Cole Creek Homestead

$2,500,000 Wilsall, MT 162± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

Located about five miles northeast of Wilsall, the Cole Creek Homestead is an amazingly lush 161.92± acre ranch that has the Shields River passing in and out of the property on one boundary and Cole Creek with its wide riparian corridor passing through the center. There are 82.56± acres of meadows with very early water rights. The balance of the property consists of riparian corridors, building sites, a small pond and sub-irrigated meadows. In fact, the property is so well watered naturally that the irrigation rights are almost superfluous. Improvements include a 4,400± square foot remodeled main house, a modest one-bedroom guest house, an historic barn and a storage building. For its size, the Cole Creek Homestead is an incredibly diverse property. The trees and underbrush along the broad stream corridors combine with sub-irrigated pastures, a spring-fed pond, and productive irrigated meadows to create an idyllic homestead with big views of the Crazy Mountains.

Just the Facts

  • LOCATION: Five miles northeast of Wilsall, about 50 minutes west of Bozeman, and 35 minutes north of Livingston
  • ACREAGE: 161.92± acres deeded
  • ACREAGE BREAKDOWN: 82.56± acres irrigated or wild hay. The balance is riparian, sub-irrigated or native range
  • IMPROVEMENTS: 4,400± square foot owner’s residence, bunkhouse, historic barn, storage shed
  • WATER: Early Shields River water rights plus a pond, the Shields River and Cole Creek passing through
  • OPERATION: Very productive small cattle ranch with good hay production and seasonal grazing
  • DESCRIPTION: Lush river bottom ranch retreat with big Crazy Mountain views and easy access to mountains, downhill skiing, Bozeman and Livingston
  • SUMMARY: Idyllic private retreat in upper Shields River Valley

General Description

As one proceeds up the paved Shields River Road from Wilsall and crosses the river a mile or so below the ranch, one is very much on the valley floor in an intimate setting with limited views. The entrance to the ranch takes one from the paved highway across a neighboring ranch on a private easement to a bridge across the Shields River that marks the northeast corner of the property and gives one the feel of absolute privacy. The main building compound lies in the cottonwoods along the river just after crossing the bridge. 

The river passes in and out of the eastern boundary of the property, with the riparian corridor making up the entire boundary. Upstream users cause the river to go underground on part of the ranch during the main irrigation season. So, it is only a seasonal fishery. 

Moving westerly from the building compound, there is a spring creek that stays open year-round and feeds a small pond that has been stocked in the past. One then crosses irrigated meadows before reaching the Cole Creek corridor. Cole Creek runs year-round and supports a well-treed corridor through the center of the property. On the other side of Cole Creek, the property extends across more meadows to a ridge line that clearly delineates the western boundary. The neighboring property to the south is protected by a conservation easement. Once one rises out of the Shields corridor, the immediate views to the east are of the Crazy Mountains, and the westerly views are of the more distant Bridger Mountains. 

Broker's Comments

The Shields Retreat is a rare offering in the highly regarded Upper Shields River Valley. This valley is characterized by large productive ranches in a dramatic mountain setting. It is unusual to find a small offering on the river with an additional live creek passing through. Apart from the shared entrance road, this property is exceptionally private for such a small acreage, and it can only be described as “lush” because of the extensive water that causes it to remain green throughout the growing season, even without irrigation. ”Location” of course, is what creates value in real estate. The Cole Creek Homestead is less than an hour from two of Montana’s most sought-after towns – Bozeman and Livingston. AND less than 30 minutes to an outstanding ski area in Bridger Bowl. 

Learn about the locale


The property is located a short drive across a neighboring ranch from the paved Shields River Road that services the ranches in the upper Shields River valley and eventually dead ends at the national forest. It lies approximately five miles northeast of the small ranching community of Wilsall and a 35-minute drive northeast of Livingston. Bozeman lies approximately 50 minutes southwest of the ranch, with the Bridger Bowl Ski Area located along the way, just 25 minutes from the ranch gate. 

For the more adventurous, Yellowstone National Park is 80 minutes to the south. There is a jet-capable airstrip and FBO near Livingston with commercial air service at Belgrade – just west of Bozeman. 


Wilsall is an historic ranching community and is still proud to be so today. It is what many hope to find in a small Montana town that offers an awareness of a not-too-distant bigger world while treasuring the close personal relationships and the slower pace of life of a traditional ranch community. It boasts around 250 residents, a church, and a variety of businesses, including a bar and at least one eating establishment, a post office, and a gas station. Options for additional amenities, services and supplies are not too distant in Livingston or Bozeman.

The greater area surrounding the ranch includes some large private holdings that are owned by a combination of old-line ranching families and more recent absentee owners who likely care even more than the locals about maintaining the integrity and ranching traditions of this region. The area remains pretty much devoid of small tract development, and the direction has been to generally protect against such an occurrence, particularly along the mountain front by way of open-space conservation easements. That is why this homestead tract is such a rare occurrence in the neighborhood. 

At the same time, this ranch sits on the threshold of larger communities that offer a full line of amenities and services, allowing one to have one leg in an intimate private landscape and the other in a thriving community. Livingston, for example, now boasts a new full hospital. Bozeman, of course, is one of the “hottest” towns in the West – for better or for worse!

Immediately to the east of the ranch are the Crazy Mountains, locally referred to as the “Crazies.” This island mountain range spans roughly 40 miles between the Musselshell and Yellowstone River valleys. With peaks rising to over 11,000 feet, this is a truly spectacular range which includes a considerable amount of above-treeline country dotted with high mountain lakes located in cirques amongst the peaks. This range lies on the far eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains, with the Great Plains spreading to the east. From the ranch, one can access the National Forest at numerous trailheads, one being only a short drive to the east. 


The average elevation of the ranch is 5,350 feet above sea level. The total annual precipitation is estimated to be 16 to 18 inches. Without a doubt, the months spanning from late May through October are nothing short of spectacular. Generally, the heat of the summer rarely rises above the 80’s, and the cool summer nights and low humidity create a near-perfect outdoor living climate.  

Winter generally arrives in the late fall - sometime around Thanksgiving and from that period through Christmas. The short days usually combine with cold temperatures and the onset of snow. January, February, and March will find a full mix of winter weather, including the occasional major winter storm with low temperatures that will drop below zero. While the night-time average in the coldest months is in the single digits, the daytime highs average in the mid-thirties. Standing snow levels at the ranch amount to a couple of feet during a good part of the winter, requiring ranchers in this area to carry a good supply of hay for livestock in the winter months.  

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

161.92± deeded acres. The county assessor has 82.56± acres classified as irrigated. 

Deeded Acres: 162±
Total Leased Acres:
Total Acres: 162±

Additional Information

SPECIAL CONDITIONS: The ranch is subject to a right of first refusal held by the neighboring property owner, which gives them 20 business days to respond. All offers must be written subject to this ROFR.


MAIN HOUSE: This 4,400± square foot home is a classic example of an original log ranch house that has been tastefully remodeled and added onto. One end of the house has a beautiful big kitchen/ living room/ dining room area with a stone fireplace with quality cabinetry and granite countertops. Transitioning from this area, one passes through the original log home, which includes a bedroom and bathroom and two comfortable rooms with fireplaces that serve as libraries or sitting rooms. The other end of the house includes an attractive master suite with large closets, big windows, high-quality fixtures, granite counters, and, of course, great views over the ranch. There is also a large second-floor office over the two-car garage. The house also has a number of outdoor patios, which draw one out to watch the sunset on a summer evening.

BUNKHOUSE: There is a 680± square foot one bedroom/one bathroom shingle-sided house with a tiny kitchen and sitting area. It needs some work but would serve as a guest house.

OTHER STRUCTURES: There is a classic log barn that is crying out to be fixed up and turned into a useful structure. It has a lot of character, and it would be a shame to let it fall into disrepair. There is also a more modern building with a concrete floor that is used primarily for storage. It has served a variety of uses in the past and is also in need of some repairs. 

Water Resources

The ranch has early water rights out of the Shields River. As this is primarily a river bottom property with the river and a live creek passing through, most of the meadows are subject to sub-irrigation, and even in the historic drought year of 2021, when the river actually went dry in places, they remained green throughout the growing season. 

Mineral Rights

Any and all minerals owned or controlled by the seller and appurtenant to these described lands will transfer to a new owner at closing.   


The annual property taxes are approximately $6,200. 

Learn about the recreational amenities

Fishery Resources

The Shields is a well-regarded fishery and harbors one of the few remaining populations of pure native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The river is heavily used for irrigation and can become dewatered through the ranch in the late summer or in a persistent, record-breaking drought as in 2021, although deep pools for fish typically remain. The river flows return in the fall. Cole Creek also is home to some smaller brook trout. 

Wildlife Resources

The Shields River corridor is a magnet for wildlife and birds. The primary larger wildlife species found on the ranch are trophy-quality whitetail deer, black bear, and moose. 

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

The property is quite productive both in terms of grazing and hay production. For an absentee owner, using it as a seasonal or weekend retreat, one can offer the ranch’s agricultural production in exchange for some level of caretaking services. The current owner has leased out the residence to one party and the grazing to another, as he no longer uses the property as his primary residence.

Back to Overview


For financially qualified buyers, the seller has agreed to provide first mortgage financing for 60% of the purchase price. The financing would be a note and first mortgage secured by the property with a 30-year amortization and a balloon payment of the outstanding balance at the end of 5 years. The interest rate would be 4.75%. The seller will also accept cash at closing. 

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