The Horse Prairie Ranch is the epitome of the West, the classic Montana ranch -- expansive, private, mountainous, and full of horses, cattle, wildlife, and cowboy and Indian history. This is one of Montana’s historic reputation ranches, acclaimed by USA Today as one of the "10 Best Places to be a Cowboy". It is over 30,000 acres of combined deeded and leased lands that lie in one private block in a mountain valley surrounded by other large cattle ranches, forested mountains, and thousands and thousands of acres of federal lands. Aspen-lined streams course through the ranch for miles, from the adjoining evergreen forest through the ranch’s grass, sage, and irrigated hay lands. Horses, cattle, elk, deer, and antelope dot the ranch. The Big Sky stretches for 30 miles to the tops of surrounding mountain ranges and night reveals only a handful of neighboring lights under a canopy of brilliant stars. Privacy is ensured, yet the cow town center of southwest Montana is within 40 minutes.
Just the Facts
- Just 35 miles (40 minutes) southwest of Dillon
- Two commercial airports each approximately one hour and forty-five minutes away
- Total ranch land of 30,947± acres - 7,707± acres deeded including 1,200± acres of flood and sub-irrigated hay and pasture with an additional 23,240± adjoining leased acres on USFS, BLM, and State land
- 600 cow-calf operation (plus replacement heifers, bulls, and horses)
- Building improvements include four owner’s homes, a lodge, two cabins, manager’s and hired man’s home, two horse barns, shops, equipment storage sheds, calving barns, cattle scale, corrals, and gates
- Two-and-a-half-acre trout stocked lake and spawning creek
- Painter Creek and Browns Creek each run through the ranch for approximately four miles
- Ranch includes 68 water rights, with irrigation water rights dating to 1865
- Elk, antelope, mule and whitetail deer, moose, and sage grouse
- Gravel airplane landing strip
The Horse Prairie Ranch is huge, private, scenic, and productive. It operates on 30,947± acres spanning 36 square miles -- nine miles long and four miles wide. It comprises its own visually private valley that is at the head of the stream and end of the road. And it is almost entirely surrounded by public lands. The Horse Prairie Ranch is unique in its setting, with headquarters located in the valley, in the center of the ranch, and the private owner and guest cabins located next to USFS lands leased by the ranch.
The Horse Prairie Ranch is in southwestern Montana in the Horse Prairie Valley 35 miles (40 minutes) southwest of Dillon. The Butte and Idaho Falls commercial airports are each approximately one hour and forty-five minutes from the ranch.
Dillon offers a complete range of services, including a hospital, numerous banks, grocers, restaurants, legal services, and even a Patagonia outlet store. Dillon is also a college town, with a jet-capable airport, several good “watering holes”, equipment dealers, and fly fishing stores.
Southwestern Montana is a land of broad river valleys separated by islands of forested mountain ranges. There is documented evidence that its natural abundance has supported native peoples for 12,000 years. The landscape has changed little over the years. Horse Prairie Valley is a large undeveloped mountain valley with tremendous privacy and a feeling of expansiveness. There are only a handful of ranch owners in the entire valley, each owning thousands of acres. Lewis & Clark’s expedition west gave this valley its name as this is where Sacagawea obtained horses from her tribe to ascend the Great Divide. The expedition opened this area for western civilization. In the early 1800s, trappers found fortune in its animal riches. During the 1860s, prospectors discovered its wealth in gold. Pioneer settlers quickly discovered its capacity to raise livestock to feed miners and subsequent settlers.
Ranching dominates the economy in this region, as it has for generations. Beaverhead County is home to more cattle than any other county in the state. However, outdoor recreational activity has become another important economic industry. Starting within 30 minutes of the ranch lie legendary trout streams: the Beaverhead, Madison, Ruby, Big Hole, and Jefferson rivers. These have long been destinations for dedicated anglers. The explosion of interest in fly fishing in recent decades has brought a surge of activity and many new businesses to the area.
Big game hunting is another important focus. Elk, moose, mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope, and mountain lion are all found on the ranch.
Dillon is the largest city in the region, with a population of close to 4,000 people. It is a classic cowboy town and the hub of this corner of Montana. It serves as an agricultural and educational center for a trade area spanning more than 15,000 square miles. It is home to the Western Montana College campus of the University of Montana, three full-service fly fishing stores, and a Patagonia Outlet – not to fail to mention a full complement of banks, stores, restaurants, and equipment dealers.
The climate is considered relatively mild for Montana, with an average precipitation in the valley of 12 to 14 inches. This is not heavy snow country, which is probably why the Shoshone, Bannock, and Flathead tribes all used the region before the arrival of Europeans. Average high temperatures reach 80 degrees in the summer and 28 degrees during the winter months. The elevation of the ranch ranges from a base elevation of 6,256 feet to 8,263 feet in the upper reaches. Typical of Montana, daily temperatures can have a huge fluctuation and, although the winter snow can build substantially at times, it tends to readily dissipate through all the winter months. The humidity levels are always low, providing a comfortable, dry semi-arid environment.
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
The Horse Prairie Ranch is comprised of a combination of deeded, state, national forest and BLM (Bureau of Land management) lands.
Deeded Acreage - 7,707± acres
- 550± acres flood and sub-irrigated hay ground
- 7,157± acres native range
Leased Acreage - 23,240± acres (1,927 total AUMs)
- 10,000± acres BLM
- Four private allotments adjoining the ranch
- 339 cattle pairs and 1,207 AUMs of grazing
- 12,000± acres USFS
- One private allotment adjoining the ranch
- 175 cattle pairs and 450 AUMs of grazing
- 1,240± acres MT State Leases
- Three private leases
- 270 AUMs of grazing
The Horse Prairie Ranch has an ideal combination of working ranch and recreational improvements. These are in four areas of the ranch based on the function they perform. The lower set of improvements is at the livestock headquarters near the corrals and known as Ranch HQ. A central set of improvements is clustered around a lake and aspen grove and known as Lakeside. The buildings on the upper end of the ranch are at the edge of the national forest and are known as the Forest Lodge. The buildings on the southeastern end of the ranch are affectionately known after the last member of the historic owner-family, Ruby’s.
A complex of livestock working facilities including:
- Manager's log home and wood-framed hired person's home
- Historic horse barn
- Two shops, three equipment storage sheds, two calving barns, cattle scale
- Lodgepole pine rail working corrals, gates, pens, and miles of jack-leg fences
A fully landscaped complex of cabins and barn located along Painter Creek and the fishing lake consisting of:
- Creekside Lodge gathering place with guest loft and commercial kitchen
- Lakeview, Aspenview, Elkview and Lewis and Clark cabin each accommodating one to eight guests (two are small and three larger with kitchens
- Horse barn, riding arena, and three-car garage
- Two-and-a-half acre trout stocked lake and spawning creek
A secluded getaway set along Browns Creek at the edge of the aspen and fir forests:
- Large log two-story lodge
- Storage shed and two homestead cabins
- Gravel airplane landing strip
The ranch is very well watered for wildlife, cattle, and fish. Painter and Browns Creek each run through the ranch for four miles. There are developed springs and 15 wells. The irrigation water rights are among the oldest in Montana, dating back to 1865, and are at the head of the creeks, thereby being first in line. There are 68 water rights.
Real property taxes for 2021 were approximately $21,462.
The Horse Prairie Ranch is the winter home of 200-300 elk. On a year-round basis, the ranch is home to 100+ antelope, mule, and white tail deer, as well as numerous moose. Browns and Painter Creek each course through the ranch for four miles. These contain Montana’s purest strain of westslope cutthroat trout, as does the two-and-a-half acre lake and spawning stream.
Horse pastures, paddocks, stalls, and barns provide an ideal base to explore this ranch horseback, which spans nine miles in length and four miles in width. Cross country skiing, hiking, and biking complete the palate of non-motorized pursuits. Snowmobiles, ATVs, and motorcycles are also ready ways to enjoy the ranch and miles of adjoining public lands.
The Horse Prairie Ranch is an award-winning year-round cow/calf operation. It has a very significant 600 cow-calf carrying capacity. These beeves are grazed, calved, weighed, and shipped on the ranch’s 30,000± acres. These are divided into 50 pastures and just under 600 acres are irrigated haylands, currently being grazed. The ranch has until recently and could easily again operate a commercial guest operation. The Lakeside housing is ideal for it, complete with lodge, barn, and five guest cabins. The unique real working ranch experience is appreciated by family and guests. Gentle rolling lands make horse riding for sight seeing or gathering cattle perfectly rider friendly. Elk, deer, and antelope hunting is integrated into the ranch and can also be done on adjoining public lands.
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