West Fork Ranch is found at the end of the road, in a very private drainage, just seven miles west of Big Timber, MT. The main and west forks of Little Timber Creek converge on the ranch as they flow toward the Yellowstone River, which forms the ranch’s southern boundary. To the northwest, the ranch enjoys dramatic, protected views of the often snow-capped Crazy Mountains. This 2,764± deeded acre ranch is teeming with fish and wildlife, including resident elk through much of the fall season, and ever-present mule deer, whitetail deer, and antelope. Waterfowl, wild turkey, and Hungarian partridge are numerous, and the Yellowstone River and lower Little Timber Creek offer excellent trout fishing. The ranch is exceptionally well equipped for a small cattle operation with a newly renovated historic barn and Temple Grandin-designed cattle facilities. Approximately 300 acres of irrigation, including two new gravity-fed pivots, balance the livestock operation, and create a lush riparian corridor within the surrounding cliffs and benches that is strikingly picturesque.
Just the Facts
- 2,764± deeded acres
- Private, end-of-the-road location seven miles west of the town of Big Timber, MT
- A one-hour drive from Bozeman and 68 miles from the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
- Approximately 1.8 miles of frontage on the Yellowstone River with excellent trout fishing
- Approximately eight miles of Little Timber Creek and two miles of the West Fork of Little Timber Creek
- Trout habitat enhancements on Little Timber Creek
- Approximately 300 acres irrigated from Little Timber Creek, plus newly authorized Yellowstone River water rights
- Two new gravity-fed pivots with additional end-gun and flood irrigation
- Newly rebuilt historic barn with bunk room, bathroom, vet room
- New, Temple Grandin-designed cattle pens & facilities
- New equipment barn
- Reclaimed, historic granary converted to ranch office
- Site of Lewis & Clark camp at confluence of Little Timber Creek and the Yellowstone River
- Excellent elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope hunting
- Hungarian partridge and waterfowl
- Conservation easement with Montana Land Reliance that allows two homes; one site specified, one floating
As one crests the ridge before descending into the private West Fork Ranch valley, the westerly view overlooks the valley towards the Crazy Mountains. The southern end of the ranch fronts on the Yellowstone River for nearly two miles, and the west fork and main fork of Little Timber Creek converge on the ranch and flow into the river. The valley floor of the ranch is productive from an agricultural standpoint, and the beautiful riparian areas along the two water courses are full of wildlife and bird species. These streams course through the heart of the ranch in a “Y” shape, from the wider northern end to the riverfront. Little Timber Creek meanders through the ranch for approximately eight miles and forms the longer fork of the “Y”, while the shorter stream, West Fork, flows for approximately two miles within the confines of the ranch. Surrounding these creek bottoms are rocky hills and ravines with scattered sage, pine and juniper rising from 4,100 feet along the river to 4,800 feet on the ridges overlooking Little Timber Creek. Cottonwood and willow groves are intermingled with irrigated hay meadows lining the creek bottoms and river frontage, making perfect wildlife habitat. Additionally, there is a small pond which is fed by a spring coming out of the hill, and high water out of Little Timber Creek.
A beautiful and very private ranch with outstanding and diverse wildlife, extensive fisheries and awe-inspiring views of the 11,000-foot Crazy Mountains which literally tower over it, the West Fork Ranch is conveniently located and exhibits inspired stewardship and tasteful improvements. In short, the West Fork Ranch is a comfortable and efficient operating ranch with a complete package of recreational, locational, and scenic amenities that could equally serve as a home base for a much larger operation.
Learn about the locale
West Fork Ranch is located seven miles northwest of Big Timber, Montana. From Interstate 90, two miles north on paved State Highway 191 and five miles west on graveled county Featherbed Road takes one to the ranch buildings. The ranch lies at the end of the road.
The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is a 68-mile drive west of the ranch. It is the busiest passenger airport in Montana and sixth busiest in the Pacific Northwest, serving the Greater Yellowstone region. Five airlines offer numerous daily flights. The airlines are Allegiant, Delta/Delta Connection, Alaska/Horizon, Frontier and United/United Express. They provide non-stop service to Phoenix/Mesa, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Houston, Chicago, New York City-LaGuardia, Newark, Salt Lake City, Seattle/Tacoma, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta and Denver. These non-stop flights are subject to the winter and summer schedules of each of the respective airlines. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport also has two first-class FBOs, Yellowstone Jet Center (a Signature facility) and Arlin’s Aircraft, to service private aircraft.
The Billings Logan International Airport is an 88-mile drive east of the ranch and is the second most-active airport in Montana. Its airlines include Allegiant, Delta/Delta Connection, Alaska/Horizon, Cape Air and United/United Express with daily non-stop service to many US and Montana cities. Edwards Jet Center is a high-quality FBO that handles private aircraft.
Private aircraft up to the size of small jets are accommodated approximately ten miles south of the ranch at the Big Timber Airport, and larger jets can land at the Livingston Airport about 35 miles to the west.
West Fork Ranch is located on the north banks of the Yellowstone River in the Yellowstone River Valley. The ranch’s location in the valley places it between the Absaroka and Crazy Mountain ranges ninety miles north of Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Valley continues through Montana almost to the North Dakota border and contains some of Montana’s most productive agricultural land along its entire length. The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states and is as untamed as it was when Captain William Clark headed downstream over 200 years ago.
Big Timber is on the south side of the river seven miles from the ranch. Big Timber exhibits an excess of civic pride and is just “big enough” to support all the services one normally needs - from the gourmet fare at the restored Grand Hotel, to banks, car dealers, grocery store, pharmacy, hospital, art galleries, and restaurants. It is essentially a small agricultural town with a variety of overtones related to fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation as well as being a home base for the platinum/palladium mine that operates at the head of the East Boulder Valley. The residents of the area help to support its excellent restaurants, shops, and galleries that one would not find in most Montana towns of this size. The Grand Hotel on the National Register of Historic Places with its attractive rooms, bar and gourmet restaurant brings many travelers off the highway and acts as a social center for many of the area residents. There are numerous other “watering holes” including the Frostee Freeze where many locals “coffee up” and share news in the morning.
Historically, Big Timber was a cow town, home to multiple generations of ranching families. Due to its aesthetic beauty, multiple recreational opportunities and small-town friendliness, this ranching town has attracted absentee ranch owners - both individuals and families - who have moved to the area to take advantage of the recreational opportunities and to enjoy this dynamic small Montana town.
For a change of pace there is easy access to Livingston (30 minutes) and Bozeman (one hour), both of which offer a wider variety of services and social and cultural amenities. Montana’s largest city and its commercial center, Billings, is located 90 minutes east of the ranch.
Learn more about the property
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
Irrigated hay meadows - 300± acres
Rangeland - 2,463± acres
Farmstead - 1± acres
2,764± Total Deeded Acres
Deeded Acres: 2,764±
Total Acres: 2,764±
In 2007, to protect the open space of Montana and continued agricultural use of this land, the then-current owner placed the ranch in a conservation easement with the Montana Land Reliance. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the owner wanted to specifically protect the Yellowstone cutthroat trout and bald eagles which inhabit the ranch and its waters. Also of significance is the historically documented campsite used by Captain William Clark on his return journey to convene with Merriweather Lewis. Captain Clark and his company camped at the confluence of Little Timber Creek and the Yellowstone River on July 16 and 17, 1806. Although the property may not be subdivided, the conservation easement allows for the building of two residences. A copy of this recorded document is available from the offices of Hall and Hall.
The structural improvements on West Fork Ranch are new construction or have recently been renovated. The 60’ x 200’ calving barn was originally a sheep barn constructed around 1940. It has been fully renovated for cattle with an indoor hydraulic chute connected by a half-circle alleyway to the outdoor pens. The steel pens and cattle-handling facilities are of Temple Grandin design to handle up to 500 cows. The barn has been restored with utmost quality in mind. Using reclaimed materials, the milking parlor, that was once used for milk storage, has been converted to a bunk room with a full bathroom and a tack room that was once a lamb-warming room.
Another attractively restored structure is the ranch office, which was once a granary. The structure was relocated from within the ranch to a central site along Little Timber Creek. Outside the office there is a round corral, and a newly constructed 40’ x 92’ equipment barn with three bays and 14-foot overhead doors. Near the calving barn is another 32’ x 48’ equipment building. Two Valley pivots, new in 2015, are located along the West Fork of Little Timber Creek.
The current owners reside near Big Timber and commute the few miles to the ranch, so there is no primary residence on the ranch. A new owner has free rein to construct a home to meet their personal taste with two permitted residential building rights. The primary envelope is located against the hills on the east side of Little Timber Creek. The other right is for the replacement of an original residential structure, which has been removed. This building envelope may be located anywhere within the permitted building area along the Little Timber Creek drainage.
The ranch holds outstanding water rights. The main source of irrigation water is Little Timber Creek. The ranch has four filed irrigation rights on the creek totaling approximately 542 miner’s inches of overlapping water claims. These claims have priority dates between 1886 and 1902. In addition, the ranch has 132 miner’s inches of overlapping claims from the Yellowstone River, with an enforceable priority date of 1978.
Two new Valley pivots were installed in 2015 along the West Fork of Little Timber Creek. One pivot is five towers, and the other is three towers, irrigating a total of approximately 50 acres. Additional acres are irrigated by high-pressure portable guns. The system is entirely gravity-fed, and could be extended to provide sprinkler irrigation along the lower reaches of Little Timber Creek. The newly acquired Yellowstone River water rights could also be utilized to supplement an expanded sprinkler system.
The remainder of the irrigation water is currently distributed by three main ditches, served by Little Timber Creek, with laterals and gated pipe for flood irrigating.
A complete description of these rights is available through the offices of Hall and Hall, including plans and estimates for expansion of the existing sprinkler irrigation.
Annual property taxes for West Fork Ranch are approximately $3,500.
Learn about the recreational amenities
The riverfront of this ranch is a real asset. In contrast to its more popular upper reaches, this stretch of the Yellowstone River is relatively quiet, seeing few floating fishermen passing by. It is known by locals to have fewer but larger specimens of rainbow and brown trout. Also, because of the braided nature of the river along the ranch’s frontage, several islands have created channels of smaller water making for good wade fishing. Floating the river in a drift boat or raft is a great way to enjoy the Yellowstone, and the river frontage allows one to launch or land on the ranch.
Rainbow and brown trout also inhabit the small streams on the ranch. Joe Urbani of Urbani Fisheries www.urbanifisheries.com completed a stream enhancement project on the lower reaches of Little Timber Creek which has provided some top-notch small stream fishing for both the resident trout and those migrating up from the Yellowstone River to spawn.
West Fork Ranch is a private playground offering a plethora of fish and wildlife. Elk are regular residents on the ranch for most of the year. As many as 200 head have been seen on the ranch, with the highest concentrations from late summer through the fall when the elk utilize the irrigated hay fields to feed. The trophy quality of the bulls is very good, in large part because the elk roam across private lands with little to no public access.
Mule deer inhabit the hills and irrigated meadows in profusion. Whitetail deer generally prefer the lower one to two miles of the Little Timber Creek bottom plus the river frontage and several islands in the river. Pronghorn antelope are typically scattered about the lower reaches of the ranch. The ranch provides opportunities for Pope & Young qualifying animals of all species on a consistent basis.
Ducks and geese are always resident along this river frontage as well as its channels, backwaters and sloughs, with numbers increasing during the fall with the influx of northern migratory birds. Wild turkeys are common on the ranch during the spring season. The most abundant upland game bird species is Hungarian partridge which find the combination of hills, native range, and irrigated meadows to be excellent habitat.
Because of the topographic relief of the property, parts of this four-square-mile ranch are rugged and captivating to the adventurer, whether it be by horseback, foot, or ATV. Additionally, the cattle activities on the ranch during the summer are of great enjoyment with the ability to help move cattle from pasture to pasture, doctor, and ship.
Learn about the general operations
This part of south-central Montana was initially settled by homesteaders of Norwegian descent in the late 1800s. They came with farming in mind, but those that stayed soon adapted to utilize the native rangelands for sheep grazing. Today, raising cattle has become the business of choice for the mixed prairie grass ranges of the area. The current owners have a fall calving operation with about 125 mother cows, which leaves an overabundance of forage for the deer, elk, and antelope populations. Stocking capacity, under normal conditions, is estimated at 175 cow/calf pairs. The cows calve in September, and hay is produced on the ranch. There is potential for leasing the cattle operation back to the current owners if desired.