Located about five miles northeast of Wilsall, the Shields Retreat is an amazingly lush 409± acre ranch that has the Shields River passing through its center, as well as Cole Creek, which parallels the river on one side, and Porcupine Creek that enters the ranch on its northeasterly boundary and flows into the river just downstream of the ranch. There are approximately 320 acres of meadows which either have water rights or are sub-irrigated and produce both excellent grazing and 225± tons of hay. Improvements are modest and include a home, a horse barn, a Quonset and corrals, and a small feed yard. Given its location on the river and creeks with big views of the Crazy Mountains, good fishing, and prolific wildlife, it is best suited for a private retreat that will offer some income from its considerable agricultural attributes.
Just the Facts
- LOCATION: Five miles northeast of Wilsall about 50 minutes west of Bozeman and 35 minutes north of Livingston
- ACREAGE: 409± acres deeded
- ACREAGE BREAKDOWN: 320± acres irrigated or sub-irrigated the balance is riparian or native range
- IMPROVEMENTS: Caretaker’s home, barn, Quonset, equipment storage building, corrals, and feed yard
- WATER: Shields River water rights plus a mile of the river passing through and two live creeks
- OPERATION: Productive small cattle ranch with good hay production
- 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
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. As one reaches the lower end of the ranch and follows the ranch boundary on one’s left, the valley opens up, and one becomes aware of the Crazy Mountains rising dramatically to the east and the more distant views of the Bridger Mountains to the west.
The actual entrance to the ranch is on its southeast corner. At this point, one leaves the highway and drops down across Porcupine Creek, which is making its way to its confluence with the Shields River. Then one pops up over a rise and drops down to where the buildings are tucked into a bend in the river. The ranch’s main meadows lie across the river and consist of an appealing patchwork of meadows which are traversed by Cole Creek and divided by aspen groves and run all the way to a prominent ridge that forms the western boundary of the property. There are numerous home sites in this area that would take advantage of the river, Cole Creek, and the dramatic views across the ranch to the Crazy Mountains.
The Shields Retreat is a rare offering in the highly regarded Upper Shields River Valley. This is a valley characterized by large productive ranches in a dramatic mountain setting. It is unusual to find a small offering on the river with two additional live creeks 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 Shields Retreat 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.
The ranch is located 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 services at Belgrade – just west of Bozeman. The property is located adjacent to the paved Shields River Road that services the ranches in the valley and eventually dead ends at the national forest.
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 the 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 larger private holdings that are owned by a combination of old-line ranching families and more recent absentee owners that 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. At the same time, this ranch sits on the threshold of larger communities with 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.
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 average 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.
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
409± deeded acres (320± subject to irrigation or sub-irrigation). The county assessor has 246.485 acres classified as irrigated.
The improvements are modest. They include a two-bedroom/ two-bathroom caretaker’s house with a loft that is currently rented. There is a multi-purpose wooden barn with a metal roof and a full concrete floor. It has a high door to accommodate machinery, a heated tack room, and an open area for working on machinery and equipment. There is also a Quonset building with water and electricity that is generally used for calving. There is a shed with sliding doors and a metal roof used for equipment storage. There is also a set of corrals and a small feed yard with metal bunks. These buildings are in average to good condition and allow one to run a small cattle ranch.
The ranch has early and late water rights out of the Shields River. As this is primarily a river bottom property with the river and two live creeks 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, and they remained green through the growing season.
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 $3,700.
The Shields is a well-regarded fishery and harbors one of the few remaining pure populations of the 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.
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.
The ranch is currently being leased out to a local rancher. It is best utilized for summer grazing, and, in the past, the ranch has put up around 225 tons of good grass hay, which provides a different source of income from grazing. Often one can offer the ranch’s agricultural production in exchange for caretaking services should the new owner wish to use it as a private seasonal retreat. It is also well set up for a small cattle operation should one want to run it in that manner.
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