We relaxed on the wide front porch and watched as the gentle rain fell over the mist-covered pond with the mountains of Northwest Montana stretching far across the horizon. We just arrived at Dancing Spirit Ranch and the rain didn’t dampen my soaring spirits one bit.
I took a deep breath and just felt happy. Happy to be traveling again and happy to have arrived in this glorious place in one of my favorite states.
We all have a place or a setting that makes the stress melt away. For me that’s a water or mountain view. Now, I had both.
We spent a week in Whitefish, Montana, where we explored the shops and dined in fantastic restaurants that line the downtown streets, attended a rodeo and a nearby whitewater festival and hiked and biked in Glacier National Park.
Dancing Spirit Ranch was the perfect place for access to all of those activities, while offering comfortable accommodations, a gorgeous setting with spectacular scenery, fantastic meals and a positive energy that added to our sense of wellbeing.
As Robin Gardner, one of the co-founders of Dancing Spirit told us, “Whenever I come on this property it feels like a giant exhale, with a softening of the shoulders – it’s very relaxing. That is the exact sensation is what I wanted to share by opening Dancing Spirit Ranch.”
Please view our video for more interviews and photos.
“A Powerful Kind of Energy”
I don’t understand chakras or what the point of a reiki massage is. But I do believe in the power of positive energy that emanates both from people and from the landscape. I believe people have the choice to release toxic, negative energy or to stay focused on the positive.
The owners of Dancing Spirit Ranch believe a special energy flows through the Ranch. We both felt that positive energy, augmented by the surrounding beauty and the people we met there. Katherine and Gordon Cross have owned the 300+ acre property for decades. Their daughter Robin Gardner grew up here, and with her husband, Tyler Gardner, transformed it into the guest ranch in 2017.
The most unique aspect of the Ranch are the large stone structures that dot the gently rolling, forested landscape, each one unique.
Katherine and Gordon worked with a spiritual advisor and a local stone mason to create these magnificent structures, combining his love of Scotland, where his ancestors are from, with her passion for crystals and the spiritual world, to create an aura of magic.
“We became enamored with the stones during trips to Ireland, Scotland and Wales,” Gordon says. “There is such a powerful kind of energy about them that when we started on this project that was always going to be a component. The main one is The Tower and we built it with a door that you have to stoop down to get in and it faces the sunrise on winter solstice.”
We visited several of those stone structures where ceremonies and yoga classes are sometimes held. The Tower of Power is particularly inspiring, a circular stone wall that starts below the surface with seven towers that soar to the sky. A small firepit is built into one of the towers.
I certainly felt the power of the stones. If you’re an “Outlander” fan you may be by an urge to re-enact the intro by swirling around the towering structures in a floaty dress holding a paper candle.
A circle of stones held together by gravity alone, the Moongate may be the most photographed of the stones. It is aligned with the entrance to the Secret Garden across the pond. While it wasn’t quite in full bloom, the Secret Garden was still so lovely and inviting, all lush greenery and paths that invite you to stroll along them.
Our tour of the property with Tyler in a golf cart also included seeing the meditation cabin, labyrinth, the Whitefish River, and a large garden with a hobbit house and tower for entertaining that was nearing completion during our visit.
By now you’ve gotten the idea that this is not your ordinary ride-horses, rope-cows kind of ranch. While you may not see cowboys riding horses, you may encounter deer, turkey, bear and the friendly dogs belonging to staff members.
No, Dancing Spirit is more the kind of place where people come for yoga retreats, for skiing in the winter and just to relax, reconnect and recharge.
Activities at Dancing Spirit Ranch
Guests can arrange for yoga classes, which are held in The Schoolhouse, as well as massage treatments and acupuncture sessions, offered in a room in The Bunkhouse.
This is Montana, so bears were here first. During our tour, Tyler pointed out where bears are often sighted, but they remained hidden during our stay. Tyler advised us to take bear spray with us whenever we wandered and there was a can in our cottage available for our use — a nice amenity for guests.
Otherwise, you can find bear spray in Whitefish grocery and drug stores for under $50. You can’t take it on an airplane with you – not that I’d need it back home in Atlanta. We were lucky enough to spot three horned owls hanging out in one of the trees.
Accommodations on the Ranch
The Ranch can accommodate a total of 24 guests in The Bunkhouse, The Cedar House and the Little White House.
Couples and families are welcome year-round, but large groups often rent the entire ranch during the peak season from June 1 to September 30. December to March is ski season and the Ranch offers some ski packages. If you love cold weather and snow, then consider a winter visit. It snows in Northwest Montana for several months a year. As Tyler said, “If you don’t like cold, you don’t live in Montana.”
“September is a great time to visit as the crowds are gone,” Tyler advised. We would vote for May as an optimal time. Both times we’ve been to Montana have been in late May when the weather is gorgeous and the crowds have not yet arrived.
The Little White House
We stayed in The Little White House, an adorable cottage perfect for 1-2 people. Originally built to house the schoolmarm when the property was a sawmill, the home was relocated and sits right by the 14-acre pond. A kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom were added. The front porch, with spectacular views, was extended.
The furnishings were comfortable and the kitchenette had everything we needed to store a few groceries in the fridge and heat up leftovers in the microwave. We also had a two-burner stove, which we used to cook eggs one morning, a coffeemaker and tea and coffee.
One of my favorite things to do was to lie in bed in the mornings and enjoy the mountain views. First, we took down the half curtains hung on tensions rods. I felt a little guilty but apparently, we weren’t the first to do so. “Everybody does that,” Tyler told us.
Housed in a converted stable, The Bunkhouse has seven bedrooms, four bathrooms and three lounge areas. As Tyler was showing us the space, I immediately imagined coming here with a bunch of girlfriends or several other couples.
It’s so cozy feeling and I could just picture people floating from room to room to visit, kind of like an upscale, grown-up version of your college dorm.
The rooms are decorated in an upscale ranch style, with wood-paneled walls, white bedspreads adorned with colorful Pendleton blankets.
The Cedar House
Perfect for a family or a small group of friends, The Cedar House has four bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a full kitchen. My favorite part is the living room with large windows on three sides, fireplace and beautiful views.
Dining, Lounging on the Ranch
Other than The Cedar House, the other buildings on the Ranch are arranged in a small rectangle, creating a village feel and making it convenient to walk between them.
The original structure of The Barn has been on the Ranch for more than 100 years. It was moved to its current location and expanded with two wings in 2012, with a large kitchen on one side and a dining area on the other. All meals at the Ranch are served here.
The central room has a large seating area and a huge fireplace with two sofas flanking it. There’s another sitting area in the upstairs library.
Meals at the Ranch are customized and worked out with the guests according to their needs. We had breakfast one day and two dinners, enough to vouch for the variety and quality of the food.
Taylor and Ananda are the cooking wizards at the Ranch and we got to meet them both. Taylor cooked us a delicious dinner of lamb chops our first night, and then was headed on a camping trip so we spent the rest of the time enjoying Executive Chef Ananda Johnson’s delicious cooking and delightful conversation.
Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Ananda has that enjoyment of life I’ve often encountered from people from that state, and exudes warmth, joy and a passion for feeding people healthy food. Although it’s not her given name, she goes by Ananda, which she chose as her yogi name as it means goddess of blissful happiness.
The name suits her well. “I listen to my soul and it says to settle in, settle in with nature, settle in with connection, settle in with our truth,” she says. “Our truth is to feel in balance with all that is around us and what is happening.”
We dined on delicious smoothie bowls, egg sandwiches with kiwi for breakfast, lamb chops and veggies served over quinoa for dinner one night. For breakfast our last day, Ananda gave us some ginger banana bread and the most delicious ginger spread to enjoy as we packed to leave.
After dinner our last night I grabbed a sweater and we retreated to the firepit where Ananda treated us to her playing on the drums, with me accompanying her briefly, doing my best to maintain the beats she had taught me. We drank wine, made S’mores and enjoyed being outdoors in Big Sky Country, millions of stars twinkling above.
While not original to the ranch, The Schoolhouse was built in the tradition of one-room schoolhouses in the area. Events, yoga classes, kids’ camps and workshops are held here. There’s even a huge gong inside to alert people when it’s time to gather.
Location of the Ranch
While we felt completely remote in our little corner of the Ranch, we were just a few minutes from grocery stores and downtown Whitefish, which boasts a charming, walkable downtown filled with local shops, art galleries and restaurants.
We were also just about 30 minutes from the west entrance to Glacier National Park, where we went twice. Tyler and Robin were helpful in giving us tips on when to go, where to hike and told us about being able to ride bikes on the Going-to-the-Sun Road before it was fully open. Their tips and advice were invaluable.
Whitefish Mountain Resort is also a short drive away, where summer activities include a mountain slide, hiking and riding the ski lifts and gondolas. Although when we went and were just about the purchase tickets for the ski lift, the power to the Resort went out. Several people were stuck on the ski lifts until they briefly got it restarted with a generator. We congratulated ourselves on our fortunate timing.
Getting Blissed Out
Part of the fun of owning Dancing Spirit Ranch for Robin is witnessing the change guests go through after visiting.
“It’s amazing to watch our guests come here and be tightly strung and wound up and within a couple of days they leave their cell phones in their rooms, are blissed out and relaxed,” she says. “They are able to enjoy the small things, from sitting with the sun on their face to watching the sun rise, enjoying a cup of coffee and reconnecting with themselves and nature and allowing themselves to slow down. It’s pretty special to witness. We set our intention that whoever needed to come would come. And that’s pretty much what has happened.”
Ananda echoed the sentiment when she shared an excerpt of a poem by 13th century poet Jalaluddin Rumi with us while we were visiting the garden. You can see her recite it in our video above:
Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Come, come, whoever you are
This isn’t a caravan of despair
It doesn’t matter if you’ve broken your vows a thousand times before
Come, yet again, come, come
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief