Trip Report: Montana

Photo courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Photo courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Hidden Moose Lodge - a few minutes outside of the charming town of Whitefish on the way to the Big Mountain ski area.  Arrived around 11pm and found our key to our room.  Great big room with huge fireplace and sitting area, darling porch and nice bathroom.  One thing to note is that we were in the Big Sky Suite which faced the main road and it could be a bit noisy.

Day 1 - Jon was going to mountain bike ride and we drove to Big Mountain but they did not rent bikes and the bike rental place in town is closed on Sundays to so we drove to Glacier National Park - west entrance which is about 30 minutes from Whitefish.  Hiked Avalanche trail to a beautiful lake.  Dinner at Tupelo Grill - outstanding!

Day 2 - Drove the Road to the Sun to Many Glacier and hiked to Iceberg Lake - approximately 10 miles roundtrip - beautiful!  The Road to the Sun is a gorgeous drive.   Drove back to Whitefish and ate at Piggyback in Whitefish before collapsing into bed.

Day 3 - Jon went mountain biking and I wandered around the town of Whitefish.  We went to the farmers market in the evening and had dinner at Latitude 48 which was mediocre.

Day 4 - on the road by 8 heading to the Missoula airport to drop our rental car and meet our driver to take us to Paws Up.

Paws Up:

I have ben wanting to visit Paws Up since I read about it when it first opened in 2005 long before I became a Virtuoso Travel Advisor.  So when my husband and I decided to visit Paws Up without our older children, I was very excited and had high (possibly unrealistic) expectations due to my “occupational hazard” of viewing all personal and professional travel related activities with a critical eye.  I visited Paws Up as a full paying guest and Virtuoso client and received no reduced rates or benefits other than the Virtuoso amenities that my clients receive when booking a Virtuoso property through me.  Here is my trip report and review of our experience:

Our driver was prompt and waiting for us at our agreed upon pickup at the Missoula Airport.  We drove to the 37,000 acre property and arrived at 11:45.  Check in was at 4pm and they had a big group checking out so we were advised that we would be notified when our accommodations would be ready. We reviewed the itinerary for our stay which we had pre-arranged and selected.  There was a conflict on the itinerary as they had booked one of my requested spa appointments at the same time I would be fly fishing and the second spa appointment I had requested was not on the itinerary at all.  We were able to work this out but could have been disappointing if the spa was booked for the changed date and time. We were advised to download the Paws Up app and use it to communicate electronically for any concierge or transportation related need.  This was very cool and a slick feature for the tech savvy.   We meandered over to the Trough for lunch.  Guests can choose from dining off the menu or going to the “Grill and Chill” for a burger, hot dog or bratwurst.  The Trough is the designated lunch spot for your stay.  You will eat here unless on an excursion that includes lunch.   I had scheduled a 2 hour horseback trail ride and moved it up a little earlier to be ready to be checked in to our room by 4 so that we could get showered and ready for the Chuckwagon Dinner that we had selected ahead of time from the add-on activities not included in the nightly rate.  I thoroughly enjoyed my private ride and tried to remember my long dormant riding skills.  Jon did a mountain bike around the property on the Sunset Loop approximately 13 miles.  We both got a great overview of the property, albeit on different modes of transportation. We returned to reception at 3:40-got shuttled to Creekside tent camp at 4.  Check in time is 4 pm and it is now 4:45 and room is still not ready.  Were told be two different staff members that they were waiting for our Welcome Basket to be delivered and some additional towels which was what was delaying arrival to our tent.  We sat in the common area waiting for our room to be ready. I was getting concerned as we were supposed to be at the chuck wagon dinner @ 5:30 and both need to shower.  The Assistant GM made a point to come by and introduce himself and apologize for the "rough start" said there was a miscommunication(?).  Finally got to our tent at 5:15.  FYI - no Welcome Basket but seem to have adequate towel supply!  Finally got to out tent at 5:15 -quick shower then off to the chuck wagon dinner-very nice bbq-great food and banjo/harmonica and cowboy poetry by Steve and Angelo by the campfire with s'mores and huckleberry crisp.  
Day 1 - up at 8:30 off to Creekside dining pavilion for breakfast-lovely outdoor room with fire and made to order breakfast-eggs with morel cream sauce, huckleberry pancakes, bacon, sausages and all the fixins.  The dining pavilion is the common area for the camp and has comfortable seating, board games, help yourself fridge. A great place to hang out and socialize.  You eat your breakfast and dinner here also.

Resting/reading/napping on our hammock this am before lunch and river kayak this afternoon. Beautiful, peaceful space listening to the birds chirping, creek babbling-heaven!!

Used the Paws Up app to request a pickup from our Camp to the main reception area for lunch and our afternoon activity. You can also request your rides through your butler which works well also.   Lunch in the trough.  After lunch went to the reception area for our afternoon activity.  This can be a bit chaotic as everyone who is participating in a group activity meets here at 2pm – this is not a firm 2pm (which is a challenge for people like me who are obsessively prompt) once your group is all there, you can depart for your activity.  Got into the van for our shuttle to the put-in for the river kayak.  We were part of a group of rafters too.  We were the only kayakers. It was really fun and felt fantastic to get wet in the heat! The rafting looked a bit dull and was more of a floating down the river trip.  Glad we chose to kayak.

Back to our tent by 6ish and to dinner in our dining pavilion. Dinner is served from 6-9pm and you can just show up when you want to eat - nice not to have to make a reservation and be committed to a time - especially if your afternoon activity is running late.

Day 2 – Delicious breakfast – you can really order what you want and they also have a breakfast special dish every day.  Needless to say, one does not go hungry!  Big day with two water activities planned - morning canoe down the Clearwater River.  Approx 1/2 hour drive to put-in location.  Very quiet and peaceful canoe ride.  Walked for 1.5 miles back to the car.  Our guide offered to run to the shuttle and come pick us up but the group agreed to walk.

Lunch at the Trough then to the afternoon activity of a fly fishing lesson.  Since this was a private lesson for the two of us, we met our guide and left right away.  We drove about 20 minutes to our spot on the Blackfoot river - the car did not have working a/c and it was unbearably hot on the drive.  Once we got on the river, Jack gave us a lesson and we started fishing.  It was a great time and we caught lots of fish and some rocks and sticks too!  We were on the river for about 4 hours - we both thoroughly enjoyed this sport.
Back to the camp for shower and dinner

Awkward moment – I mentioned in passing to our camp butler that we had not received the mysterious"Welcome Basket" that had held up our check in. She was surprised and asked what kind of wine we liked.  This “Welcome Basket” is an amenity for all Virtuoso guest.  Elusive Welcome Basket was in our tent when we returned from our afternoon activity.

Day 3 - Jon left at 5am to catch a flight to the Dead show in San Jose.  I slept in and had a leisurely breakfast before my spa appointments at 10 and 11.  Got shuttled to Spa Town.  This is a fantastic feature to this resort and very unique.  The treatment rooms are tents that lookout onto beautiful fields, and rolling hills.  Very peaceful.  My first treatment was a 60 minute full body scrub.  I chose my scrub from a selection of about 15 choices.  I chose the Huckleberry scrub.  My treatment was fantastic and I dont think I have an ounce of dead skin left on my body.  Marketing idea – sell the scrubs used for the treatment.  I would have purchased it.  They are made on property and would be a nice remembrance.  After this treatment, I was shown to the shower where I got the remaining scrub off of me then met my massage therapist in a different tent for my 90 minute massage.  This was truly a highlight for me - so peaceful and perfect temperature in the morning and my masseuse was fantastic.  I wanted to take her home in my suitcase but she declined.

Lunch in the Tank by myself then back to my tent for some more r&r!  I had intended to make some progress on my book/nap on the hammock in the afternoon but it was unseasonably hot and I spent the afternoon in the tent.  The tents have a stand alone a/c unit which does a pretty good job of cooling down the tent.  Dinner in the dining pavilion – another delicious feast.  Each night there is a yummy starter of some sort of dip/spread.  Then a soup, salad, meat and fish, vegetable, starch and dessert.  All served family style and cooked by your chef at the camp and all excellent!

Some general things to note:

If you stay in the tent camps, you are reliant on rides from the camp to the main area for lunch and all activities.  While this works pretty well, sometimes they get backed up and you might have to wait a bit for your ride.  If you stay in a cabin, you get a car to use for the duration of your stay.  This is a great feature but not available for the tent camps.
Gratuities: While it clearly states in the reservation terms that gratuities are not necessary, we were told that they are always appreciated.  You are given a “check” at lunch every day with a $0 charge but a place for gratuity.  Mixed messages and a bit uncomfortable.  In the end, we tipped our airport drivers, bellman, all guides and our Camp Butlers.

Resort Fee:  There is a 20% resort fee on lodging, food and beverage and all additional activities you do in addition to the fee you pay to do them.  The Resort Fee is defined in the reservation summary as: “applied to all fees for lodging, food and beverage, spa and wellness adventures.  The resort fee covers services such as roundtrip airport transportation to/from Missoula airport, all on-property transportation (on-demand drivers provided), use of a personal vehicle (for guests staying in homes), concierge services, wireless internet, Paws Up App, and access to fitness center, Grizzlyman fitness trail and extensive trail system.” While your nightly rate is inclusive of your breakfast and dinner and some activities around the ranch, this Resort Fee seems excessive and once I read the fine print, some things that I thought were included in the rate (concierge services, shuttle to/from the tent camps, Paws Up App), I was paying 20% for.  I have never heard of charging for concierge services.  In my opinion, if the resort needs to recoup the cost of these services, maybe they should just increase the nightly rate to cover these expenses.  
Pros - Spa Town, great tents, food, variety of activities both included in the rate and at an additional charge, Camp butlers, great for families, Chuckwagon dinner, onsite staff

Cons - 20% resort fee (why not just include it in the rate?), inconvenience of the shuttle, tipping policy not clear, check-in was unorganized. 

In summary, I would recommend a visit to Paws Up.  Just be sure to set your expectations in advance.