Home Reviews Relax, Recharge, Reconnect at Montana’s Dancing Spirit Ranch

Relax, Recharge, Reconnect at Montana’s Dancing Spirit Ranch

by Jan Schroder
firepit at dancing spirit ranch montana

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”

children running at Tower of Power at Dancing Spirit Ranch
The Tower of Power is one of many stone structures at Dancing Spirit Ranch.

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.

woman standing on stones during yoga class
Dancing Spirit is a popular place for yoga retreats.

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.

circular stone arch overlooking pond in Montana
The Moongate, with stones held together by gravity alone.

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.

secret garden at Dancing Spirit Ranch
The Secret Garden.

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.

illustrated map of Dancing Spirit Ranch
An illustrated map of the property.

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.

meditation hut with mountains in background
The Meditation Hut.

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

couple and dog canoeing on pond
Canoeing on the pond.

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 Little White House exterior at Dancing Spirit Ranch
The Little White House, our home at Dancing Spirit 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

living room of The Little White House
Living area of 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.

bedroom of the little white house at Dancing Spirit Ranch
Our bedroom with a view of the mountains.

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.

The Bunkhouse

The exterior of the Bunkhouse at Dancing spirit ranch
The Bunkhouse, which sleeps 14.

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.

bedroom of the bunkhouse
One of the seven bedrooms in The Bunkhouse.

The Cedar House

living room of The Cedar House
The living room of The Cedar House has incredible views.

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

fireplace in The Barn
The central room of The Barn, where meals are served.

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.

breakfast setup at Dancing Spirit Ranch
Breakfast is served in the dining area of The Barn.

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.

Ananda Johnson in kitchen cooking
Ananda is the Executive Chef at Dancing Spirit Ranch.

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.”

firepit with mountains in background
We enjoyed S’mores by the fire pit after dinner.

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.

The Schoolhouse at Dancing Spirit Ranch
The Schoolhouse where yoga classes, workshops and other activities are held.

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

two Adirondack chairs with mountain view
There are plenty of places to sit and relax at 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.

circular stone structure with ate

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

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