For Sale

Top Hat Ranch

$11,000,000 Fishtail, MT 3,256± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

Top Hat is one of the most stunningly beautiful mountain ranches under the towering Beartooth Front. The Front is part of the dramatic Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness Area that runs from Red Lodge to Gardiner and protects the northern side of Yellowstone National Park. This 4,000± acre ranch, which includes a 747± acre adjacent private grazing lease, consists of a main north-south valley that encompasses Ingersoll Creek for over three lineal miles from where it flows into the West Rosebud River. The ranch includes frontage on the West Rosebud River for nearly one mile, and it spills over the divide in the other direction to encompass the upper reaches of the Antelope Creek Valley, which flows into the East Rosebud River. The timbered ridges that form the valley offer a pleasing contrast to the productive meadows and protection for the herds of over 600 elk which make their home on the ranch. Live springs and the creek assure good natural water for livestock. The buildings consist of an appealing and historic owner’s home, a beautiful old log guest house, and two very attractive houses for staff, as well as excellent outbuildings and livestock facilities.

Just the Facts

  • Location: Two miles west of Roscoe at the base of the Beartooth Mountains and 78 miles southwest of Billings.
  • Acreage: 4,000± (includes 747± acres of a private grazing lease).
  • Terrain: Very lush and green main valley with adjacent timbered and open foothills and high plateaus. 
  • Improvements: Attractive owner’s home, guest house, managers house, staff house, and barn/shop complex.  
  • Water: Ponds, springs, live creek, and West Rosebud River. 
  • Operation: Owner estimates 300 mother cows year-round with hay provided from outside sources. 
  • Access: Just off the paved highway on a good, graveled county road.
  • Views: Dramatic! Of the Beartooth Front – Montana’s highest mountains.
  • Wildlife: Extensive big game -elk and deer. Quality elk hunting ranch.  
  • Summary: Idyllic small ranch and family retreat in an exceptionally appealing neighborhood. 

General Description

The easiest access to Top Hat is a left turn off the paved highway south of Fishtail, where one immediately crosses the West Rosebud River and enters the ranch. There is about one mile of deeded access to the river for fishing at this point. The Ingersoll Creek valley opens up as one follows the county road through the ranch. After about a mile, the road veers away from the main creek and the ranch opens up to the south into an expansive valley dominated by the Beartooth Front that rises dramatically above it. As one approaches the headquarters compound, a private road turns up to the east and climbs up to a classic setting under a high ridge where the owner’s home is in a small basin with views that look to the south up the Ingersoll Creek valley to the mountains. This private view encompasses the ranch and, of course, the high mountain wilderness that dominates the southern skyline. In addition to the lovely Ingersoll Creek valley, the ranch runs further to the east where it encompasses the headwaters of Antelope Creek. 

The other equally beautiful access to the ranch is directly out of the village of Roscoe, just two miles up the Ingersoll Creek Road. This access brings one down into the ranch from the divide between the East and West Rosebud valleys. Regardless of which direction one enters the ranch, it is an undeniably spectacular and very private valley setting under the Beartooth Front.

Broker's Comments

Top Hat is a comfortably sized and well balanced Beartooth Front ranch set in a beautiful valley with high peaks dominating the horizon. Excellent wildlife and fishing combined with a small cattle operation and attractive and complete improvements complete a perfect package in a great neighborhood. 

Learn about the locale

Location

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. 

Locale

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. 

Climate

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. 

Aesthetic Considerations

Top Hat is one of the classic reputation Beartooth Front ranches featuring big open green valleys in the spring and summer and good snow cover in the winter. Wildlife winters on the high ridges that blow open and the views of the towering Beartooths are always front and center. It is hard to argue that the Top Hat isn’t one of the most beautiful of these Beartooth Front ranches.

History

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. 

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

The ranch consists of approximately 3,256 deeded acres and 747± acres of land leased privately for grazing purposes from the family who originally owned the Top Hat. It is land that they retained and has always been a part of the ranch. Of the deeded lands, the county assesses around 97 acres as timber, 147 as hay land, and the balance as grazing land or building sites. The total acreage comes to just over 4,000 acres. 

Deeded Acres: 3,256±
Total Acres: 3,256±

Additional Information

CONSERVATION EASEMENT

The Top Hat Ranch is covered by 2 conservation easements. However, the property already has 4 houses on it that could be upgraded and there is the ability to put in two additional building compounds. These are user friendly conservation easements with the Montana Land Reliance

Improvements

The Top Hat Ranch features an attractive, historic, nicely furnished owner’s log home and guest house located some distance from the headquarters compound. There are two staff houses, one of which is in the headquarters compound, plus good corrals, a barn and other functional outbuildings that provide all the ranch’s basic needs. They are in good condition and ready for immediate occupancy. The primary structures can be described as follows:

OWNER’S HOME: Located in a secluded basin above the headquarters, the historic owner’s log home looks up the Ingersoll Creek Valley to the Beartooth Mountain Front - a stunning site. The home was moved from the Lazy EL headquarters by Pete MacKay back when the Top Hat was split off. It is attractively furnished with modern appliances and comfortable western furniture. On the main floor there is a master suite with bathroom and two additional bedrooms that share a bathroom. The main floor also has a kitchen, comfortable living room and dining room as well as a game room. There are two additional bedrooms and two bathrooms plus a laundry room and mechanical room in the lower level. This is an older partial log home that has been extensively remodeled by the current owners. It also has a detached oversized two car garage and a heated outdoor swimming pool. 

GUEST HOUSE: This appealing double log cabin linked by a breezeway contains two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a seating area with a kitchenette. It is located close to the creek below the headquarters complex with commanding views of the Beartooths and the Frying Pan Basin.

MANAGER’S HOUSE: Tucked away below the owner’s house, this is a modern home that has been sided with old wood and has a rusted steel roof. It has a traditional floor plan with four bedrooms and three bathrooms along with a kitchen, dining area and living room. It also has a detached one car garage.

STAFF HOUSE: Located in the headquarters compound, this is a modest two bedroom/two bathroom home with an unfinished basement. Known as the Parker House, this was an original Sears Roebuck mail order house. 

HEADQUARTERS COMPOUND: In addition to the staff house, the compound includes a long shed that has a partial concrete floor, a barn with stalls, and a steel corral system with certified livestock scales. 

FURNISHINGS: The owner’s home and guest house are beautifully and comfortably furnished, and the ranch is offered substantially furnished to the degree that the furnishings are owned by sellers. The owners will remove personal effects, some art,and furniture as well as some historic pieces.

Water Resources

Top Hat fronts for nearly a mile on the West Rosebud River which offers good fly fishing. Ingersoll Creek passes through the middle of the ranch from one end to the other. There are over 140 acres that are classified as meadows although the ranch does not currently do any irrigation. All of the meadows are currently grazed. Some of them have been hayed in the past. The ranch lies in a high precipitation area allowing for good hay crops without irrigation. There are a number of ponds and the ranch has filings on over a dozen springs and multiple wells

Mineral Rights

All minerals appurtenant to the property and owned by the current owners will be conveyed to the buyer.

Learn about the recreational amenities

Wildlife Resources

The Top Hat definitely checks all the boxes when it comes to fishing and wildlife. Good sized elk herds of up to 600 are seen regularly and compete for grazing with the livestock. Mule and Whitetail deer are present in good numbers, as well. 

This area is blessed with incredible resources that are not as broadly recognized by comparison to other areas of the state. Fishing in the East and West Rosebud Rivers, the Stillwater River and the Yellowstone River are all outstanding. Access into the Beartooths up the Rosebud and Stillwater drainages takes one into some of the most dramatic wilderness country in the lower 48. Montana’s highest peaks are just above the ranch. Top Hat stands on its own as a beautiful place to enjoy its own wildlife and fishery but, at the same time, it sits in the middle of some amazing natural resources.  

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

Top Hat has always been well known as a reputation local ranch. It is currently run as part of a much larger operation that would be thrilled to lease it back from a new owner. They currently conservatively stock it to run around 235 mother cows and they bring in hay to carry them through the winter. The owner estimates that they could run up to 300 pair under this scenario. They have also run up to 600 yearlings through the grazing season. It is easy to operate and cattle do very well because of its extensive water resources and lush pastures. 

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