For Sale

High Divide Ranch

$4,500,000 Dell, MT 3,060± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

High Divide Ranch is a 3,060± deeded acre summer cattle ranch located in a remote, ecologically important high mountain basin in southwest Montana. The High Divide is a place often referred to as the “land in between” two of the West’s iconic landscapes; the Greater Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent marked by Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Straddling the Continental Divide, this area is the headwaters for the great Missouri and Columbia watersheds which flow to opposite oceans. It’s a stronghold for wildlife and a centerpiece for connectivity for arguably the wildest unspoiled lands in the lower 48. It’s also fantastic summer grazing and the ranch will support approximately 250 pairs seasonally, operating on a large tract of deeded land with adjacent federal leases. The ranch also serves well recreationally with outstanding hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding, both on the ranch and into a giant expanse of contiguous forest service lands that cross over the continental divide and into Idaho and its great wilderness. Four custom-built cabins create a comfortable place to stay while a recently renovated historic barn provides stalls for horses, storage for ATV’s and working space. The basin is quiet, with only a small handful of private landowners as neighbors. The mountain scenery is simply spectacular, dominated by the towering Italian Peaks in a Wilderness Study Area and the second tallest mountain in Montana- Eighteen Mile Peak. High Divide Ranch is a solid summer livestock operation with outstanding recreational appeal and is ripe with opportunity for a conservation-minded buyer who values the ecology of this region.

Just the Facts

  • 3,060± deeded acres, 3,123± BLM leased acres
  • Located in a remote hanging valley in SW Montana adjacent to the Idaho state line
  • Summer grazing for 250 cow/calf pairs on deeded and leased ground
  • Comfortable “camp” style living with a set of restack cabins and a large barn all recreated from historic buildings found on-site and crafted by one of the region’s top custom builders
  • Trout pond 
  • Multiple small streams erupt as springs throughout the property hosting pure strain indigenous trout and provide a water resource for livestock, wildlife and irrigation
  • Sweeping mountain views uninterrupted by the solitude of very few landowners in the valley  
  • The basin is of great ecological importance tying three wilderness complexes and two national parks together  
  • Wide variety of local and migratory species of wildlife including elk, antelope and sage grouse
  • Idyllic summer retreat at 7,000-foot base elevation providing perfect summer temperatures and outstanding access into a large and unpopulated reach of the national forest
  • Variety of travel uses from foot, horse, mountain bike, 4wd vehicles and ATV’s 

General Description

Comprised of a main block of deeded land with adjoining federal leases, the High Divide Ranch includes hundreds of acres of sub-irrigated pasture and thousands of acres of native range. Located at the base of the Tendoy Mountains, the ranch adjoins sections of the Beaverhead National Forest and is linked by lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This linkage provides unfettered access to a significant amount of public land and additional recreational opportunities. It has predominately been utilized for summer grazing but has good on-site recreational amenities and is located in an area with notable big game hunting opportunities.

The ranch lies at an elevation of approximately 7,500 feet, flanked by peaks that rise above 10,000 feet. It lies adjacent to the Beaverhead National Forest which is the largest block of national forest land in Montana, encompassing 3,320,000± acres sprawling across eight counties. As mentioned, these lands are central to the connection between three wilderness complexes and two national parks. The ranch is a pocket of deeded lands within this landscape with the Idaho state line visible within the mountain range just two miles distant.  

The area is typically grass and sage rangeland with tall conifer-covered, snow-capped granite peaks. A multitude of lakes are scattered throughout the national forest and countless streams flow out of the basin. Other than a graveled road and electric power, the area likely has not changed since the days the Shoshone lived and hunted in the area.

Broker's Comments

The High Divide Ranch represents an outstanding opportunity to buy a ranch that combines high recreational, agricultural and ecological values in an incredible setting that is ideal for anyone wanting to escape the summer heat from southern climates to a place that is near perfect from late May through October. The ranch is located well away from the mainstream traffic associated with many of the hubs of Montana and offers a buyer a great sense of privacy in a pristine setting. For a conservation minded buyer, the ranch has no deed restrictions which makes it a strong candidate for a conservation easement in a region that is currently targeted as a high priority for many of the conservation organizations in an effort to protect the integrity of the lands that tie three giant ecosystems together. The history runs deep in this country, and with its sparse population, it feels today like it may have a century or more ago. For a discerning buyer looking for a buttoned-up opportunity to escape from it all and own a high-country Montana ranch, the High Divide Ranch is the perfect choice. 

Learn about the locale

Location

The High Divide ranch is located approximately 30 miles west of Dell, Montana in Beaverhead County along the Big Sheep Creek/Medicine Lodge Scenic Byway. This graveled road spans roughly 52 miles end-to-end and was recently improved making it more of an all-weather high-speed byway. Idaho Falls lies approximately 140 miles to the south and Butte lies approximately 121 miles to the north, providing commercial air services. The hub of the region is Dillon, located 59 miles to the north offering a wide range of services including a fully equipped hospital, grocery stores, legal services, fly shops and banking. Dillon is also home to a small college, equipment and auto dealers, as well as a broad selection of saloons and restaurants. The small towns of Lima and Dell lie along Interstate 15 and cumulatively offer a handful of services such as a church, motel, gas, a school and a surprisingly good selection of “home cookin’” restaurants. Dell also features a beacon-lit 7,000-foot paved airstrip with a private fuel depot. The airstrip was originally built to accommodate World War II bombers transferring across the U.S. to the Pacific theatre. It was fully reconstructed and brought up to modern standards about 15 years ago. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Bozeman, Montana and Yellowstone National Park are all within a two-to-three-hour drive.

Locale

The area is comprised of larger traditional livestock operations, with recreational properties coming on the scene as a broader cross-section of landowners have begun to appreciate the area’s amenities with its natural beauty and remoteness, well away from the more traditional recreation areas in Montana and Idaho. 

The Big Sheep Creek/Medicine Lodge Scenic Byway passes through the ranch on its 50-mile loop through the deep canyons and valleys separating the Bitterroot Range, which runs along the Continental Divide, from the Tendoy Mountains. Directly north of the ranch at the north end of the Horse Prairie Valley is Bannack State Park. Bannack was the site of Montana’s first big gold strike and the state’s first Territorial Capitol. Today, it is a well-preserved ghost town available for public enjoyment. 

The upper Big Sheep Valley, of which the High Divide Ranch is a significant part, was inhabited by the Shoshone Indians into the early 1900s, most notably led by Chief Tendoy whose name is immortalized by the mountain range to the northeast. The area was, and still is, rich in game and the Shoshone utilized this area through the summer months for hunting. This is evidenced by the multitude of tipi rings and pictographs on the limestone rock walls and in the many caves that are scattered throughout the area. The pictographs depict scenes of buffalo hunts and many other activities. The main attraction for the Shoshone was the availability and ease of harvesting the bighorn sheep and jackrabbits which inhabit the area.

Climate

Annual precipitation averages 14 to 18 inches, usually coming as heavy winter snowpack which results in lush green summers with ample irrigation water reserves. The precipitation throughout the area varies from high amounts in and around the mountains, to a semi-arid environment on the valley floors which are often snow-free in the winter. The ranch, located at over 7,500 feet in elevation, has a short growing season and boasts comfortable summer temperatures and cool nights. 

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

Deeded Acres: 3,060±

State Leased Acres: 1,200±

BLM Leased Acres: 6,000±

Total Leased Acres: 7,200±

Total Acres: 10,260±

Improvements

The ranch is nicely improved as a summer cow camp or recreational retreat supported by a good set of corrals and quality custom-built cabins crafted by renown builders Yellowstone Traditions.

The cabins were built in 2012 and 2014 using logs salvaged from local homestead era structures and masterfully recreated by one of southwest Montana’s finest custom home builders. The cabins are sited in a dense stand of willowed bottomlands. Simpson Creek, a small, perennial spring-fed creek, flows through the bottomland with a native cutthroat trout population. While newly built, these structures appear to have already been on site for over a century – certainly the logs have. They are truly fitting for this location, which seems to be locked in time.

The first cabin is a 400± square foot single bedroom structure with a living area and full kitchen. Like the others, it is rustic with quality finishes and custom cabinetry accented by modern stainless steel appliances, a wood stove and wood flooring. A full front porch enjoys views of the surrounding landscape. Utilities include phone, power and high-speed internet which was recently brought into the valley.  

Two additional bunk cabins that are 358± square feet and 475± square feet respectively are also constructed from reclaimed log structures found on site and are essentially one-room sleeping cabins with a large closet and a wood stove. Similar in appearance to the others, they have a full front porch and are all connected via a boardwalk.   

A fourth cabin was created of the same look and feel but serves as a bathhouse. This structure includes two identical full bath’s and a laundry room.

An old log barn serviced the ranch near the compound for perhaps a century. Recently, the craftsman at Yellowstone Traditions refurbished and repurposed the barn making it not only attractive, but utilitarian for todays end user of the ranch. The main area now includes four box stalls and a tack room with heavy wood plank flooring which leads out the back into a round pen. The north wing of the barn has its own large entrance door and is used for housing ATV’s and other recreational items. The south wing is similar in appearance with heat and poured concrete floors currently used as a shop but might be used for a variety of things.

Although there is power and internet to the ranch, it is fully capable of off-grid operation with a large new Honda 6500w generator and two functional 500-gallon gas and diesel tanks.

A full set of working/shipping corrals are located near the compound and have been recently upgraded. The ranch is perimeter fenced and cross fenced with the quality of fencing one would expect for a summer grazing operation. It also includes miles of updated interior fencing including attractive jack-leg throughout the area surrounding the compound. The cross fencing allows for moving the cattle from pasture to pasture for effective grazing management. 

Taxes

Taxes are approximately $3,100.00 annually.

Learn about the recreational amenities

Fishery Resources

The fishing throughout the area is also very good. The watershed begins as springs high in the mountains, forming trout-filled lakes which are scattered through the valley. The Sheep Creek drainage collects water from multiple mountain streams, several of which run through the ranch. As mentioned, most of this water disappears underground through fractured rock formations before reemerging down valley. As it resurfaces, the pure and cold water becomes nutrient filled from the limestone formations it is filtered through as a watercress-laden environment perfect for supporting a vibrant population of brown, rainbow and native cutthroat trout.

Big Sheep Creek flows east just below the ranch into the Red Rock River, which in succession forms the Beaverhead, Jefferson and eventually the Missouri River, merging with many of the fabled southwest Montana trout fisheries en route. Within a one-to-two-hour drive, an angler can be wading in some of the finest trout water in the world.  

Morrison Lake is located approximately one mile into the national forest in the shadow of Baldy Mountain. The lake is well-stocked with trout and provides a picture-perfect, high mountain angling adventure.  

Wildlife Resources

Given the nature of where this place is located, a juncture between three giant ecosystems, the recreational pursuits are seemingly boundless.  

The wildlife that inhabits the ranch and surrounding landscape is beyond ordinary both in quantity and diversity. Species such as sage-grouse, which are ever decreasing in population throughout the west, thrive in this basin and are commonly found in large flocks all summer and fall as they return to their leks to raise their broods. It would not be a surprise to see a wolverine roaming through the hills or a pine marten in the higher country. The water moving through the basin is a collection of small flowing springs that ultimately feed a larger system that are the upper tributaries of the Missouri River. Interestingly, the streams become disconnected outside of the high-water season and the trout that reside in these small flowing springs are genetically pure westslope cutthroat. This serves as a genetic bank for that species of fish which is becoming rarer in modern times. This further emphasizes the ecological importance of the High Divide.

Aside from the trivial interests, big game hunting may be the recreational highlight of the ranch. The ranch and surrounding area host almost every species of Rocky Mountain big game as well as a large variety of non-game species. Bighorn sheep, moose, mule deer and black bear are commonly seen and the hunting for elk and antelope is excellent. It is quite common to find elk rutting in the creek bottoms in September and frequently are heard bugling in front of the cabins as they move out of the higher country to gather their harem prior to heading to winter range in late fall. The antelope fawn and spend the summer in greater quantity generally staying around well into fall until the winter snows trigger their migration out to the north. A few resident moose, usually consisting of one or two cows with calves, are generally found on the deeded lands. The habitat is excellent, with tall granite alpine peaks, dark timbered basins, and grassy hillsides descending into multiple willow-lined creek drainages. The timber blends into the grass and sage-covered lower terrain where big game animals cannot resist the temptation of the inviting irrigated ground. There are areas of densely covered giant sage that are critical to the ungulates that fawn and calve there in late spring and early summer.  

A large pond was created near the cabins in recent times. The aquatic life has now developed to the point where it will become stocked with native fish and provide enough natural food to sustain a fishery. This is a notable project and was created within the willow bottoms using groundwater and natural springs. It was professionally crafted in a way that looks totally natural and the spoils from the project were blended into the hills. This is a very attractive feature and an ancillary benefit is that the waterfowl have also discovered it. This is an interesting area for migrating birds in that there is greater diversity in the species that pass through both in spring and fall. There are many interesting species such as long-billed curlew, short eared owl, ferruginous hawk and notably sage-grouse that migrate into the valley and nest along with a myriad of songbirds.  To the east of the ranch is the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge which is a 74,000-acre waterfowl staging area designated to benefit migrating Trumpeter Swans and a “bucket list” destination for ornithologists. Although the waterfowl do not pass through the Big Sheep Basin in similar abundance, there are certain numbers that do, and the newly created pond is a beacon to them being seen from the air throughout the entire basin. It’s generally a quick stop to rest, refuel and move on but it’s interesting that by creating this water feature the owners have helped with the voyage to and from their migration endpoints.  

Recreational Considerations

A vast forest environment flanks the ranch, continuing well over the Continental Divide into Idaho’s Targhee National Forest. For the horseback riding or hiking enthusiast, the remoteness of this region provides little human intrusion and new adventures for backcountry treks or rides over countless miles. This area has also become quite popular with biking enthusiasts. In fact, during the peak summer months it is more common to see a cyclist peddling the byway than a vehicle. Day tripping the 52 mile stretch of road is a pleasant experience. Whether your interest involves climbing tall peaks or packing into a high alpine lake, the area provides tremendous variety and terrain.  

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

Depending upon precipitation, the High Divide Ranch comfortably supports 250 cow/calf pairs for summer grazing with the season typically running from June to November. One can also graze yearlings on the ranch and may expect to run approximately 350 during the same grazing period.  

The ranch has hundreds of acres of sub-irrigated lands that are supplemented by irrigation water and used as pasture. The flood irrigation is gravity-fed and much of the bottomland was hayed in the past and may be again with ditch improvements. There are stock and irrigation water rights out of Indian and Simpson creeks which were recently adjudicated and confirmed by the Montana Water Court.  

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