Mont. -- Travelers familiar with African game lodges will likely
experience a number of deja vu moments at Healing Waters Lodge
landscape, a cumulus-filled sky unblemished by buildings and a pond
where wildlife drink recall Serengeti settings. Add in the casual
chic furnishings in screened accommodations, dawn departures for
daytime adventures, evening gatherings for cocktails and
sleep-inducing, gentle wilderness sounds, and it all seems
However, this is
southwestern Montana, not Africa, and the days sightings are of the
scaled- and-finned variety. Instead of lions, elephants and rhinos,
its brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout that guests yearn to see --
preferably at the end of their fly rods.
As someone whos
never dipped -- much less cast -- a line into a river, I found
myself a veritable fish out of water among my fellow guests. True,
they were fishermen first, but their love of the sport -- and
pretty clearly, their sizeable bank accounts -- has led them around
the globe, and any passionate traveler can identify with
Two fellow guests
from Massachusetts said they typically take six to eight trips a
year, primarily for fly-fishing or bird-watching, but they leave
time for sightseeing and relaxation.
Bhutan were two of the more exotic notches on their travel belts.
They were planning a Patagonia, Argentina, fishing trip for
motivated a couple I met from Florida but like the Massachusetts
pair, they preferred to alternate fishing days with those devoted
to other pursuits.
enthusiastically about the previous days private excursion with a
naturalist and historian who led them along paths once explored by
Lewis and Clark.
apparently more than satisfied these discriminating guests. One
couple was returning for the sixth time. According to management,
repeat clients account for 75% of guests.
The main lodge
building was built in 1894 as a hospital. Later, the structure was
moved to the present site and turned into
a private home called Healing Waters Estate. In 1997, the estate
became a lodge.
The lodges prime
location -- within 60 miles of six blue-ribbon trout streams -- is
certainly a factor, making it the mecca of the world for trout,
said Chris Sywassink, co-general manager with wife
overnight stays costing close to $600 per person, something more
than locale must be at work.
Part of the
allure rests with the themed guest rooms: Each of nine units is
named after a western notable, such as Chief Joseph; a notable in
the fishing world, including Franz Pott, an early-20th century
manufacturer of woven hair fishing flies; or homesteaders, such as
Granny Yates, a pioneer who guided wagon trains between Missouri
and Montana -- and whose descendant founded the Healing Waters
somewhat from room to room, but pictures and decorative objects
stay true to each units namesake as well as to fishing.
features a private deck or patio, many with superb views of the
Tobacco Root, Ruby, Snowcrest, Sweet Water or Pioneer mountain
All rooms have
two queen beds with down comforters and pillows; quality bath
amenities, binoculars; pre-stamped postcards; robes; a list of area
bird species; and a buckwheat pillow.
The pillow, which
is filled with buckwheat hulls, is said to help provide a good
nights sleep. To me, it felt like the beanbag pillows found in
Five of the guest
rooms -- including two suites with wood-burning metal stoves and,
in one case, a sauna -- are housed in the main lodge, along with
the office, a lounge and a media room with television and DSL
The other four
guest rooms are housed in separate quarters, as are the dining room
and cocktail area. Other facility structures are a small exercise
cabin, a gift shop and a hot tub.
plus at Healing Waters Lodge is the quality of meals: Chef Peter
Robertson is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at
Hyde Park, N.Y., and both his menus and presentation do credit to
his alma mater.
Two entrees are
offered each evening. During my stay, these included pan-seared
halibut, roast New Zealand venison, grilled beef tenderloin and
seared sea scallops.
appetizers, side dishes and desserts -- especially the latter --
were consistently tasty.
dinners, hot breakfasts and lavish picnic lunches are included in
the room rate, as are all fees for fishing excursions with a
private guide; transport to a river such as the Missouri, Big Hole,
Madison, Jefferson, Ruby or Beaverhead; and use of a float
During my stay,
one couple opted to fish separately, as he preferred wading while
she enjoyed floating. A guide was provided for each. A day with a
naturalist is also part of the program.
frequent Healing Waters. While many hunt upland birds and waterfowl
or the mule and whitetail deer that flourish in the valley and
mountains, others seek out bigger game, such as moose, elk or
If clients opt
for a day of sightseeing, the choices are legion. Yellowstone
National Park is less than a two-hour drive from the lodge -- a hop, skip and jump in Montana terms, as
the guest booklet puts it.
accessible are the ghost towns of Virginia City and Nevada City;
Ennis, a small town with a number of upscale boutiques; Lewis and
Clark Caverns; and Big Hole Battlefield National Park.
Closer to the
lodge, horseback riding and cooking classes with Chef Robertson
both can be arranged at additional charge.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].