Camping in Montana in luxe comfort, butler included

Paws Up luxury tents include king-size beds with heated mattress pads, leather chairs, and private baths. Paws Up luxury tents include king-size beds with heated mattress pads, leather chairs, and private baths. (The Resort At Paws Up)
By Beth D’Addono
Globe Correspondent / October 17, 2010

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GREENOUGH, Mont. — When Rob Brown suggested a camping trip in Montana for a family vacation, his wife, Rosemary, was skeptical: “I wanted to take the kids to Greece but Rob wanted Montana. He knows I’m not a fan of camping, so I wasn’t sure what to think.’’

It turns out that Rob didn’t have a typical camping trip in store for his wife, an attorney in Sarasota, Fla. “When I found out about glamping, I was onboard. And now, I’m a raving fan,’’ Rosemary Brown said.

The Browns spent four nights at The Resort at Paws Up, a five-star slice of gorgeous Montana countryside about 45 minutes northeast of Missoula. Although less adventurous types can opt to stay in one of the 28 luxe guest homes, the Browns opted for a spot in Tent City, a wilderness enclave of six chi-chi “tents’’ overlooking a pristine meadow.

Glamping, upscale or glamorous camping, is the perfect combination of creature comforts and the great outdoors. Aficionados tend to be nature lovers who like the idea of toasting marshmallows around the fire, but aren’t keen on sleeping on a lumpy air mattress and peeing in the woods. In fact, most Paws Up visitors have never camped, said Tira Beary, sales manager. “It takes some time on the phone to help them understand what it’s really like,’’ she said.

Nadine Lipson, who, along with her husband, Dave, own Paws Up, is the first to admit, “I’m not a camper.’’ The Lipsons bought the property, once owned by Land Lindbergh, the aviator’s son, in 1998. They planned to raise Black Angus cattle, with no intention of turning the ranch into a resort. “We love to entertain, and with so many of our friends visiting, the idea of opening some kind of guest ranch just kind of evolved,’’ she said. It was Dave’s son Larry who dreamed up the glamping idea. “I said from the beginning that nobody would ever do that,’’ recalled Lipson. “I just didn’t think it would work.’’

She was wrong. Paws Up offers 18 room-sized canvas tents, some including a second room geared to families with children. “They’re just so comfortable,’’ said Rosemary Brown. “It’s the best of both worlds.’’ Costs for the May through September season start at $725 a night for two people, including meals.

Decked out in western furnishings, including a king-size bed with a heated mattress pad for those chilly Montana nights, the tents include space heaters, fans, reading lamps, leather chairs, and more. Private bathrooms are set up a bit differently in each of the three six-tent areas. “We’ve learned a lot and make changes each time we add more tents,’’ said Lipson. At Creekside a granite-accented bath (with heated floors) is directly attached to each tent. In Tent City guests have a short stroll to reach their private bath. And at River Camp, set literally on the banks of the Blackfoot River, the same river featured in “A River Runs Through It,’’ a hot shower is a set of steps away.

Running water and a heated bed aren’t the only things that set glamping apart from a regular night in the woods. Each tent area has a butler responsible for everything from starting a fire in the community fire pit to arranging for adventure excursions and calling for transport. Although civilization seems distant, guests are a quick shuttle from the main restaurant and popular activities like skeet shooting, fly-fishing, and ATV riding. A pampering session in Spa Town is nearby, with its rows of airy tents facing the woods.

Surrounded by 37,000 forested acres, Paws Up is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The resort’s 100 miles of hiking trails, 10 miles of Blackfoot River, and the nearby 1.5 million acres of Bob Marshall Wilderness combine to make for the ultimate Montana playground.

The problem is, once you settle into the glamping mode, it’s hard to leave camp. It’s the perfect spot to catch up on some reading, take a nap, or just stare into space. Tent City offers endless wildlife views, from grazing elk and mountain bluebirds to sightings of migrating scarlet and gold summer tanagers. A nearby bald eagle nest assures frequent glimpses of the birds out on the hunt. Spend some time by the river, and you might just be rewarded with the sight of an osprey in flight, a wriggling trout firmly in its grasp.

When it’s time for dinner, the resort’s handsome Pomp restaurant offers an impressive wine and cocktail list as well as a bison ribeye fit for a hungry cowboy. Then again, dinner in camp is just as good. Unlike the usual dude ranch model, where guests eat together at a set time, here, guests reserve a private table in the dining pavilion, and can even bring their own wine.

“All kinds of people come here to get away from it all,’’ said butler Alder Sueki. “When they’re here, nobody bothers them. All they have to do is just relax. We take care of everything else.’’

Beth D’Addono can be reached at

If You Go

The Resort at Paws Up
Greenough, Mont.
18 luxury tents with private master baths, starting at $725 including three meals daily for two.
More places to glamp
Clayoquat Wilderness Retreat
Tofino, British Columbia
20 tents on raised wooden platforms in a lush, rain forest setting. $4,650 for two, all-inclusive for three nights, including food, alcohol, spa treatments, and activities. 2011 season: May 19-Sept. 29.
Rockwater Secret Cove Resort 5356 Ole’s Cove Road
Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia
Tenthouse suites with fireplaces, soaking tubs, private baths, and verandas. $449 per night, double occupancy.