Long before the days of guest ranches, retreats, and trail rides there was a sleepy little cabin and some land 60 miles north of Helena, MT. This is where pioneer Gustav Rittel homesteaded in the late 1880s. Gold, with the help of the railroad, had drawn him west to Montana in 1885. He arrived in Helena where he picked up the brewing trade, first at the Herman-Rister Brewery and then at the famous Kessler Brewery. 1889, the year Montana became a state, Gustav married Augusta Klause. Three sons were born in Helena and soon after, Gustav and Augusta took over a tiny cabin and a small plot of land in the Dearborn River area deserted by an old French trapper. On this homestead another son and a daughter were born. This was the very start of the Blacktail Ranch, though of course, it wasn't near what you picture today.
Gustav and Augusta's youngest boy, John Frank, married a local homesteader's daughter Minnie Moren in 1928 and had a son, also named John Frank, who is better known as Tag. By 1948 Tag had built six small cabins up the creek and started an outfitting business. The heart of the Blacktail Ranch at the time was back country hunting, but there were also fishermen and some summertime guests. As a young man, Tag married Lyla Carlson and had four children; Eric, Jeri, Lori and John. Unfortunately after a long illness, Lyla passed away in 1982. After some time, Tag fell in love again and married Sandra Renner. Over the years, and with generous applications of good humor and "elbow grease", the kids grew, the cows were sold and a true guest ranch was emerging.
Renovations started in 1984 and have continued until today. What used to be a barn for cows and chickens (and a few vehicles when they would fit) is now the main lodge and dining room. The original six cabins up the creek are still guest cabins but have been modernized and moved a little closer to home. Gustav and Augusta's original cabin has become a museum filled with artifacts of more than 120 years on the land, plus archeological treasures from the famous Blacktail cave.
With time, commitment, and a lot of hard work, The Blacktail Ranch has become an inspiring location for workshops, retreats, weddings and, of course, good ol' Wild West vacations.
The herd of horses accommodates a wide variety of riding skills. There is not a structured schedule, ride as much or as little as you like. Both riding and roping lessons are available. For the more adventurous a three day “Divide Ride” is offered, starting at the ranch and heading up the valley to the top of the Continental Divide. From the top of the Great Divide you can see for miles from the Rocky Mountains to the West to the prairies in the East.
Whether you like to fish a mountain stream or cast your line across a wide river there are endless fishing opportunities. The South fork of the Dearborn River flows through the ranch and the famous “River Runs Through It” Blackfoot River and Missouri River are minutes away. Both are Blue Ribbon Rivers with premium fly-fishing and we can arrange guided fishing trips. Rafting adventures, are available for a day or an overnight.
The Blacktail Ranch offers 8,000 open acres that border the National Forest so there are endless trail systems. Located along the Northern Pacific Flyway there are remarkable bird watching opportunities from eagles and hawks to warblers and hummingbirds. Many species of Big Game can be seen traversing the ranch: elk, deer, moose and black bear
The Blacktail is also rich in archaeological sites including an extensive cave system dating back to the Ice Age, a Medicine and Sun Wheel and numerous tipi rings from the times of the old west. The Ranch museum houses artifacts from the cave and the surrounding land and is open for a touring. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to see the natural wonders of the cave system and historic traces of First Nations people.