Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Big Sky

Big Sky’s Rainbow Ranch had the best of both worlds—easy access to Big Sky’s ski slopes and a locale right on the Gallatin River. However, in 2008 a devastating fire burned the beloved Rainbow Ranch to the ground. Aside from the 50-year-old lodge, the restaurant, vast wine cellar, offices, antiques, and imported furniture were lost. Owners and fans were crushed.

But despite having to build in harsh winter conditions, it reopened less than a year later and reclaimed its place as one of the best lodges in Montana. Reconstruction included a swanky spa and redecorated rooms that have river rock fireplaces. Resting on the banks of the Gallatin River, the “Outpost Retreat Spa”is a place of respite and deep relaxation where mind and body can unwind and awaken in harmony with the natural surroundings. All of their treatments embrace a “back to nature” philosophy and utilize natural ingredients indigenous to the region.

The new main lodge restaurant offers elegant fine dining and rustic ambiance as well as.a lighter bar menu. Chef Michael Ruhland specializes in the “Slow Food” philosophy, using locally grown and conscientiously raised products as often as possible. The owners know every detail about the beef that they order; the elk comes from Idaho, the pork from Livingston, MT, and the buffalo from Butte. During the off-season Ruhland is currently training under one of the country’s best chefs, Grant Achatz, of Alinea Restaurant in Chicago. (In 2008 Achatz was the subject of a New Yorker magazine article.)

Stored through glass panels and river rock columns, The Bacchus Room houses an award-winning wine collection of over 5000 bottles, one of the finest collections in the state. Wine Spectator has awarded it“Best of Excellence,”2003-2008. The owners have also been pleased that their long sought goal of being included on Forbes Magazine’s list of the top 400 hotels and resorts has been achieved, and it ranks elsewhere as one of the top ten Montana lodges. 

On the Rainbow Ranch web-site you can find a list of activities suitable for each season—from skiing and snowshoeing and dog sledding to fishing, horseback riding, hiking, birding, biking, golfing, rafting, and enjoying solitude. Proximity to Big Sky and Moonlight Basin resorts gives visitors world-class terrain, lack of lift lines, and 400 inches of annual snowfall. Guests can also explore the backcountry trails of Gallatin National Forest right from the lodge. Nordic ski trails are also available a few miles away. A dogsled trek is a fine way to appreciate the Alaskan huskies as they glide over magnificent landscapes. The lodge also is not far from Yellowstone National Park via West Yellowstone.

The valley in Gallatin Canyon has been a hot spot for trout fishers and settlers for thousands of years. In 1919 the Lemon family moved from Ohio to Big Sky country in an old 12-cylinder car towing a little trailer. Their intention was to start a cattle ranch; they purchased the land where the Rainbow Lodge stands now. At that time the land was called Twin Cabins Camp, named after two unoccupied, dirt-roofed cabins. Realizing that the land was not the best for a cattle ranch, the Lemons started the Halfway Inn and rented rooms and served meals. As the place proved popular, they added a gas pump, a small store, an auto shop, a smokehouse, a blacksmith cabin, two barns, and a sawmill. The family also kept horses for hunting trips. A fire swept through the trees on the hill opposite the inn, destroying habitat for wild animals and plants. Elk were plentiful but not buffalo or moose. Traffic through the canyon then was sparse.

The Lemon family sold the land in 1946; at that time the gas pump, store, and auto shop came to an end. The first buyers were the Cottrell family but Walter Cottrell died soon after. The Bopp family bought the place next and concentrated on making an attractive lodge and dining room. Under subsequent ownership the lodge and cabins were moved around and remodeled to accommodate the sophisticated and elegant tastes of guests. In the 1970s when Chet Huntley had the vision of a Big Sky ski resort, the lodge benefited. For the last five years the owners have been Iwona Korzeniowska, Aneta Tomaszkiewicz, and Kate Armstrong. They have done an extraordinary job in pulling the lodge out of disaster and making it a leading luxurious lodge.

For more info, see www.rainbowranchbigsky.com or call 1-800-937-4132 or 1-406-995-4132.

~ Valerie Harms is the editor of Distinctly Montana magazine.


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