an equally charming host. The couple invited our group to their home for a farewell dinner, and spending time with them was a highlight of the visit.
But then, it was a trip of highlights: the sense of accomplishment after a day of riding; the natural beauty; the camaraderie of supportive, funny, smart women. The reward of returning to a cabin where homemade cookies and trail mix awaited with a bottle of wine and a roaring fire, soaking in a hot tub surrounded by pines, and, finally, crawling into that big log-post bed at night’s end. Giddyup, girlfriends, and let’s do it again.
If you'd be interested in working with a Virtuoso travel advisor to plan a trip to Triple Creek Ranch (or Montana in general), click below to connect.