The Ranch’s New Fall Harvest Festivities

This early October, we are channeling The Ranch’s beehives and buzzing around diligently in preparation of one of our biggest celebrations of the year, Autumn Harvest Weekend. Although we celebrate most major holidays here, our fall harvest celebration is a labor of love – the love of food grown, raised and made in Montana.

Everything about this celebration is inspired by Western Montana and its purveyors, pioneers and culture. If you’re looking for an unparalleled culinary journey through the legendary West, we have a few select accommodations remaining, like Bear House below. Contact our Reservations Specialists today for last-minute availability.

Bear House is a one-of-a-kind luxury home, perfect for groups of friends or families. 

1. An Intimate LeAnn Rimes Concert

On Saturday of Autumn Harvest Weekend, guests will enjoy an exclusive performance with two-time Grammy Award winning artist LeAnn Rimes. We feel so lucky to welcome her back again this year because opportunities are rare to enjoy such a talented musician with a crowd of fewer than 100 people. Rimes’ vocal talent shines in an intimate, live setting. Trust us on this one, as a few of us have had the chance to hear her incredible voice echo through the Buckle Barn—it’s a bucket list live music experience.

Country music star LeAnn Rimes performs after the farm-to-table harvest dinner during Autumn Harvest
LeAnn Rimes performing at the 2015 Autumn Harvest Weekend Celebration.

Delivering bucket list experiential travel is what we’re all about, so when our culinary and events teams take the reins on Autumn Harvest Weekend, they approach it with the same creativity that they do their ever-changing tasting menus, nightly dining experiences and private events.

2. Montana Craft Cider Dinner

Last year, we began our Montana Craft Beer Dinner, featuring beers from our hometown brewery, Philipsburg Brewing Company. It was so popular that it became a weekly dining experience. While local breweries continue to wow us with their innovative approaches, we’ve been thrilled to see a few very talented cider houses pop up in our neck of the woods.

Photo of Western Cider Co. by Rio Chantal. 

This year we’ll kick-off the fall harvest dinner journey with a Montana Craft Cider Dinner featuring Western Cider Co.‘s offerings. Western Cider’s Bitterroot Valley orchard is filled with dozens of varieties of rare cider apples that are as fun to say as they are to sip, like Somerset Redstreak, Frequin Rouge, Esopus Spitzenberg, Ashmeads Kernel and Calville Blanc d’Hiver.

Western Cider Co.’s first fall harvest. Photo courtesy of Western Cider.

Recently, Western Cider Co. won the Best in Show and Best New Cidery awards at the Portland International Cider Cup.The versatility of the ciders available make Western Cider Co. an ideal collaborator for Executive Chef Drage‘s creative pairings.

Photo by Lynn Donaldson

The Montana Craft Cider Dinner is sure to put an adult spin on a nostalgic love for caramel apples and spiced cider.  If this blog has put you in the mood for an quaff of apple, but you can’t go to Western Cider Co.’s tasting room, we recommend you try Bar Manager Ned Derosier’s Harvest Smash Cocktail from last year’s event. This unapologetically fall drink will knock the socks off plain-old pumpkin spice.

Harvest Smash Cocktail

Rum (We use Montana-made Stonehouse Distillery Double Barrel Rum)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 apple
1 tbsp. lemon juice (about half a lemon)1/2 oz. pure maple syrup


  1. In a shaker, strip and muddle one full sprig of rosemary and half of a tart, crisp apple.
  2. Add the lemon juice.
  3. Pour in maple syrup.
  4.  Measure and add one shot of rum.
  5. Fill with ice and shake well.
  6. Strain the drink over an ice-filled tumbler.
  7. Garnish with rosemary and an apple slice.


3. Western Rendezvous with Sapphire Mining & Bird Banding

As a Relais & Châteaux property, we love to borrow a little French flair for our gastronomic fêtes. Last spring we had the chance to be part of Relais & Châteaux’s GourmetFest in Carmel by the Sea. Our culinary team was featured along with an impressive slate of Relais & Châteaux chefs and wine estates. It was an inspiring chance to see how properties across the world are innovating gastronomic travel and elevating the “art de vivre.”

Executive Chef Josh Drage and Executive Sous Chef Ben Miller bike back to the Granite Lodge kitchen with fresh herbs for dinner. 

This year’s Western Rendezvous highlights the art of living in Western Montana. The “rendezvous” in the title isn’t just about the guests meeting for a celebration, but also the intertwining of Montana culture and cuisine. Guests will converge on the Blue Canteen glamping venue to experience a Montana fall through food, geology, the surrounding ecosystem and our rich ranching culture.

Friday’s lunch will feature grilled local beef, lamb and pork, as well as Montana cheeses, desserts and savory snacks. Drinks will be sourced from local vendors Black Coffee Roasting Company, Philipsburg Brewing Company, Montgomery Distillery and Western Cider Co.

Cast iron seared ribeye steaks from local purveyor Yellowstone grass-fed beef. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

From Noon until late afternoon, guests will experience the Rock Creek Valley’s nature treasures hands-on. The Ranch at Rock Creek’s original homestead was also a mining claim. Sapphires were first discovered in the Rock Creek drainage in 1892, and to this day, our valley boasts one of the world’s few active sapphire mines that is open to the public (seasonally). Guests will try their hand at sapphire mining in the hopes of discovering their own family heirloom.

Guests hunt for treasure, in the form of colorful sapphires, at nearby Gem Mountain

The Ranch is thrilled to partner with the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) to offer Autumn Harvest guests a chance to look deeper into The Ranch ecosystem through its bird populations. MNHC experts will set up mist nets to gently capture birds for banding. Due to fall’s dynamic migratory patterns, they will likely catch resident birds and birds that might be only might be passing through The Ranch for a day or only an hour, as they make their long journey south. Guests will then have a chance to see a bird banding demonstration, and guests will likely get a chance to hold birds—an unforgettable opportunity for any nature lover!

Avian Researcher Jenélle Dowling holds an adult male Bullock’s Oriole during a bird banding session.

MNHC partners with the University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab to study riparian (river) habitats. Jenélle Dowling, an expert who completed her PhD at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and has researched birds for 12 years, leads several avian science programs at MNHC and she’ll be on hand to teach and to record findings.

Dowling said, “Birds are an excellent thread to help people better understand habitats. To understand birds you must understand soil, plants and insects. Birds are charismatic and a great focal point to appreciate riparian habitats, like at The Ranch at Rock Creek.”

If you’re interested in bird banding, MNHC and U of M Bird Ecology Lab both have bird banding opportunities in Western Montana.

In 2017, The Ranch expanded its programming to include Montana Master Naturalist classes. From Flora and Fauna Identification classes to guided hikes, our Montana Master Naturalists help nature lovers to spot signs of wildlife and appreciate our awe-inspiring environment in flux. They even learn to start a naturalist’s log.

A Master Naturalist journal, including a drawing of a Blue Jay, sits by the Rod & Gun Club.

As well as sapphire mining and bird banding, there will be local musicians and equestrian games to help guests sample the wide variety of pursuits that have inspired Gold Country for over 150 years.

4. Forest Bathing and Natural Fitness

In addition to twice daily guided activities, our The Spa at Rock Creek team will be offering two complimentary mind and body classes during Autumn Harvest Weekend. Our Granite Nature Spa offers a menu of custom bloom-to-bottle spa treatments, retreat-style signature experiences and private fitness classes that include meditation, yoga, natural fitness and forest bathing. Throughout the season, our nature spa experiences are specially designed to help guests connect and play in nature, making the weekend a chance to refresh from busy fall schedules.

Our Granite Nature Spa is encapsulated in natural stone and covered with a grass and wildflower living roof.

Fall is an ideal time to try forest bathing, otherwise known as the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. Although it’s just catching on here, for over 30 years Japanese and Korean government and scientific agencies have been studying the healing effects of forests on their increasingly over-stressed populations. Currently, Japan has 48 official forest therapy trails, with hopes to designate 100 sites within 10 years. A small number of Japanese physicians have even been certified in forest medicine.

Forest bathing on a snowy fall morning at The Ranch. Photo by Caleb Jordan Lee. 

Shirin-yoku sites must be places that are both stimulating and meditative, so they are usually found outside of cities, in woodlands. Japanese scientists, like Yoshifumi Miyazaki, have found that leisurely forest walks, as opposed to urban walks or intense fitness training, deliver on average a 12% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, a 7% decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, decreases in blood pressure and decreases in heart rate.

Guests can enjoy beautiful fall river scenes like this one at Montana's The Ranch at Rock Creek

Our instructors utilize our natural alpine forest and calming mountain-fed creek as a way to awaken all your senses and calm stress levels often exacerbated by metropolitan environments and busy holiday plans. This inspiring meditative practice helps our guests go further than simply “unplugging” on vacation. It helps to calm overstimulation created by a visually demanding world and create a balance of the senses. Almost every person of any age can gain important physical and mental health benefits from a meditative forest bathing practice.

In addition, guests can enjoy a RanchFit class, which uses elements of creative play and natural movement fitness principles to turn The Ranch’s environment into an inspiring, but challenging workout. There’s no need for gym equipment when the natural world is full of bodyweight challenges, like jumping over logs, throwing boulders and running at a mile above sea level.

Natural Movement and Personal Training includes running on our beautiful hills and peaks a mile above sea level

Guests can delight in both of these complimentary classes, or schedule their own private sessions during their stay.

5. Happy Trails Brunch

After Saturday’s fall Harvest Dinner, LeAnn Rimes concert and Afterglow Barn Dance, we know guests may want a few extra minutes under the covers on Sunday morning. Executive Chef Drage, Chef Tom Gillespie and Groups and Events Manager Christina Wernikowski have planned a Happy Trails Brunch to savor the fall harvest with everyone’s favorite hybrid meal.

Groups and Events Manager Christina Wernikowski. 

Hearty breakfast dishes will be cooked and served in cast iron Dutch ovens. Guests who have visited during the summer and enjoyed our Friday Breakfast Ride will be familiar with the scents of wood fire and savory ingredients wafting from these traditional ovens. Executive Chef Drage grew up cooking with Dutch ovens in his home — a cabin in Alaska. Our Executive Sous Chef Ben Miller, Chef Tom Gillespie and cooks have also contributed to The Ranch’s traditional fare with recipes they grew up perfecting.

Executive Chef Josh Drage

On Sunday, The Dutch ovens will contain frittatas with local ham and/or seasonal vegetables and cheeses, biscuits and gravy, a breakfast strata with elk sausage and local squash and cast iron granola, served with honey-infused yogurt and fresh seasonal fruit.

Delicious Relais & Chateaux dining experiences in an idyllic setting at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Dutch ovens fresh from the coals during a Friday Morning Breakfast Ride.

Other delights will include sourdough waffles with maple syrup, huckleberry jam and fresh whipped cream, chia seed pudding, Missoula-produced Daily’s Bacon, home fries and house-made breads and pastries.

Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

Guests will top off the meal with fresh coffee from Black Coffee Roasting Company, teas, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, fresh squeezed juices, and mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and other cocktails artisan cocktails created by Bar Manager Ned Derosier. To get you in the mood for this lavish Western spread, we’ve included a frittata recipe from Chef Drage’s.

The Sapphire Range Frittata
Bacon and Gouda Frittata with Tomatoes and Avocado

12 eggs
1 lb. bacon
1 bunch scallions
1 cup cubed gouda (We suggest Flathead Lake Cheese Company Gouda)
2 oz. clarified butter
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
Juice of one lemon
1 bunch of parsley
Pinch of chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 oz. olive oil
1 avocado

1. Prepare your morning camp fire. It is important to produce coals for effective Dutch oven cooking. Once the firewood has mostly reduced to coals, use a shovel to push the flaming wood to one side of the fire ring. On the other side of the ring, away from the flame, create a flat cooking surface covered with a small layer of coals (equal to 10 small pieces of charcoal).

2. Place your Dutch oven (lid on) atop the coal-covered cooking surface. Shovel an equal amount of coals onto the top of the oven. Allow the dry (no oil or ingredients within) Dutch oven to pre-heat for 10 minutes prior to cooking.

3. Cut bacon into one-inch pieces. Sauté until crisp in another pan on your fire. Remove  the bacon with a spoon and set it aside in a bowl for later.

4. Prepare the garnish. Halve the cherry tomatoes and chop the parsley. Halve and pit the avocado. Cut into small pieces and place the tomatoes, parsley and avocado in a bowl. Add lemon juice, salt, chili flakes and olive oil. Toss and set the bowl aside.

5. Cube the gouda cheese and set it aside.

6. Whip the eggs thoroughly in a bowl until they begin to lighten. Add the scallion and whip together.

7. Remove the lid on the Dutch oven using thick oven mitts, placing it on the rocks of your fire ring. Keep some coals on top to retain even cooking temperature while it rests.

8. Add clarified butter to the Dutch oven and pour in the eggs. Scrape across the bottom with a spatula to fold in the cooking eggs as they bubble. Repeat the folding process until the eggs are about one-third cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

9. Add the bacon and gouda. Fold into the eggs quickly. Replace the lid of the Dutch oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes without peeking.

10. Check the frittata after the allotted time. Remove the Dutch oven from the coals. If the eggs aren’t fully cooked, fold through one more time before serving.

11. Garnish the top of the finished frittata with your tomato and avocado mixture. Adjust your garnish to include whatever is in season in your area.

Cheers to the comforts of fall!

Cast iron fried chicken, perigord truffle puree, broccoli raab, carrots, charred onions, crisp poor orphan creamery twyste and fingerling potato. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.