Closer by the dozen in Bigfork, Montana – By: Linda Dove and Family

Who: Robert and Linda Dove of Kiawah Island, S.C.; Stephen Dove and a son, Jackson, of Arlington, Va.; Nicholas and Carrie Storer and two sons, Tommy and Ned, all of Kensington, Md.; Dan Solomon and Laura Dove and their children, Abigail and Jacob, all of Alexandria, Va.

Where, when, why: The challenge was to plan a family trip for 12 that would be fun for everyone, from 77-year-old Bobby to 12-year-old Tommy, and all those in between. Our requirements: no cooking (an absolute must); interesting and varied activities with lots of opportunities for outdoor ad­ven­ture; a wide selection of other guests for the 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds; and something that would equal or surpass our trip to Alaska last year.

Kudos to daughter Laura who, after much research, found Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, in Bigfork, Mont., just outside of Kalispell and 30 miles from Glacier National Park. The working dude ranch with more than 100 horses and an outstanding farm program is located on Flathead Lake and has many water activities, including water skiing, kayaking and sailing. It promised something for everyone, even those creaky grandparents who weren’t sure they would be doing the morning trail rides. We combined time at the lodge with a side trip to Glacier National Park.

Highlights and high points: We all made it a point to visit the lakeshore at some point every morning and every afternoon. Although only some of us made it for sunrise each day, we all came together each afternoon for sunset. Yes, there is life outside of Washington traffic, work deadlines and busy sports schedules. The scenery was lovely, but it was the relaxed conversation that seemed the most spectacular.

Cultural connection or disconnect: We were in Montana at the height of the drought and forest fire season, a record-breaker in 2015. It was eye-opening. On several mornings we rose to discover the ranch shrouded in gray smog, caused by the fires in Glacier Park. It was a stark reminder of how different life is in the West and the power and fickleness of Mother Nature.

Biggest laugh or cry: One of our 12-year-olds seemed to discover girls for the first time during our stay at the ranch. Much teasing among the cousins, but also some special moments when we could begin to see who he would be as he grows into manhood. Grandparent tears.

How unexpected: None of us expected to spend so much time on the water in Western Montana. The lakes are amazing — warm, calm and incredibly beautiful. We also loved the small town of Bigfork, which looks like something out of a Western movie. We were warmly greeted by the residents of this town of 4,000.

Fondest memento or memory: It is not easy to plan a trip for 12 people who have little time for vacations and thus have very strong ideas about what they should be. We spent a lot of time before the trip talking about what we each wanted from our experience. Everyone’s ideas were given equal weight — from the kids to the grandparents. How successful was our adventure? Our time in Montana met everyone’s expectations, above and beyond. This was certainly due in part to the activities and experiences at our lodge, which were amazing. But we all agreed that we had each brought something to the trip that was what made it so meaningful. Now we have to begin working something even better for next year!

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