Top Hat is located along the Ingersoll Creek Road that connects the West Rosebud and the East Rosebud rivers. The ranch sits about five paved miles south of Fishtail and about two miles west of Roscoe. It is also an easy 25-minute drive to Red Lodge. This places it about 78 miles southwest of Billings - Montana’s largest city - and its busy commercial airport. Commercial air service at Billings Logan Airport is provided by American, Delta, United, Horizon, Frontier, and Allegiant airlines. These airlines offer multiple flights to Salt Lake City, Seattle, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver with seasonal non-stops to Dallas and Chicago. Bozeman – 105 miles to the west - offers even better air service.
The “Beartooth Front” bounded by Red Lodge and the Rock Creek Valley on the easterly end, and Nye and the Stillwater River Valley on the westerly end is one of the most dramatically beautiful areas in Montana. The Beartooth Mountains – Montana’s highest - dominate the views to the south, and the foothills and valleys that emanate from this massive granite range tend to be very lush and green, and the rivers and streams are loaded with trout. The Beartooths represent the largest continuous landmass over 10,000 feet in North America.
It is an area that was traditionally home to many very productive small to medium-sized foothill/mountain ranches settled over 130 years ago. The ranches that immediately adjoin the Beartooth Front have more recently been consolidated into some very large operating ranches over the years and have gone into quite strong hands. Certain areas have also seen some smaller tract development as the area has been sought after as a recreational outlet for Billings and Bozeman, as well as for non-residents who came in originally from the northern Midwest on the railroad. They now fly into Billings or Bozeman from throughout the U.S.
As regards the immediately surrounding neighbors, the main neighbor that lies between the Top Hat and the national forest boundary is the Lazy EL Ranch and other McKay family holdings. There are a number of other larger family-owned ranches in the area, some of which (including the Lazy EL) are protected by conservation easements. In fact, over 40,000 acres of alpine ranch land in the immediate vicinity of Top Hat is protected by conservation easements.
Of particular note is a wonderful recent addition to the neighborhood known as Tippet Rise. Tippet Rise describes itself as follows: Tippet Rise Art Center is located in Fishtail, Montana, against the backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains, roughly midway between Billings and Bozeman and north of Yellowstone National Park. Set on a 10,260-acre working sheep and cattle ranch, Tippet Rise hosts classical chamber music and recitals and exhibits large-scale, outdoor sculptures. Tippet Rise celebrates the concept that art, music, architecture, and nature are inextricably linked in the human experience, each making the others more powerful. The art center features musical performance spaces indoors and out, with programs that seek to create memorable experiences for performers and audience members alike. Classical concerts are held on summer weekends in the Olivier Music Barn, or outdoors under the Domo.
Tippet Rise is only four years old and has just begun to weave its magic in the community while already having achieved worldwide recognition for its intimate but exceptional offerings of both music and art. The impact has been palpable to the heart and soul of the area and its residents. The longer-term impact on land values and on the desirability of a region that was already one of the most sought after in the northern Rockies is impossible to determine at this time. Here is a link to their website: https://tippetrise.org/. Hall and Hall is proud to have played a very small part in helping Peter and Cathy Halsted put this remarkable project together. We think it will do much to make this area of Montana a place where increasing numbers of sophisticated individuals and families will want to live.
Many smaller towns of varying sizes have grown up over the years and provide wonderful outlets for the ranches in the area. Roscoe, Fishtail, and Dean are all within a short drive of the ranch and Red Lodge, the flagship town in the Beartooths and one of Montana’s very best, is about a 25-minute drive. Each of these towns has its own character and besides restaurants, shops, and other services, they offer an employment base for employees that can commute to the ranch on a daily basis and do not require on-ranch accommodation.
Essentially this area has a strong ranching base and a clear dedication to maintaining the open space along the mountains. Many of the ranches – particularly those around Top Hat - have – as noted above - conservation easements and it is extremely unusual to find a property for sale along the mountain front. Properties like Top Hat are rare to find and generally are held in strong hands for multiple generations.
In addition to its obvious beauty and recreational appeal, this is, in fact, terrific cattle country, so it has not been difficult to keep the land in agriculture. Socially it is extremely interesting because it boasts such a diversity of residents that includes business and professional people from around the country, local ranchers, tradespeople from the small towns, retirees, and wealthy non-resident ranch owners. They all share a common dedication to maintaining this unique and stimulating community.
Red Lodge offers a touch of international sophistication because it has a long history of being both a gateway to Yellowstone Park and something of a destination ski resort. As stated earlier, it also has tended to attract people from all over the world who have opted to choose a quieter lifestyle than one would find in the more internationally known resort towns. Also, Red Lodge marks the beginning of the Beartooth Highway rising to 11,000 feet above sea level and characterized by Charles Kuralt as “the most beautiful highway in America”. This highway also accesses the Red Lodge International Ski Racing Camp, open in the summer. This area is truly unique in Montana and has its own special character.
The climate is typical of mountain ranches in the 5,500 to 6,000 foot elevation range east of the continental divide. Warm but not excessively hot summer days with cool nights. Winters with good snow cover and temperatures that normally run around freezing during the days and in the teens or below at night. However, the area can also suffer from extremes of cold on one end and, on the other end, the area is subject to Chinook winds which can bring some very warm temperatures up into the 50’s Fahrenheit range during the winter. The fall season is normally pleasant into November, with occasional surprises in both directions from a Labor Day snowstorm that quickly melts to shirtsleeve weather at Thanksgiving. The area is known for good precipitation in the spring and can be subject to heavy, wet snows during March and April. This, of course, contributes to the area’s reputation for having some of the most sought-after summer grazing in the state. Average annual precipitation in this part of the Beartooth Front is 23 inches making it one Montana’s wettest reporting areas.
Malcolm MacKay, once the president of the New York Stock Exchange, came west in the early 1900s and put together what is known as the Lazy EL Ranch through a series of acquisitions with partners whom he subsequently bought out. He is known for having supported some of the early western artists and often hosted Charlie Russell. In fact, Charlie’s wife Nancy lived for a time at Top Hat. He collected Russell paintings and the family is known for having donated one of his early works to the state capitol, where we believe it still hangs. The ranch has long had a reputation as one of Montana’s great ranches and it has remained in the MacKay family to this day under the ownership of the descendants of Malcolm’s two sons Bill and Malcolm and their sister Mary Ellen.
Malcolm’s other son Donald (Pete) MacKay met and fell in love with and married Virginia Bronger, a member of the Bronger family who owned the famous TO Dude Ranch on the East Rosebud River. Around 1950 they asked to split off from the family partnership and start their own ranch. The Top Hat was the result of that division. Pete’s offspring sold the Top Hat to its current owners David and Alexia Leuschen retaining three small private parcels for themselves. Those parcels are leased back to the Top Hat and the family has expressed an interest in continuing this arrangement if the new owner meets their stewardship standards.
Interestingly from a historical point of view, David Leuschen has put together over the last 30 years the 35,000± acre Switchback Ranch that would easily rival the original Lazy EL Ranch and is more than twice the size. It lies to the east of the East Rosebud River. He is selling the Top Hat to consolidate his holdings. However, he would have an interest in continuing to operate the Top Hat cattle business under a lease arrangement should a new owner wish to pursue that option.