Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

A day trip ranch in the Bay Area


Near Fairfield, California, Rush Ranch stretches across 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland. For most of its working life, the ranch was operated by the Rush family, and they had great respect for the land. Unlike other landowners next to the Suisun Marsh, the Rush family did not dike or significantly alter the tidal action on their property.

Photo credit: Karen Vittorio.

Photo credit: Karen Vittorio.

Why is that important? Because with most tidal marshes in the United States managed or filled, their decision to leave the marsh to natural tidal ebbs and flows has proven to be an important contribution to tidal marsh science as a premier tidal habitat and in protecting plant and animal species of the marsh.Today, the ranch is owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust, so Rush Ranch is now open space and an important habitat for fish, bird and plant species.

And it’s open to the public, so if you want to get a low-commitment look at an early ranch that’s close to the Bay Area, you might stop by. Whether you’re a child or an adult, a hiker, birdwatcher, biologist, teacher, photographer, poet or painter, or just out for a picnic, this Solano Land Trust jewel will win you over. Within its boundaries are portions of the Suisun Marsh, one of the best examples left of a brackish tidal marsh habitat in the United States.

What’s special about a ‘brackish tidal marsh’? Well, first it is an important habitat for fish, bird and plant species, including many that are threatened and endangered (such as the Delta smelt, California clapper rail, Suisun song sparrow, and the American white pelican). Bird watchers have spotted some 230 different species of birds throughout the marsh and grassland habitats, and plant communities range from spring wildflowers to native bunchgrass and marsh-adapted vegetation.

Bring the family for a daytrip. There’s plenty to see: an historic blacksmith shop, a display of antique farm equipment, native plant garden. Perhaps the most interesting artifact is the visitor center itself–housed in a Sears Roebuck & Co. kit house. Ordered from the Sears catalog by the Rush family in 1932, it was delivered to the ranch on flatbed trucks and “assembled” at the very spot it stands today.

Coming up in April is the 23rd Annual Rush Ranch Open House. On Saturday, April 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. guests can enjoy a celebration of nature, art, music, dancing, and traditional crafts at Rush Ranch.  Family fun activities include guided marsh discovery hikes, live music, square dancing, weaving and spinning, flint knapping, local Native American culture, horse shoeing, blacksmithing, bats, falconry, farm animals, raffle, art show and silent auction, and a children’s art activity station.  Admission is FREE.  For more information call (707) 422-4491 or visit or


In British Columbia, Echo Valley Ranch earns TOP TripAdvisor awards


The Key to TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards: Invisible luxury

It’s a new trend in hospitality, luxury you can’t see but certainly feel.  It’s a mix of tangible and intangible, visible and invisible at the same time, a rare quality that has brought repeated awards to Echo Valley Ranch & Spa. Recently, the ranch garnered Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards: #1 Small Hotel and #1 Hotel for Service in all of Canada and they wanted to hear all the details.

It is, in part due to this new trend that this British Columbia guest ranch earned these awards – both Canada wide – by the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor. These prestigious distinctions are especially meaningful since they were awarded in the Travelers’ Choice category. Over 180 reviews written by its satisfied guests to date indicate clearly that Echo Valley Ranch is doing something right.

For example, writes a guest, “What I got from my stay was totally different and so much better. If you are fortunate enough to stay at Echo Valley then get yourself ready to be welcomed into a family of inspiring people with a long standing tradition of achieving excellence in everything they do.”

“We call it invisible luxury,” says owner Norm Dove. “Many of the reviews on TripAdvisor and in our own guest book talk about it. It’s difficult to articulate, but I think it’s a combination of things. Of course we have the usual amenities ranging from high-end lodging to an excellent chef, and an emphasis on personal service, but the difference lays in our attitude towards our business. What we do we do naturally. It’s true passion versus compelled smiles. It’s warm caring versus butlers’ etiquette guide.  Whatever it is, the outcome is magical.”

Coming to Echo Valley is truly a vacation from all the artificial aspects of modern life. “We grow much of our own food, every building on the property has been placed in relation to the others, and the views are amazing. But it’s the intangibles that pull everything together.

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We say it is ‘made by nature,’ because it is,” said Dove. “Finding such natural luxury in the midst of remote grandeur literally takes people’s breath away. The intangible immediately becomes felt; the feeling of calmness and serenity can be gauged. It’s uplifting for one’s spirit.”

Echo Valley Ranch & Spa is located in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, at the foot of the Marble Mountain range, about a 40-minute-flight from Vancouver. Guests can enjoy horseback riding, wilderness hikes, a luxury Thai spa, fly-fishing, gold panning and wildlife safaris. Owner Dove says the ranch’s remote location is another draw, but its unique “sense of place” is the key to the extraordinary TripAdvisor guest satisfaction response.

The Dining Difference

Dining becomes an experience at Echo Valley Ranch & Spa as all guests come together to eat “family style” in our main living and dining room. That gives everybody a platform to chat with other guests, Norm & Nan or staff members – it’s the ideal opportunity to share thoughts about the adventures and experiences of the day.

Echo Valley is a Canada ranch that believes in the “eat fresh and eat local” ethos. Consequently, Echo Valley Ranch and Spa grows and produces much of its own food, which our Master Chef turns into a variety of healthy, gourmet meals. The ranch cuisine at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa is just as culturally diverse as its buildings.

Ranch cuisine at this unique Canada ranch will range from western-style BBQ cookouts to wholesome soups, intriguing salads, home-baked breads and many house specialties that change with the season. Special diets are easily accommodated and life-style dishes such as Eat for Your Blood Type are often incorporated into the menu plan. There’s even a specialty Thai Night where authentic Thai dishes sizzle alongside Thai entertainment. Bet this isn’t the ranch cuisine you were expecting on your Canada ranch vacation. And they serve a fine selection of beers and wine.EV 3  imgID198Mid

On the Echo Valley Ranch and Spa grounds, an organic vegetable garden grows a variety of fresh produce such as berries, mushrooms, vegetables and seasonal fruits, and the herb garden is an aromatic pleasure to explore. Check out the vegetables stored in the large root cellar and what’s new in the ranch resort greenhouse before it is prepared into delicious ranch cuisine. In addition to raising its own cattle, pigs, turkeys and chickens right on the ranch, Echo Valley sources other products such as artisan cheeses from nearby farms as well as fresh-caught seafood from Oceanwise suppliers in Vancouver.

East meets West

All therapists are trained by Thailand’s Ministry of Health – that is why the ranch is able to offer very authentic Thai Spa treatments. The western and eastern staff have been working together for so long its a family now. It’s about Thai and Canadian food and Spas with their different treatments. Indeed, their “Baan Thai Spa” is a work of the personal architect of the King of Thailand, Dr. Pinyo Suwankiri. He loved Echo Valley so much that he just wanted it to be there.

And all this is located on a ranch in the Cariboo wilderness. Just another amazing part of the world of members.

Details: Echo Valley Ranch & Spa is open April-October, December, January and can handle 40-50 guests. Set in ‘cowboy country” above the Fraser River in BC’s scenic Cariboo Region, the ranch is one hour west of Clinton, BC and a scenic 5.5 hour drive north of Vancouver. Minimum two night stay, rates start at $210 per night.


Nifty travel websites


We know, there are a million of ’em: travel-oriented websites. You already know about Kayak, Yahoo, Orbitz, Trip Advisor, Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity and the rest. Because anyone who has flown recently has had to search for cheap tickets online and those sites do that job well.

But before search engines like Google and Bing existed (aka the Dark Ages), if you wanted to find other interesting travel sites, you had to get the web address from a friend just to find them. Frankly, we still like the personal touch, so we’ll tell you about some of our favorite travel sites. They can be a good way to find out about deals, last-minute travel bargains, and tips from those in the know.

The Lonely PlanetLonely Planet home

We love this site just because it has stuff you’ll never find on those other sites. For example: Italy’s Regional Pizzas; the Glutton’s Guide to New Orleans; and the Worst Travel Pick-up Lines. It reminds us that travel should, after all, be fun.

The Virtual TouristTravel Guides, Hotel Reviews, Photos, Forums, Deals

Quirky, unusual, and independent. That describes what you’ll find here because a lot of the content is posted by members. The Travel Guides give you the inside scoop from fellow travelers and locals. The Hotel Reviews section rates more than 262,000 hotels. And the Travel Forum tells you what’s on the minds of travelers right now. One recent question: “Well its only 2 weeks to go until my first ever cruise, does anyone have any usefull do’s or don’ts on the art of cruising ?” got a lot of helpful replies.

The Travel Channel

Sometimes a video says it best. When you want an actual look at the destinations you’re considering, the Travel Channel has a vast store of videos of top travel sites to check. Right now, they have Sexy Weekend Getaways, the world’s most decadent chocolate tours, and more all geared to Valentine’s Day (which has now become Valentine’s Week, it seems).

Going overseas? Then this is your number one site, listing consular services for US citizens abroad, Visa services for foreigners, links to foreign consulates, visa fee tables and downloadable passport forms. And for faster info, check their Facebook page.

And of course, no matter where you are headed, you have to know what to expect weather-wise. So try to get the latest flight delays and airport weather conditions. At The Weather Channel you’ll get more than the basics: maps, videos, news, trip planner and so much more.


Rancho luxurious: Montana’s Rock Creek

We’re continuing our series about some of the most luxurious guest ranches in the world, where lodging is top notch, cuisine is five-star quality, and activities almost unlimited. Today, we take you to Montana’s Ranch at Rock Creek.  RanchAtRock_1


Ranch at Rock Creek

Montana’s Ranch at Rock Creek serves up luxury along with some 50 miles of mountains, meadows, lakes and streams. For anyone who is looking for the perfect blending of comfort and wilderness, The Ranch at Rock Creek lets you choose between various lodging choices.

Accommodations include rooms in the Granite Lodge, the Luxury Canvas Cabins, Specialty suites and Homes. Their canvas-topped cabins offer luxury bedding and a private bathroom (choose ‘Glamping for Two’ and you get one of Rock Creek’s four Classic Canvas Cabins—each a gi-normous 630 square feet—which give you a spacious main room for your bedroom with enough living area to include a comfortable sitting area.RanchAtRock_7

At The Ranch at Rock Creek, recreational opportunities are virtually limitless. Horseback riding on trails that weave among 6,600 acres, fly fishing their 4-mile-stretch of Blue Ribbon Rock Creek, fishing in stocked trout ponds, hiking, wildlife watching, mountain biking, sporting clays, archery, rafting, and games in The Granite Lodge are all popular.

Relaxation is a part of the total experience at The Ranch at Rock Creek, with professional massage therapy treatments available in a dedicated five-room spa inside the stone-and-timber Granite Lodge.RanchAtRock_3

Details: $950-$7,500 per night. Please visit their website for a description of inclusions and exclusions. Cuisine at The Ranch reflects its pure surroundings – prime organic beef, elk, bison, free-range chicken, organic eggs, fresh fish, seasonal local fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs, all enhanced by an inspired wine list.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is available for corporate retreats, weddings, and family reunions. For more details, see


Ultra Ranches-luxury and service top the list

Lodge-FallTriple Creek Ranch


When you talk about Triple Creek Ranch, the words “award-winning” always seem to come up. This luxury resort, set in the Bitterroot Mountain Range of the Montana Rockies, was recently voted the #1 Inn/Small Lodge in the US and #2 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure’s 2012 Readers Choice Awards.

How do you get to be number one in the United States and number two in the world? Ranchweb’s blog editor recently asked Triple Creek Ranch representative Deb Schara.  “Triple Creek Ranch is one of the world’s highest ranked hotel over the past 5 years, according to Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best’ ratings,” said Schara, “and we got there with a score of 98.22—one of the highest scores ever.”

If you’re wondering what it takes to achieve that ranking, Scharra has a ready answer. “Our reviews have been great because of our attention to detail,” she says. “All our employees — from servers to housekeeper — goes above and beyond to give guests the help they need. And it’s a team effort–no matter what activity you want to pursue that day—from horseback riding  to fly fishing in summer to skiing in winter.”

All of this high service hums through a uniquely beautiful facility. The acreage around the main lodge is dotted with individual cabins, each with a wood-burning fireplace, king log-post beds, and some with private hot tubs. Each cabin is set so that when you sit on your deck, you don’t stare at another cabin—just an amazing view.TripleCreek_3

“People love the privacy. You can be with others or totally alone with each other. Large screen TVs in cabins have Blue Ray players and a there’s a library of DVDs to choose from, so you can be entertained while you relax in the cabin.”

“Its beautiful and quiet–there’s no cell service–so we encourage people to go outside their comfort zone and try things. We’ve gotten people on a horse who’ve never petted one before,” notes Scharra. Nature tours get them out to enjoy the countryside.

Okay, so between the fabulous facilities, an attentive staff, and a variety of activies—the only thing we haven’t talked about is the food. Very quickly, I learn that food and wine is big here. “We have a sommelier and that makes all the difference. Guests can request wine tastings here in the main lodge, or after our cooking classes,” scharra says. “And its all inclusive if the guest comes during that time (when classes occur).”

Dining1111The chef was schooled at the CIA in New York and his specialty is wild game and fish, but Scharra notes that he also likes Asian and Southwest influences. “There’s almost no chance you’ll get bored with the menu,” she says, “because it changes daily.”  And if you’ve gone vegan or have food allergies, no worries— they will accommodate special diets and food allergies.

“We have our own gardens and orchards, so the veggies or fruits on your plate may have just been picked that morning.”

At the end of your stay, you can take a bit of the ranch home with you in the form of their own jams and jellies, or you can get a packed breakfast or lunch as you leave. They really take care of their guests.

“The staff is amazing,” concludes Scharra, “and that’s the key to it.”

Details: Open January, February, April through December. Capacity: 60 (for meetings: 60). Rates: Start at $950 per night, per couple. Memberships: Relais & Chateaux, Virtuoso, Andrew Harper, Orvis Endorsed Lodge, JG Black Book.

Winter activities: Skiing: flex your schussing muscles on Alpine or Nordic skis along the Continental Divide on the Montana-Idaho border. The ranch is just a short, 30-minute drive from skiing in the Northern Rockies at Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Resort or at Chief Joseph Pass for cross-country skiing (available through February, weather permitting). Not into skiing? Then how about dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing or that unique western sport call skijoring (a skier is pulled by a horse).

Coming soon: more “Ultra Ranches”, including The Ranch at Rock Creek, The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek, and The Resort at Paws Up.