Mountain Meadows Guest Ranch
Doubles start at $199 per night per adult, $99 per child, including all meals, activities, and shuttle from Bozeman.
I'D JUST PLUNGED MY FORK into a yolky eggs Benedict when Alex, my seven-year-old breakfast companion, posed a question: "Have you ever seen deer guts? They smell baaaad." In any other setting, this might seem strange. Not so in Mountain Meadows Guest Ranch's corner of Montana, 52 miles south of Bozeman, where elk far outnumber humans and a curious young traveler can collect a lifetime's worth of gross-out facts in a single day.
Alex had spent the previous afternoon poking through buffalo turds while exploring Yellowstone National Park, whose northern boundary is 18 miles from the lodge. Park excursions, horseback riding, mountain biking, and Class II-IV rafting on the Gallatin River quickly fill guests' days (in winter you can snowshoe, and downhill and cross-country ski), but home base is equally appealing. I got a little kick out of the cowboy-chic decorations, like the carved bear lamps that light up the seven-bedroom lodge, but I got an even bigger kick out of the view of the Spanish Peaks through the giant picture windows.
After breakfast, Alex and I took turns distracting the pet goat, Charlie, so a shy llama could eat from our hands. "He'll need a nap after all these cookies," Alex said. Turns out we did, too.