Saddle Up! Horseback Riding in Montana

By Mr. TWS

Horseback riding under the big, beautiful skies of Montana

Blue skies and billowy clouds above the mountains of Big Sky Country, Montana

Blue skies and billowy clouds above the mountains of Big Sky Country, Montana

On our June visit to Montana, we experienced many highlights, some well-known, and others that were surprises. As I anticipated our short trip and the great itinerary with a variety of locations, interesting food and drink, and diverse activities, horseback riding seemed especially appropriate for enjoying the natural beauty of the area. Montana is nicknamed Big Sky Country for good reason. There are many wide open spaces with endless beautiful views beneath blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds. As pictured above, the day of our ride offered plenty of this.

Saddle up and go horseback riding in Montana with us!

But first — let’s go to lunch

BBQ lunch along the Clark Fork River with Ray and Jeanne Rugg

BBQ lunch along the Clark Fork River with Ray and Jeanne Rugg

After a spectacular drive on the scenic route from Missoula, we were treated to a wonderful BBQ lunch along the Clark Fork River in Superior, Montana (about 55 miles northwest of Missoula). Ray Rugg, owner of Rugg’s Outfitting and one of our trail guides was in front of the grill when we arrived cooking local beef burgers for Sweeney and the other members of our group and a piece of fresh salmon for me (the sole pescatarian). Ray’s wife, Jeanne, was in one of the cabins on the property where potato salad, baked beans, and other garnishes were set out. She also had dessert for us — awesome brownies which I think may have been the best I’ve ever tasted (but don’t tell my mother I said that)!

As an extra treat, Adam Hauge of family-owned Dunluce Brewing had come by with four of his craft brews, perfect for the Montana fresh-air lunch.

Adam Hauge of Dunluce Brewing serving his special craft brews

Adam Hauge of Dunluce Brewing serving his cleverly-named craft brews

Though I often prefer beer to wine, I haven’t become the micro connoisseur that many have during the microbrewery explosion. However, I know what I like, and I really liked the four beers Adam brought for us to sample — a blonde, a pale ale, an amber, and a porter. Each was tasty and bore clever names that played on the Dunluce name. I settled on the blonde, “Dun Ridin”, to accompany my meal but switched to a bit more of the porter for the brownies (a perfect match). I’m looking forward to Dunluce widening distribution to California.

Beautiful spot for our pre-ride lunch along the Clark Fork River, Superior, Montana

Beautiful spot for our pre-ride lunch along the Clark Fork River

The setting in a large meadow along the river surrounded by mountain vistas and the huge blue Montana sky dotted with white fluffy clouds was perfect for our lunch. The two rental cabins and an 18 foot teepee owned by Rugg’s seem like a great accommodation option whether for a couple, a small family, or a larger group using both cabins. From here you could enjoy the peaceful and scenic location but have easy access to the many nearby activities such as fishing, hiking, rafting/kayaking, and of course horseback riding.

Two cabins and a teepee along the Clark Ford can be rented through Rugg's Outfitting

Two cabins and a teepee along the Clark Fork can be rented through Rugg’s Outfitting

Time to get along on the trail

After lunch, it was just a short ride to the ranch to get saddled up and hit the trail.

Ray and his son and business partner Kip, were excellent guides. They gave just enough introductory instructions and cautions, and then introduced us to our horses which had been chosen for each of our small group based on experience, size, and temperament. Mine was a bit larger than the rest named “Tater Tot” and Sweeney’s “Hash Brown” deriving from the same lineage with names all associated with potatoes — I think they started with “Spud”. Sweeney was pleased to be getting Hash Brown since she seemed very gentle and mellow.

Ray Rugg giving instruction to our group at Black Bear Ranch

Ray Rugg by Hash Brown giving instruction to our group at Black Bear Ranch

With a smile of eager anticipation, Sweeney sits on Hashbrown --- ready to ride. At Black Bear Ranch, Supierior , Montana

With a smile of eager anticipation, Sweeney sits on Hash Brown — ready to ride

Although Sweeney was a little nervous at first, she was able to get almost completely comfortable on Hash Brown before leaving the corral. Then we were off on a 2-hour trail ride that took us through the wide variety of scenes you’d hope to encounter on a beautiful day in Montana.

Sweeney and Hashbrown on the trail

Sweeney and Hashbrown on the trail

The trail took us first along a pasture with a variety of green shades and bordered by forests on two sides with the mountains in the background. The sun shined continuously, and the clear blue sky and snow white clouds were perfect. The ride exceeded my expectation because it provided more variety in scenery than I anticipated, winding along a crystal-clear rolling stream, through forested hills, around a beautiful lake, beside picturesque meadows, and past numerous structures that for me aptly epitomized the Old West, always with the sky and mountains in the background and landscape dotted with brilliant wildflowers.

Mr TWS and Sweeney crossing the creek on horseback -- Photo Credit: Donnie Sexton

Upfront on Tater Tot with Sweeney on Hash Brown close behind — Photo Credit: Donnie Sexton

A lone building in a meadow full of wildflowers with a backdrop of mountains and big sky

A lone building in a meadow full of wildflowers with a backdrop of mountains and big sky

Lake and cabin view along the trail with Rugg's Outfitting, Superior, Montana

Our ride took us around the edge of this peaceful, clear lake

The trail also provided a wide range of ever changing terrains, up and down both small and taller, steeper grades, through narrow tree-lined passages requiring ducking and maneuvering to avoid branches (Sweeney had a minor encounter), and crossing the stream at numerous places with varying widths and depths.

Sweeney gets tangled up in branches -- her only incident on the trail ride in Superior, Montana

Sweeney gets tangled up in branches — her only incident on the trail

Though much of the ride was a walk for the horse, the steeper grades required them to trot, and the experience required some attention to riding, though I did my best to take photos whenever I could, compelled by the ever-changing, irresistible scenery. The length of the ride seemed just right; the horses and their riders were ready to take a rest. I do have to report that Sweeney had a minor injury — a couple of saddle burns (kind of like the princess and the pea, I guess). She says it was totally worth the pain for the amount of fun she had and would wear heavier pants next time.

Ready to cross the creek while horseback riding with Rugg's Outfitting in Superior, Montana

Sweeney feeling very comfortable now on Hash Brown

Our guides pointed out many aspects of the ride along the way and they seemed perfect for this group. If you go to Montana, don’t miss this activity and I would especially recommend these trail guides.

Time to mosey on

Beautiful meadow on the Black Bear Ranch in Superior, Montana

Beautiful meadow on the Black Bear Ranch

No longer in the saddle but in a car, we headed out from the ranch anticipating our next special Montana moment. We’ll be posting more soon about our Bozeman to Missoula tour — great food, beers, spirits, historic sites, outdoor activities, and even some mining. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Montana Office of Tourism, Glacier Country Tourism, Rugg’s Outfitting, and Dunluce Brewing for this great day in Big Sky Country.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

27 thoughts on “Saddle Up! Horseback Riding in Montana

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks for the comments, Marc. It was a blast. Enjoyed the rest of the trip almost as much. We hope to get back to Montana soon.

  1. Jo

    I am supremely envious! I would so so so love to go horse riding in Montana. That countryside! You looked very professional by the way 😉

    1. Mr. TWS

      Jo, I hope you get to Montana soon. If you do, try Rugg’s Outfitting for a horse ride. I was really amazed at how pretty the whole area was. Can’t wait to get back. As for the professionalism, I’m not ready for movie stunting yet, but I was 100% comfortable. Thanks to the photographer, Donnie Sexton, for capturing a photo that conveyed that. And thank you Jo for the comments..

  2. Helene Cohen Bludman

    My daughter lives in Big Sky and we love visiting her. Such a beautiful area and riding horses in those mountains is just wonderful.

    1. Mr. TWS

      I bet you’re really thankful she’s there so that you get to enjoy Montana when you visit. Before this experience I don’t know that I would have sought out a riding activity, but now I wouldn’t go to Montana without doing it and can’t wait to get back. Thanks for commenting.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Irene, thanks for commenting. I was amazed at the beauty everywhere in this area of Montana. Big Sky is no misnomer. As dazzled as I was by the beauty in general, my focus kept returning to the clear blue sky and interesting clouds. It sounds like you haven’t been there. Hope you can soon.

  3. Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

    Haven’t been to Missoula in years, and that was in the winter, so your summer adventure was a treat. Last year I did something similar in Northern Saskatchewan. It’s so wonderful to ride through beautiful country,feel closer to nature, and git outta them polluted cities 🙂 . Refreshing story and pix.

    1. Mr. TWS

      I’ve only been to Saskatchewan once on a brief in-and-out business trip to Regina. It would be great to get back to explore. When we do, I’ll definitely get riding in. Hope you get back to Missoula soon. Thanks for your comments.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Paula, hope you get to go riding there soon. The ride did feel that if you were there, this was the thing to be doing. The fuel was delicious.

  4. Leigh

    Looks like great fun. I am scared of horses but will be trying a similar experience near the Montana border in September. What a wonderful landscape to ride through.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Leigh, thanks for your comments. The ride was great fun. If your guides are anything like the Ruggs, they’ll make you feel at ease and you’ll have a great time. Hope your ride goes well in September.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Karen, thanks for your comments. Our schedule and itinerary were great but numerous times I wish we had time to hike. At each place we stayed, there was great hiking all around. It’ll be a must to get lots of hiking in on our trip back. Hope you get to go there.

  5. Suzanne Fluhr

    In the branches photo, Sweeney looked a lot like I do on a horse. My last ride was in Costa Rica and my horse kept trying to rub me off on trees. Montana is one of the few states I have yet to visit. It’s been on my “list” for far to long. I need some Big Sky.

  6. Sophie

    Love horses, so this sounds like such fun! And Montana sounds so romantic! On another note – beer and brownies, that particular combination would never have occurred to me. Tempted to now, though…

  7. Patti

    Montana is all kinds of wonderful, such pretty country and what’s crazy …. the sky really does seem bigger in Montana! Tater Tot and Hash Brown are great names!

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