Looking for a really different kind of girlfriend getaway (one that maybe doesn’t include the cliche activity: shopping)? Well get ready to play cowgirl, girlfriend!
At Wyoming’s Lost Creek Ranch, they launched a ‘Ladies Only Ranch Getaway Week’ two years ago and it has been a smashing success. Ranch general manager Mike Evenson notes, “To make this type of stay work it seems that a variety of activities are required.” For example, they offer horseback riding, hiking, yoga classes, horsemanship demonstrations, and culinary classes. “Our women guests are always looking for something to do and want to be active,” Evanson adds, so they make sure the program is loaded with activities. And we ladies do like our discounts: the Ladies Only week is priced at 20 percent off! Call for availability and pricing.
In Big Sky, Montana, Lone Mountain Ranch has Skirts and Spurs, a women’s-only package that offers a chance to “live your dream of being a Montana cowgirl”. You take riding lessons, eat fabulous food, stay in a cozy log cabin, and ride into the backcountry of Yellowstone. All the while, you’re meeting new friends and experiencing pure western hospitality. Cost: 6 night/5 day riding packing, including lessons, 3 meals daily and evening socials (plus pickup/return to Bozeman airport): $2200-$2500. Dates: August 30-September 5.
And at Montana’s Runamuk Guest Ranch’s Yoga Getaways, you can enjoy a combination of yoga, horseback riding, relaxation, and massage. Says ranch co-owner Jody Dahl, “Get lost in a world of comfort and seclusion. In a time of cell phones, schedules, deadlines, and stress, we offer a setting of renewal and relaxation!” Choose a program that lets you work either with a master of Taoist Yoga (a Chinese style) or Hatha Yoga. It’ll be a getaway within a getaway, girlfriend. Check for cost and date availability.
This tale of two ranches—both named Elkhorn—all started fairly simply in 1922 with the purchase of Elkhorn Ranch, Montana. It was a summer guest ranch operation that also offered pack trips. It was run by Grace and Ernest Miller and—eventually—their son Bob Miller.
In 1945, the ranching operation doubled with the purchase of the Elkhorn Ranch in Arizona, as a winter ranch. And here the story gets a bit more complicated. When patriarch Ernest Miller passed away in 1949, that left both operations in the hands of Grace Miller, Bob and his new wife, Jan. In 1961, Grace and Ernest’s daughter Barb and her husband, Ron Hymas, moved to the Gallatin Gateway, Montana ranch; Bob and Jan moved south to Arizona permanently.
Today in Arizona, the 3rd generation —Charley and Tom Miller and their wives Mary and Anne— run Elkhorn Ranch, just southwest of Tucson. When Barb and Ron retired, they sold the Montana operation to the Minton Family, long time guests. Ginger Hymas, Barb and Ron’s daughter managed the ranch briefly during the transition, and then the Mintons hired Bob and Jan’s daughter, Linda, to take over the reins. Got the picture?
Mary Miller clears things up: “So, you can say that the Elkhorn Ranch in Arizona has been owned and operated by the Miller Family since 1946 and the Elkhorn Ranch in Montana has been under continuous management by the Miller family since 1922.” That’s a lot of history and hard work. And the Miller family, now into their third and fourth generations, are running two Elkhorn Ranches to this day.
“Both ranches are in really lovely country,” notes Mary. They’re very scenic, mountainous, with great riding terrain.” Obviously, they’re very different, from the green pines of Montana to Arizona’s Sonoran desert. The Montana ranch has more structured evening activities—such as campfire sing-a-longs (because of the number of children)— whereas the Arizona ranch is less structured after dinner.
But there are a lot of similarities, too. “Overall, the spirit of both ranches is very similar,” notes Miller. “And many guests say that it hasn’t changed a lot over the years, which they consider a good thing!”
Both ranches have really top notch riding programs, catering to all levels. Mary Miller adds that “they’re special because we tailor the rides daily to the guests’ needs and abilities”. Guests have the same horse and saddle all week and the option of many different trails, scenic walking rides, as well as loping. Both ranches do half day, as well as all day rides.
Says Linda Miller: “There are so many things to love about both Elkhorns, but it’s mostly sharing the life style with so many different kinds of people.” And her favorite aspects? “There is nothing like teaching a child to love riding or showing a Grandma her first bear in these huge spaces.”
But just don’t ask her to choose between the two ranches. ” I can’t compare Montana and Arizona as both have their assets,” Linda adds. “Montana has lots of kids – both guest and crew – but Arizona has a longer season to enjoy.”
However, one thing is certain: both Elkhorn Ranches—Arizona and Montana—feature plenty of down-home hospitality.
Sure, you did your homework when you picked your guest ranch and booked your vacation, and a lot of key information is available on the ranch website. But it never hurts to make a quick call to brush up on some ranch facts before you go. Here are some of the details you should ask about.
-Before you go, find out how many kids of your own children’s ages will be there at the same time; the answer may determine whether your child will need to bring that Gameboy or not.
-About check- out and check-in times—they’re different from most hotels. Often, you’re okay to check in at 2 PM and asked to check out by 10 AM (exceptions are made individually).
-What is included in the rate? Usually, rates are all-inclusive, covering meals, horseback riding, all facilities, children’s and teen supervision, special programming. But sometimes extra options—spa treatments, trap shooting or fly fishing school—is extra.
-What activities beside riding, hiking, and fishing will you need special clothes or shoes for? You may want to add a skirt or your dancin’ shoes for that square dancing evening.
-Find out if the ranch has a liquor license and, if not, what their policy is about guests bringing their own bottles. Some ranches will let you bring your own bottles but ask you not to consume it in the public areas, in order to preserve a family atmosphere. Check ahead.
-Medical needs are an issue for some guests. Ask if their staff is Red Cross First Aid certified and where the nearest hospital emergency room is located and how long it takes to reach. If your family members have serious medical issues, you may want to select a ranch that’s fairly handy to a major city.
-If you’re a smoker, be sure to ask about the ranch’s smoking policy. In Colorado, for example, a new law restricts smoking in public places so you’ll be asked to step outside before you light up. Many ranch cabins are non-smoking now, as well.
-Those who need to stay connected should ask about cell phone and internet service; both are possible at more and more ranches now, but be sure to confirm your ranch’s availability.
-Plan to bring a pet? Ask what the ranch policy is first. Many ranches prohibit pets, as their safety may be at risk (among the cattle, herd of horses, and ranch dogs).
We thank our friends at the Lost Valley Ranch for their help in compiling this list. And stay tuned for What to know before you go (part 2): what to wear!
Audrey at Arizona’s Hidden Meadow Ranch just sent me a note about their upcoming Wild West Rodeo Month, June 1-30. It sounds like a blast.
Wild West Rodeo Month includes all Hidden Meadow Ranch’s normal equine-related activities (trail rides, etc.) plus a whole lot more. Special activities include: thorough saddling/grooming lessons (encouraging a more hands-on approach to the horse experience); two all-day off-property rides to Mt. Baldy and Mt. Escadilla (two of the three highest points in Arizona), complete with lunch on the trail; arena games including the wild horse catch, egg and spoon race, barrel racing, ribbon race, and many more; horse training demos; roping demonstrations and lessons; a cattle drive with faux cows; and probably everyone’s favorite, team penning competitions (with rented cattle!).
Nestled on 150 acres of private land in the heart of the White Mountains, Hidden Meadow Ranch is an all-inclusive hideaway replete with 12 rustically-elegant log cabins, unparalleled amenities, exceptional service and cuisine, and year-round family activities such as hiking, fly-fishing, archery, canoeing, leather-making, horseback riding and much more.
More ranches with rodeo and horsemanship clinics and events: Check out Montana’s Runamuk Guest Ranch, outside Billings, for horsemanship clinics, cattle handling clinics, one-on-one instruction, and riding for the advanced. At British Columbia’s Siwash Lake Ranch, they offer horsemanship, wildlife spotting, hiking with naturalists and eco-adventure clinics; says Allyson, “June is the BEST month at Siwash for wildlife-watching and hands-on horsemanship.”
Sometimes, in order to find a real escape, you just have to strike out into the wild and pit your skills against a wily fish or elusive game animal. It’s one way to really get away from it all, a sure effort to connect with your wilder side, and just the kind of wild adventure that many dude ranches specialize in.
Timeless adventures like these have also long been a popular means for anglers and hunting enthusiasts to reconnect with buddies, make new friends, or bond with brothers and sons. And who knows? You might find your hunting adventure of a life time here. You’ll find a range of hunting/fishing lodges at Ranchweb.com. Three featured lodges include:
The Lodge at Chama (open year-round) is a 36,000 acre retreat in the rugged San Juan Mountains of Northern New Mexico and owned by The Jicarilla Apache Nation. Over the past five decades, the lodge has developed a widely-acclaimed game management program that has helped establish thriving native populations of deer, elk, buffalo, bear, turkey and grouse. Elk hunting is a speciality at the Lodge, but you can also try fishing/ flyfishing, hiking, wildlife tours or photography, hunting, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and shooting the sporting clay.
In Texas, at the JB Hunting and Guest Ranch (near Palacios), the terrain varies from rolling grassland to thick woodlands and cactus-surrounded areas. They offer professional guided hunts with an authentic, down-to-earth enviroment. You can go for hogs, rams and many exotics, with a variety of different hunts such as rifle, bow, dog & knife, stand, safari and many more types.
Or go way outside the box, to La Pampa Argentina and the Poitahue Hunting Ranch. It’s a scenic ranch, where the terrain ranges from woods, to green plains, and rolling hills, all rich in various fauna. Its a mix that assures unique scenery and a truly wild hunting experience; go for red deer stags, boars, wild goats, blackbucks antelopes, pumas, and exotic species. Just remember: the season here is opposite of that in the northern hemisphere (their summer is December, January, February).
Editor’s note: this is the last in a 5-part series: Americans need a dude ranch vacation NOW.
Food and wine has become much more important to today’s vacationers, and guest ranches understand that and are responding. In fact, many ranches have made some of their biggest changes in their dining rooms (and most don’t ring the dinner gong anymore, like the cartoon character below). Now all they have to do is convince some travelers that their old ideas about ranch food are, well, so yesterday. Here are the top five dude ranch food and wine myths, debunked.
Myth No. 1: Guests dine every night on barbecue beef, and a plate of beans.
TRUTH: Well, once that was the idea of a perfect meal at a dude ranch. And while that’s perfectly delicious food, the average menu at today’s guest ranch now goes far beyond that in sophistication. At New Mexico’s The Lodge at Chama, Executive Chef Kirk Vandermaat and his staff have one goal: that guests “cherish their days and evenings here at Chama”. Each morning, you choose your coming evening’s fare from your own personalized menu; options: native selections of elk, bison, trout, and quail; oh, and of course choice steaks.
Myth No. 2: I am trying to stay on a special diet, and a ranch can’t adjust its menu for me.
TRUTH: Many ranches now can accommodate special diets and reasonable requests for options; overall, the result is better quality and more variety. “Food is often fad-driven,” notes Russell True at Arizona’s White Stallion Ranch. “We’ve done macrobiotics for some guests, vegetarian menus; and we adjusted to the no carbs/ high protein movement. Now, were back to less extreme fare,” True says. “We’re not a gourmet ranch, but we try to adjust to mainstream tastes and offer options to people, whether its more chicken or lighter fare. ”
Myth No. 3: I know I can get a nice steak on a ranch, but by the end of the week, I’ll be starved for some fresh veggies.
TRUTH: The ‘locavore‘ movement (where the goal is to eat food grown/produced nearby) has hit the ranch, too; many guest ranches team up with local farmers to make sure that plenty of fresh, local produce is available to their guests. At Three Bars Cattle & Guest Ranch in British Columbia, Tyler Beckley contends that “all of our meals use the finest fresh vegetables available and are cooked to perfection.”
Myth No. 4: I’m on a low-sodium diet, and won’t find anything to eat at a ranch.
TRUTH: Most ranches can offer you low-sodium options—especially if you alert them ahead of time. “We can do low-sodium easily,” says True. “If they want a nice grilled swordfish instead of steak, we’re happy to make the change to healthy options and adjust.”
Myth No. 5: If I want a decent glass of wine with dinner, I’ll have to bring a bottle myself.
TRUTH: At many ranches, you’ll have trouble deciding what wine to try from their wine list. British Columbia, for example, is home to some great white wines, and local ranches will introduce you to some real finds. “We have access to some great, affordable wines in Canada that you don’t see a lot of in the US,” says Tyler Beckley. “My wine list is not over priced or pretentious, and the fun is in finding great wines that are not expensive.” Three Bars also also carries wines from Argentina, Chile, France, Spain, and New Zealand.
White Stallion Ranch brought in a sommalier to put together a wine list that includes selections from all over the world. “It has been hugely popular,” says True.
“We believe more folks will be traveling within their respective states this year,” says Jody Dahl, at her family-run Runamuk Guest Ranch in Montana. “So we’re doing new, in-state promotions and offering stays of any length, which has really helped with our bookings.”
That kind of thinking may be a surprise to most visitors, who expect a dude ranch to require a full week-long stay; after all, that has long been the tradition and is still the preferred way to go at most guest ranches.
But Dahl believes the shorter stays also really help guests, giving them as an easy, low-comittment introduction to the guest ranch experience, and more options. “They get the flavor of the experience, without having to take the full plunge,” Dahl notes.
“We allow guests to arrive and depart any day of the week, too,” Dahl adds. “We have to be flexible and organized,” she says with a laugh, “but guest really love that added option.” It helps that the ranch is in Roundup, just an hour from Billings, Montana, and its airport.
“A lot of international travelers can’t take a full week to stay at a dude ranch, so allowing the shorter stays let’s them get a taste of the ranch life, as well,” Dahl says.
They take a limited number of guests, to assure that their quality level stays high and each guest has a wonderful experience. When space is available, they also invite travel writers to stay, as one more way to get the word out about the fun and relaxation guests can have on a dude ranch vacation.
“Runamuk is about reconnecting,”Dahl contends. “Reconnecting with yourself, your family, friends, your children, reconnecting with nature, with God, reconnecting with balance in one’s life, reconnecting with the importance of life that is so often lost in today’s world.”
Another option Dahl is excited about: “We have offered a separate pricing structure for our in-state Montana guests,” Dahl explains, since she firmly believes more will be taking shorter vacations inside their respective states this year. “This is our attempt to say, ‘hey, we appreciate you! And we realize you may not have to opportunity to travel out-of-state this year and we want you to know there’s something here for your entire family’, ” notes Dahl. “And we wanted something that would say: ‘we know your pocket books are tighter and we’re willing to help out with that by offering a “Thank you Montanans” promotion.”
It’s an exciting set of ideas, and Dahl’s enthusiasm is contagious. “We just want to tell everyone, hey, ‘Let’s Stick Together’ to weather this storm.”
We like your thinking, Jody Dahl!
More ranches: These are just a few that offer stays of less than a week (usually 2-3 nights). But be sure to ask other ranches what their stay length policies are, or do a search on the Ranchweb site. In Colorado, just west of Gunnison, the scenic Powderhorn Guest Ranch offers 3-night minimum stays throughout the season. Just outside the city limits of Tucson, the classic (and classy) Tanque Verde Ranch offers stays of 3 nights (or fewer, sometimes) as space is available. And in Idaho, adjacent to the wild Snake River, the Indian Creek Guest Ranch offers 5-night minimum stay during peak season and a 3-night stay during off season.
You hear a lot of talk these days about special, eco-friendly trips, but that’s nothing new at a guest ranch. They’ve been ‘eco-friendly’ since before ‘eco’ was cool. Many ranchers have been wise stewards of their land for many generations, and so they have become experts on being environmentally conscious.
This year, the idea of getting ‘back to nature’ holds more appeal than ever. Who doesn’t want to flee the noise, traffic, and (dare we say) germs of the crowded cityscape and escape back to nature? Someplace clean, quite, healthful and restorative…like a guest ranch.
You can practically pick your own favorite slice of nature and find a ranch that goes with it. Want the Cariboo region of Canada’s British Columbia? Then Echo Valley Ranch and Spa is one to consider.
Perhaps you’re dreaming of a Southwest landscape where you can soak up the warm desert days and cool nights, tucked in a grove of Arizona oak trees in the Chiricahua Mountains; then Grapevine Canyon Ranch (near Pearce, AZ) is your spot.
Or maybe the mighty Rockies call to you, beckoning with their pristine air, sunny days, and pine-scented forests; then your choices range widely, from spots like the Teton Ridge Ranch (in Tetonia, Idaho), to Averill’s Ranch/Flathead Lake Lodge (Bigfork, Montana; shown above), to the historic Eaton’s Ranch in Wyoming.
At all of these ranches, you’re guaranteed to get in touch with the land, as the wranglers do on a daily basis. Many guest ranches have staff naturalists on hand to guide you on nature walks, where you (and the kids) will more on a short walk than they could all day in a classroom. Wildlife watching (or learning about animal tracks) can be a daily activity on a ranch vacation, along with hiking, fishing wild streams and rivers, and even nature photography.
Ranches in the Southwest and Southeast have different weather, landscapes, and animals than those in the Far West and Northwest; and that goes double for ranches in Canada and South America. So, depending on where you’re from, there’s probably going to be many different aspects of nature to explore at a ranch versus what you’d find in your backyard. But one thing remains constant at every guest ranch: the caring for and knowledge about nature the ranch owners and their staff want to share with you.
Editor’s note: this is part of a continuing series, Americans need a dude ranch vacation NOW.
Remember, you’re going to a guest ranch, so casual dress is in style at all times. Comfortable clothes and casual shoes or boots work best; you’re there for adventure and activity, so several changes of clothes are desirable. If its an upscale resort ranch, then you’ll want some nicer clothes for evening (cruise casual describes it best). For more details, be sure and check with your selected ranch.
Light waterproof jacket with hood
T-shirts and long sleeve shirts
Softened jeans for riding (up to 3 pairs)
Shorts and bathing suits
Hiking boots, sneakers
Socks (at least 3 pairs)
Fleece pullovers or sweaters
Tevas/water shoes/old shoes that can get wet
Sunglasses and a hat
Sunscreen and bug spray
Gloves for riding (for morning rides)
Backpack or fanny pack
Going to the mountains: The weather can change quickly: temperature can range from the 80’s during the day to the 40’s at night. Bring a light jacket, sweater or sweatshirt to wear in the evenings and for layering; occasional passing showers means you’ll want a waterproof jacket with a hood. To the desert: Protect yourself (and the kids) from over-exposure to the sun, so you don’t “lose” a day to sunburn. Cover that tank top with a light, long-sleeved shirt; wear long, lightweight pants for riding, shorts for hanging out, and carry a sweater for the evening. Oh, and for any climate: a hat with a ‘stampede string’ that knots at the neck, so you won’t lose it on a ride.
Boots: You must have riding boots for horseback riding. It just isn’t safe to ride in sneakers or hiking boots—your foot could slip through the stirrup or get stuck in it. But if you don’t have any, don’t feel that you must buy new ones; some ranches have spare pairs of kids and adults’ boots for you to borrow while at the ranch—be sure to ask ahead.
Riding helmets: most ranches recommend wearing a helmet while riding, especially for kids. If you own a riding helmet fitted for you, you bring it, but most ranches have a supply of helmets available for your use.
Toiletries: Yep, you’re gonna need bug spray, sunblock, toothpaste, etc. Some ranches have little ranch stores with some of those items, but don’t rely on it unless you ask.
Extra activities: for hiking, use a pullover made of synthetic, wicking material (in the mountains, the weather can change quickly and the synthetic fabrics like fleece, and Coolmax will keep you warm and dry better than cotton). For fishing, ask what the ranch loans out; often waders, boots, rods and reels are all there for you.
Nice extras: slippers–it’s kind of nice to have some slippers when you’re cruising around the cabins.
Laundry: Ask about laundry services; some have self-serve facilities, others do it for you (yea!) with a 24-hour turnaround.
Pre-trip, wash the jeans with fabric softener so the kids (and you) can avoid saddle sores from the rubbing of a thick, stiff jeans seam. Most ranches have washing machine/dryers available but if you don’t want to spend vacation time doing laundry, bring extra jeans, socks and tee-shirts for all. Bring that great book you’ve been wanting to catch up on because you’ll actually have the time to read while the kids are having fun.
Bring some Advil/ ibuprofen because ‘some guys aren’t able resist trying out everything there is to do and, being a guy, he won’t hold back and will be super sore!’ says Stephanie of Vista Verde.
Our thanks to Stephanie at Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch, who sent us some great ideas for this list. And she offers one other suggestion: “With airline travel what it is these days, you could well arrive at the ranch before your luggage. While it invariably arrives within 24 hours, you could nevertheless have an uncomfortable first day. Accordingly, we suggest you pack some overnight items or a change of apparel in a carry-on.” Good idea, Steph!
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-park series, since packing for children/toddlers takes a whole different list. Stay tuned for: Packing with kids in mind.