OTO Ranch, Gardiner, MT


 

 

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First view of the ranch - the old corral area.
First view of the ranch - the old corral area.  The restored part is down in the trees on the upper right.

We found this prize catch on geocaching.com while in Yellowstone in the fall of 2008. We were looking for some challenging caches and this one certainly fit the bill. One look at the pictures will tell you why this is #1 in our list of Top 10 Traditional Caches.  This one has it all - a grizzly bear warning sign at the trailhead, a long hike at high altitude, a killer climb for the first half mile, picture post card mountain scenery and, of course, a geocache to make it all worthwhile.

The 3,200 acre OTO ranch was founded in 1898 by Dick and Nora Randall. Dick had been a stagecoach driver in Yellowstone Park for 10 years but realized the potential of outfitting back country trips for wealthy city folk and foreign aristocrats, all of whom were coming to Yellowstone anyway.  Wealthy clients began to send their children to work on the ranch for the summer. It soon became a full-fledged "dude" ranch, the first one in Montana.  It wasn't long before they had more clients than it could accommodate and the Randall's began expanding.  The construction was solid and rustic.  From 1912 to 1934, guests including Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, wrangling, great food and music in the beauty of the surrounding Absaroka Range.

The Randall's retired in 1934. The ranch was taken over by a former guest but the Great Depression and gathering war clouds forced it to close  in 1939, never to re-open.

 

The Lodge, built in 1921 and as sturdy as ever.

The Lodge, built in 1921.

 

The ranch lay in disrepair for over 50 years.  The Forest Service bought the land in 1991 and volunteers began restoring it, an effort which continues to this day. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. All the restored buildings are open and the restored cabins have bunks in them. We don't know if people can stay there.  There was no information about that posted. They might be for the restoration volunteers.

There is some serious exploring to be done, even at the ranch itself. We could have spent all day poking around but we started late and had to get back. Still, we spent the better part of an hour looking around.  We found, among other things, a concrete bunker with heavy wooden blast doors built into a hillside near the lodge.  We figured it was a bear-proof ice house for food storage in the days before refrigerators.

 

KidsRN lookin' fine in her back country equipment. This is  the restored area - cabins center/left, the Lodge on the right.
KidsRN lookin' fine in her back country equipment.

 

There's also a privately owned home just beyond the ranch.  It's accessed by the same service road that you walk in on. The road has a locked gate just beyond the trail head and is off limits to unauthorized vehicles. Turns out, the home belongs to the county sheriff.

You can however, take horses or mountain bikes on the road.

If you do go exploring, keep in mind that this is real back country.  There are bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes and big rattlesnakes.  If you are tromping through the tall grass (and you'll have to to get the cache) make sure you have your stick to check the area around you. If you stay overnight or just go have lunch there, be Bear Aware.

 

The trailhead sign.  The steep skyline on the left is the first part of the hike.
The trailhead sign.

 

 

OTO Ranch is in the Gallatin National Forest outside of Gardiner, MT, which is the north gate to Yellowstone Park. If you're in the park area, this is definitely worth a side trip. You can find location and directions at geocaching.com.

There's also an interesting and entertaining book about the place available at Amazon - Music, Saddles and Flapjacks: Dudes at the OTO Ranch by Roberta Cheney.

If you're interested in using the accommodations or volunteering, try contacting the Gardiner Ranger District, Gallatin National Forest. Their phone number is 406-848-7375.

We hope you enjoy the OTO Ranch as much as we did.

 

The GPS coordinates for trailhead parking where the  above sign is located are 45.143453, -110.805415.

The GPS coordinates for the center of the OTO Ranch are 45.147426, -110.784125

Click on the coordinates to bring up an interactive Google Map.

Cheers....The Cachemanian Devils