Off the Beaten Path


Written By: Robyn Roehm Cannon

Old Faithful has performed with nearly military precision every 90 minutes – day and night – for well over a hundred years. On a typical summer day, huge audiences pack circular boardwalks surrounding the world-famous geyser in anticipation of its awe-inspiring show.

Yellowstone has shaped the American public’s definition of nature since 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant made it the first national park in the world for good reason: There are more geysers, hot springs, and other thermal features here than the rest of the planet combined. In the spring, pristine snowmelt cascades into dazzling waterfalls of every description, including one that is twice as high as Niagara Falls. Yellowstone has a canyon that is deep and colorful enough to fall into the “Grand” category. Best of all, a significant portion of the park’s incredible terrain is accessible by a hiker of just average ability.

Then, there’s the wildlife: Ever focus your telephoto lens on a wild, untamed grizzly bear grabbing a trout from a stream? Or a bald eagle spreading his wings? What about a mother bison nursing her baby calf? Thousands of people experience these wonders in Yellowstone annually.

The park covers a mind-boggling 2.2 million acres. The most popularly used entrance is adjacent to West Yellowstone, a classic tourist town that is home of the Museum of the Yellowstone an the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. Both are worth a visit to get oriented on the extensive history, wildlife, and geography that are encompassed within the park.

There is an authentic guest ranch experience removed from the bustle of town, the perfect spot just 5 miles from the park’s west entrance on Buttermilk Creek Road – a beautifully restored lodge with private cabins called the Bar N Ranch. The location is superb: 200 private acres on the south fork of the famous Madison River, renowned for its world-class fly-fishing.

In 2003, Gavagans left their professional lives in Chicago behind, where Gayle practiced residential interior design and Mike was involved in film and video production, after Mike’s employer spotted an ad in The Wall Street Journal and bought the property.

The Gavagans became sweat equity partners and assumed the role of managers. But they arrived in November to bitter-cold winter temperatures and extreme snowfall, discovering that the buildings were sadly neglected, needing drastic structural and cosmetic improvements. Undaunted, they moved into the attic of the main lodge and set to work. After months of back-breaking physical labor and carpentry, they’ve succeeded in creating a simply, beautiful appointed retreat like non other in the region.

Today, the massive lodge is an ideal place to sink into a cozy hair-on-hide sofa with a glass of wine and a good book, next to a crackling fire. Giant hand-hewn log ceiling beams are artfully draped in Pendleton wool blankets. A massive handcrafted pine burl staircase was restored and leads to the guest wing, where creature comforts in seven guest rooms or one of seven cabins are top-notch – private baths, luxurious down comforters, silky sheets, and plush doeskin robes are standard issue.

Authenitcally chinked log cabins all have wood-burning fireplaces, supplied with an endless stack of split logs. Each cabin’s four-person hot tub is perfect for a late-night soak after a day spent exploring Yellowstone – from fishing to rafting, kayaking, hiking, or horseback riding. It’s all available, and the Gavagans are happy to arrange the details for their guests.

Each morning, guests enjoy a multicourse breakfast that may include homemade blueberry pancakes or ranch hand Ron’s French Toast – a truly divine way to start the day. A seasonally changing dinner menu is prepared each night by executive Chef Jack Cole, whose pedigree is impressive – New York’s Club 21 and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel are among his former culinary stops. Here at the ranch, his philosophy focuses in an unpretentious style that caters to a regular local clientele in addition to ranch guests.

There’s plenty of magic at the Bar N Ranch, where nature and luxury are perfectly mixed with authentic and warm Western hospitality.