by Carmel L. Mooney
For the final leg of our three-month cross-country trip, we left Yellowstone National Park and wound our way through the spectacular Beartooth Mountains. It was August 1 and we were delighted that there was enough snow to play in the snow in late summer.
After driving past gorgeous lakes and awe-inspiring vistas we entered our beloved Montana, “The Last Best Place.”
Our first stop, Red Lodge, Montana, “the gateway to Yellowstone” is one of our absolute favorite places in the entire country. Once you experience Red Lodge you’ll know why.
Red Lodge is a ski destination but has so much more to offer. With a dozen excellent restaurants, a lovely golf course, streams for fishing, trails for hiking, and a friendly and picturesque town, it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise.
While visiting we enjoyed a horse-drawn wagon ride around the village with our friends. For Northern Californians, Red Lodge is reminiscent of Truckee or Nevada City but so much more friendly and with an equally rich history. Red Lodge has numerous wonderful festivals and events throughout the year and is famous for having one of the best rodeos in the country.
The town’s main waterway, Rock Creek meanders through town, and by California standards, it’s more of a raging river than a creek.
Enjoying the thundering sounds of Rock Creek crashing past a rental cabin or room at night is marvelous. Red Lodge has many different lodging options from B & B’s to motels to vacation rentals. The best are the AAA Red Lodge vacation rentals. They offer cabins and luxury condos by the creek, homes on the golf course, rentals located close to the Red Lodge Mountain ski area, beautiful custom homes, and houses in town. The friendly folks at AAA are open 7 days a week to help visitors with their Red Lodge vacation plans.
While in Red Lodge, visitors can hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, snowboard, fly-fish, whitewater raft, golf, or just relax and enjoy the view. You can do everything or do nothing at all. And travelers will be hard-pressed to find any destination with folks friendlier or with warmer hospitality, consistently. Truly refreshing!
Our rental cabin was just two minutes from town and we loved sitting in the hot tub at night from our deck overlooking Rock Creek and the resident critters, with the glittering aspens lulling us into a state of total relaxation and bliss.
Saddened to leave Red Lodge, we drove a little over an hour to Roundup, MT to our friends’ Runamuk Guest Ranch. This magnificent multi-generational working cattle ranch (since 1886) offers the best of a true working ranch experience with ranch work, cattle drives, and a part-of-the-family ambiance, on 18,000 acres of pine tree forests, and open meadows, and sandstone rimrocks. We enjoyed riding through beautiful mountainous areas and up to Bull Mountain rimrock through open meadows. Ranch chores and hearty ranch-style meals only add to the authentic down-home experience.
Probably the best part of visiting the Runamuk is the outstanding hospitality that wraps its arms around you like part of the family.
The Dahl Family are very special and talented people who have a knack for making every guest feel welcomed and at ease. They host many families, honeymooners, and single guests from all over the world each year and many guests return every year. This says a lot.
Unique to this guest ranch is the several lodging options offered, such as private ranch homes on the property or private residences located just down the country road for even more privacy.
The Runamuk offers the best of both worlds where guests can strike their own balance between long, hard-working cattle drives and ranch work, or leisurely days relaxing or floating down the Musselshell River.
Tubing down the river, hiking, fishing, or exploring on foot or quads; the choice is up to the guests. Horseback riding is a highlight, of course, and there are horses of all types for riders of all abilities.
If taking yoga or getting a massage from atop a mountain vista sounds good after a day of riding, they’ve got you covered.
Dinners are taken with the family and most guests enjoy partaking in picnic dinners on a high mountaintop and granite outcropping overlooking a half dozen mountain ranges and several bordering states – Big Sky Country at its finest!
We truly hated to see the Runamuk in our rearview mirror. Can you tell we love Montana?
After Roundup we spent three days enjoying the Lodge at Whitefish Lake and nearby Glacier Nat’l Park. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers magnificent views of the water and mountains, a gorgeous spa, dining, and beautifully appointed rooms. The hospitality is excellent and its proximity to Kalispell and Glacier National Park makes it a perfect option for families.
From Montana, we made our way into Idaho and through the Craters of the Moon Nat’l Monument where lava beds as far as the eye can see, make for an amazing geological spectacle.
In Boise, we visited the Wahooz Family Fun Zone and Roaring Springs Water Park today as well as a fun dinner at Donnie Mac’s Trailer Park Cuisine – where trailer trash food is served at its finest! It’s a fun, themed restaurant that one must experience to appreciate. My daughter ordered and ate Spaghetti-O’s in a can. Don’t ask. Just visit Donnie Mac’s.
Boise, the City of Trees, is a walker’s paradise and has a wealth of excellent museums, historical tours, theater, and fine dining, yet manages to strike a harmonic balance with keeping a small-town feeling. No wonder so many people are moving there.
We stayed at the SpringHill Suites Boise Park Center, the perfect location from which to enjoy all that Boise has to offer. With an excellent complimentary breakfast, clean and spacious pool, and workout area, this property had it all and done well for any traveling family. The Boise River Greenbelt is a quick walk from the property and the zoo, museums, and dining, along with other attractions, are all close by.
Boise’s Discovery Center of Idaho and the World Center for Birds of Prey are two must-sees when visiting this wonderful destination.
After spending a couple of days enjoying the highlights of Boise we continued homeward bound for Northern California.
With 11,600 miles of adventure behind us and 80 days of exploration logged across our wonderful nation, we were glad to be home finally. Thanks for coming along on this trip of a lifetime. We hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did.
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist and the editor of Road Trips for Couples.