Flathead Lake Lodge is the Ultimate Dude Ranch Family Vacation

They had us at “steak fry”

flathead lake lodge review: people riding horses.
Flathead Lake Lodge

You do a lot of apologizing while on vacation with kids. I’m sorry but do you have peanut butter? I’m sorry but we’re allergic to peanut butter. I’m sorry but we got peanut butter on the tableclothand the bed sheets. 

You often hear people say that when they go on vacation with their kids that it’s not really a vacation…it’s just being with your kids… in a different place. You still have all of the rigors and requirements of being a parent, but now with the added stares of other vacationers or hotel staff. 

So, I can honestly say that my recent trip to Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Montana was one of the first true vacations I’ve taken with my kids, and my oldest is 12. 

The lodge, a dude ranch of sorts, is located on 2,000 acres along Flathead Lake in northern Montana. I had read coverage prior in PureWow and thought perhaps this would be another week where we just took our baggage elsewhere…that my children who love to bicker with each other in New York around the clock would just bicker with each other in Montana around the clock. I was not ready for it to be one of the top three vacations of our life as a family. 

Flathead seems to exist solely for families. It is an all-inclusive, weeklong vacation. All guests arrive weekly on Sunday. Everyone is greeted with a friendly airport transfer, a welcome staff greeting at the lodge and a tote bag, including details of the numerous activities throughout the week. It's a dude ranch or a family camp or both and it just works perfectly. Everyone staying there seems to be bonded quickly by the fact that families are at the forefront of the resort staff’s minds. 

flathead lake lodge review: kids jumping into a lake.
Flathead Lake Lodge

Let's start with what might be the sleekest move I’ve seen at a family-focused resort: the bike pavilion. There is an entire bike pavilion (this year it was manned by a cute college graduate, Taylor, from Michigan) where we could grab any bike, at any time. We took our set of four bikes for the entire week, it gave our kids (9 and 12) free rein immediately and by the second day a bike gang of friends had formed. 

All guests at Flathead arrive on Sunday afternoon and it’s an intimate group since there’s never more than 150 guests on the property. The following Monday morning is sign up for the activities for the week, which can range from a trail horseback ride to a breakfast spot an hour up into the Montana Woods, water sports, including the boarding and water skiing arts and crafts (where I made one of my finest, could-be-on-sale-at-Net-a-Porter necklaces to date). You can be as rigorous with your schedule or as loose as you want. There’s open time to jump on boats to jump on horses or to jump on each other. At one point I looked around while I sat in the middle of an activities hoopla; there was horseback riding to one side of me and a makeshift bull riding game to the other, while adults gathered for flower-arranging class.

Over the course of the week my family played laser tag, went for bike rides, woke up early for sunrise hikes, stayed up late for s’more fire circles, lazed about the pool, paddled on the lake in kayaks, read on the banks of the shore, made friendship bracelets during arts and crafts, played more laser tag and did a family rodeo where I hiked up my dress and tried to pen a steer. It’s as incredible to read as it is to write.

Meals are delicious and feel well-thought-out; there is a separate seating for kids and adults at dinner (after the kiddos eat, they file out for an after-dinner activity like scavenger hunts or volleyball games) and the adults are welcome to have some quiet time for a sip and paint or get more rowdy with some live music.

flathead lake lodge review: a large dining hall.
Flathead Lake Lodge

Time for the family is never far off though, and the weekly mouse race in the barn (which sounds exactly like what it is) has the entire resort hooting and hollering and placing dollar bets on which mouse will win. (It’s a kind gesture to return the money to the Hope Charity week that the lodge offers each summer for kids in need.)

Perhaps the Lodge feels like it’s meant for families because it’s run by a family, as it has been in the past 79 years. At the weekly steak fry, Chase, the owner, serves you steak right off the cracking fire barbecue; while his wife, Kate, brings you a new paperback if you happen to mention that you finished yours (because you had just so much downtime).

Flathead is not an inexpensive week of your life and I feel lucky to have had the chance to experience it. And when you count the activities from 7 AM to 10 PM, all of the included food and drink, the always-available fresh cookies and croissants and muffins constantly being put outside for you to grab next to the lemonade stand…you sort of think that you’ve hit the jackpot.

All-inclusive rates for seven days start at $2,261 per person (for kids 2 and up) and go up to $6,000 per person (for adults)