If you want to ride your own horse, enjoy great scenery, and camp on private land between the Big Belt Mountains and the Little Belt Mountains, consider the Zehntner Ranch in White Sulphur Springs, Montana.
Last August, I organized a trip for a group of "trail riding horse campers." We hauled our horses to Montana from our homes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. From the UP were myself, Doug and Laurie Weesen, Mark and Patti Liana, and Julie Savola. Joining us were our friends Karen Gerken of Eolia, Missouri, and Carolyn Williams and Darlene Young of Macomb, Illinois. Our mounts included Quarter Horses, a Paint Horse, a Tennessee Walking Horse, an Arabian, an Arabian/Appaloosa cross, and two Paso Finos. Eight horses, and what a variety!
I contacted Dave Warwood, an outfitter from Belgrade, Montana, who, in turn, called on ranch owner Lee Zehntner to provide the services we requested. This was a customized trip, not a dude ranch setup.
The Ride In
We first stopped at the Conestoga Campground in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, operated by Fred and Merrianne Steinback. I can't say enough about their hospitality. They allowed us to put up portable pens in an adjacent field so our horses were near our trailers.
Lee met us at the campground and explained the terrain to expect at his ranch (using a topographical map), and the route we'd take. We planned to park our rigs near Lee's property and ride in the last eight miles.
We left the Conestoga Campground with horses and rigs. The Steinbacks graciously allowed us to leave our portable fences in place for our return. Off we went: a convoy of nine folks, eight horses, and six rigs following Lee.
After about 45 miles, we parked in a little field, tacked up, loaded a pickup with our sleeping bags and essentials, and rode our horses to our camping spot. The ride in was just great. Talk about beautiful overlooks! We found ourselves tucked in along the Mongar/Kid Creek, which feeds the Tenderfoot, which feeds the Smith River. There was lots of water and cutthroat trout for all. Don't forget a fishing license and pole!
A Ranch Camp
Once we reached Zehntner Ranch, we found pens for our horses and an old barn for our tack. A wall tent had been set up for cooking. Two wranglers, Mike and Dave, provided guide service, set up tents, and cooked our meals. They were our wood haulers, dishwashers, and guides.
While we "lived" at the ranch, we developed the camp to suit our needs. After a day or so, we added a shower tent and used our solar showers. We also added a second campfire pit and reconfigured the toilet seat in the outhouse.
The days were warm, and the nights were brisk. Every night, we enjoyed a sky full of stars around the campfire. We were visited by a large herd of elk and were thrilled to hear their calls.
Lee provided campfire poetry, roping practice, and served as a guide. He also allowed us to push some of his cattle around. We were impressed with his cur dogs, Chili and Joy, who could tell a cow what to do, how to do it and when!
Every day, we rode out in a different direction, and saw beautiful waterfalls, creeks, and forests. The scenery was beautiful in every direction. Short rides, long rides - you could pick what you preferred.
After our four days of camping along the Mongar Creek, we rode back to our trailers and hauled our horses back to the Conestoga Campground. The horses settled in, our rigs were hooked up to electric, and our laundry was done in time for happy hour!
That night, we joined Lee and his family, along with Mike and Dave, for supper at the Barnwood Restaurant in White Sulphur Springs. We all were more than acquaintances by then, as you'd imagine. We plan to return, and Lee plans to upgrade the accommodations. For more information, contact Lee Zehntner, (406) 547-3632; zcurdog@yahoocom.