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.

Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch: ride, revive, reconnect

DSC_0407Tucked against the saw-toothed Baboquivari Mountains southwest of Tucson, Arizona, is a traditional family-owned and operated guest ranch offering horseback riding and relaxation for some 32 guests. A few days ago, I talked to co-owner Mary Miller recently about what makes Arizona’s Elkhorn unique.  The Miller Family has owned and operated Elkhorn Ranch continuously since 1946 and enjoys the friendship of many returning guests and crew.

“We open next week on Sunday.’ said Miller, with a smile in her voice. “What we take a lot of pride in is the great ranch traditions,” Miller added. “We’re not a ranch that tries to makes things new every year! We’re a great family destination.”

Special packages for fall/winter

Miller was proud to tell me about the upcoming photography workshop that the ranch has offered successfully for years, covering natural history and digital photography, at no added cost (This season it is January 20-27, with Stweart Aitchison and Ann Kramer). New this year is a Music Workshop-January 6-13, focusing on the old-time music with workshops on guitar, banjo, fiddle. You can join in or simply listen and workshop.aspx

Miller also wanted folks to know that there is space available for New Year’s Week. “We have a fun night on New Year’s,” she noted, “with games and a piñata for kids. There’s a huge Mexican feast, and later in the night, the adults take over to celebrate.” And during that whole week, the weather is typically lovely. “It’s a great time to get away from the cold in the north,” Millers says with a laugh.

Further, she told me that Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch has spring break space available in March and April; it’s sunny and warm then and the pool is pretty popular in the afternoon. The kids play outdoors and have hotdog cookouts, and as always rides are tailored to the abilities of the guests. “We focus on one week stays,” Miller explains. “It gives you time to enjoy the countryside and become comfortable with the horses, and enjoy the friendship of the other guests you get the most out of a one week stay.” A weekly stay is a better bargain than the shorter stays. And for longer stays for snowbirds or other sunseekers, the rates are even more favorable.

Listen to former guests sing the praises of Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch. One says: “I’ve been to the Elkhorn several times over the past 20 years and I’m pleased to report that it never changes. I’ve heard it said that wilderness is the greatest luxury. If that’s the case, then the Elkhorn is exceedingly luxurious! However, it’s a subtle brand of luxury; no spa or marble bathtubs here (though you can get a massage!)”

Another calls it a ‘perfect family vacation,’ saying “We enjoyed an absolutely amazing week at Elkhorn! If you enjoy being in nature, this is your place. Beautiful nature with mountain and dessert surrounding the ranch. We loved the concept of having meals on communal tables with open seating and there were always interesting conversations with people from all over and all ages.

A third raved “Spectacular views, universally wonderful people, and great rides for all age groups in the dessert and mountains. The wranglers are genuine and gracious and the rest of the staff is great too. We met folks from all over and all ages…this place is perfect for families and friends…go there…you’ll love it!”

You can’t buy advertising like that. But then, southern Arizona guest ranch Elkhorn Ranch doesn’t have to.

Scenic Sonoran desert country filled with unique and abundant birds and wildlife is the backdrop for the Miller family’s Elkhorn Ranch. Vacation here and you may enjoy riding ranch-raised horses through desert and mountain; hiking; swimming, tennis, shooting on the rifle range, playing ping ping, or horse shoes.

There’s a well stocked library and a groaning buffet table stocked with plentiful comfort food. Feed the birds on the patio of your cabin, watch for wildlife at dusk, or just enjoy riding the trails that wind toward the mountains. Kids love the freedom of the secluded ranch setting and the twice a day horseback trail rides. Families that lack a certain togetherness in the bustle of home life will love the fact that they can have all of their meals together, sharing the adventures of the day.

That’s Elkhorn Ranch: a great place to ride, relax, revive, recharge and reconnect.

Details: Open Mid November through end of April. Where: 50 miles southwest of Tucson. Call: 520/ 822-1040.

Notes from Elkhorn: Elkhorn becomes a home away from home where everyone enjoys the outdoors, riding, friendship, and the ease of a family friendly vacation where ordering breakfast is the big decision of the day.  Everyone has the chance to relax and enjoy time together, as well as time apart – a perfect week long family vacation or gathering place for multi-generation reunions. Rides are arranged daily to suit individual interests and experience.  All rides are guided, with small groups.  Everyone enjoys the same horse and saddle throughout their stay.  Kids must be 6 and older to ride.  The 5 and under crowd may come at no charge, and have a ball exploring the ranch (note that Elkhorn does not provide supervised child-care).   A heated swimming pool, tennis and basketball court, ping pong, horseshoes, hiking, birding, kick the can by the light of the stars and moon and peeking under rocks — plus a well stocked library and cupboard of games and puzzles keeps everyone busy when not riding.  No television.  Yes to wireless internet access.  Fly to Phoenix or Tucson — visit the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum on your way to Elkhorn Ranch!


Expert tips on family-friendly horse holidays

sundancelodgeRanchweb and our own Gene Kilgore were featured recently in Canadian Living’s blog titled “Travel Talk: Family-friendly horse holidays” written by Doug O’Neill. The story included so many good tips on choosing the right riding or ranch vacation that we decided to pass it along.
Here’s what O’Neill had to tell his readers:

“Gene Kilgore, author of Ranch Vacations, is the go-to guy for the scoop on horseriding holidays, guest ranches, dude ranches and working ranches whether you’re holidaying in Canada, going to the United States or even further afield.

Gene is the equine-savvy expert who has provided all the horse sense (pun intended) behind, which functions almost like a mini portal for all things related to horse-friendly vacations, and endeavours to match customers to the ranch or horseriding holiday that best suits their tastes.

We asked Gene a handful of questions sent in by our readers:

Reader question: How do I know it’s a bonafide, legit ranch? How do I check? What do I look for? Is there any kind of criteria to be met?

Gene Kilgore: If you’ve never taken a ranch vacation before, or if you need some guidance on where to start, we offer a handy check list of questions to help make the process easier. We suggest that people pose these questions to the individual properties, to gather more specifics on the activities and programs they offer.

A great way to find quality ranches is to see if they’re members of any associations. For example, many of Ranchweb’s British Columbia properties are also part of the BC Guest Ranchers’ Association whose members offer excellent horseback riding, a wide range of activities, and high quality accommodations and amenities.

Reader Question. “If my wife and I and the kids book into a ranch vacation for a week, what happens if we get bored or tired of horses after three days?”

Gene Kilgore: There are lots of activities available at most ranches for families that go above and beyond horseback riding. For parents worried about keeping their kids entertained, many ranches offer kids programs where their children can play, have fun with other kids, learn about nature, and enjoy the outdoors.

Some ranches have very extensive programs led by counselors that run from breakfast until after dinner, while others are designed to bring families together and integrate several activities and meals. If your family is keen to experience a range of activities during their vacation beyond horseback riding you’ll want to scope out each ranch’s offerings prior to booking.

Reader question: For the best scenery in Canada, what ranch vacation spots would you recommend?

Gene Kilgore: All of the Canadian ranches are incredibly picturesque, in my opinion. Think sweeping meadows, rolling hills, and incredible stargazing thanks to the clean country air. Many of the guest ranches in British Columbia can be found in the heart of Cariboo Country, in the interior of the province.

Echo-Valley-Ranch--SpaRanches such as Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, in Clinton, B.C., Siwash Lake Ranch, set on 80,000 acres of pristine rangeland halfway between the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast of British Columbia, Three Bars Cattle & Guest Ranch, in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and Tod Mountain Ranch, in the southern interior of British Columbia, all offer peaceful and lush wilderness vacations.

Reader question: I like horse ranches and swimming. Could you recommend a ranch vacation in Canada where I could get time on a horse but also escape to a each every couple of days?

Gene Kilgore: If you’re a horse-lover who’s looking to stay close to the ocean, I suggest heading to Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Tofino, Vancouver Island. There you can spend time in Clayoquot Sound World Biosphere on the western most edge of Vancouver Island, and on the one day you can go horse-back riding and whale-watching – and take a dip in the water.

Reader question: What wilderness camp would you recommend in Canada?

Gene Kilgore: Warner Guiding and Outfitting, shown below, is based in Banff, Alberta, and specializes in horseback riding in backcountry, deep into Banff National Park. Your companions will be seasoned cowboys who know horses and know the land.allenby-pass

Details: To search the detailed ranch directory to find the horse vacation to meet your wishlist, check out the Ranchweb directory.


A Roundup: Rx for stressed-out doctors and lawyers

Ask any doctor, lawyer, or other high-powered professional how they choose to relax from their challenging work and chances are they’ll opt for something physically demanding that they can do out in the fresh air. And if the activity is unique, all the better.


In that case, the best medicine for doctors or lawyers just might be a ranch vacation with a cattle drive thrown in. Call it our roundup Rx.

But unless you’re tough as Clint Eastwood, you may want to join a cattle drive that offers some comforts, like good food and outstanding scenery. to the rescue!

What does a dude wear to his/her first roundup? Good riding boots, well-worn (soft) jeans, and layers that include a rain jacket or poncho. DO bring a ‘stampede string’ or chin strap for your wide-brimmed hat. Ask what else to bring when you book your drive; some outfits will rent or sell chaps and chinks. Ask about weather and trail conditions, how long you’ll be riding each day, and so forth. What NOT to bring:  No sneakers or spurs, please.

The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch

Just east of Cody and Yellowstone National Park is an upscale riding, horsemanship and working cattle guest ranch called The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch (pictured above). And while there are tons of recreational activities to choose from, cattle work is their signature activity.

And it’s not just laid on for the entertainment of ranch guests. Here, with more than a thousand cows, calves, and yearlings wandering across some 250,000 acres, cattle work is genuine and necessary work that guests can help with.

“Our key staff is trained in the Bud Williams Low Stress Stockmanship concept of handling livestock,” says ranch literature. “During your orientation on Monday morning you will learn the basic concepts.  We can also organize a 1 day session during your stay given there are enough participants.”

Details: Ride into crisp fall mornings against a backdrop of aspen trees changing colors.  Mid September through October is roundup time in the high country around the Hideout. Look for elk and wildlife moving down from the high country while you round up the calves and drive them back down to the valley basin. But note: “Cattle work hinges on range conditions and weather; we are seldom able to say in advance exactly when we’ll do a long distance drive.” To stay tuned, visit:

Bitterroot Dude Ranch

Spend all day in the saddle driving the herd, then return to your cozy cabin each night to spend all night in a comfy bed. Now that’s my idea of a cattle drive. You get all the adventure without all of the discomfort of sleeping on the ground and going days without a shower.

Guests who ‘ride well enough’ are allowed to pitch in with herding the cows into or back down from the mountains. It’s challenging work, since the cattle are spread out over 50 square miles of mountains, forests, and river valleys. You may ride off the beaten path in country where encounters with wild game like elk, deer, moose, wolves and grizzly bear are possible. But at the end of each day, you’ll head back to your cabin for all the comforts of home (like a meal, shower, and good bed).

Details: the first week of July or the last week of September. Meet at Riverton or Jackson, trip lasts 8 days/7 nights (with 6 days riding). Guests with riding experience only. $2,100 per person based on double occupancy.

Bucking S Ranch

Bucking-S-Cattle-Drive-to-LakeSet near the foothills of the Seminoe and Shirley Mountains, the Bucking S is the real deal: an authentic working cattle ranch running some 200 cow-calf pairs. As if that wasn’t enough, they also help three ranch neighbors with their cattle work.
“The whole season from mid-May to mid-October we rotate cattle to new pastures as grazing conditions and water dictates. Between taking care of our own cattle and helping neighboring ranches, we have plenty of cattle drives every single week.”
Details: Open May through October 7. Located 65 miles southwest of Casper, Wyo., at altitudes between 6,800 and 8,000 feet. Rates from $ 1,550 per week/per person double occupancy (includes all ranch activities, meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages).  “After you had a chance to browse through our web site, we would very much enjoy speaking to you personally about our ranch, answer any questions you might have and make sure you have a good understanding of what to expect from a ranch vacation at The Bucking S.”

Tanque Verde Ranch
If you’re new to riding, or don’t have the time to spend on a full cattle drive, there are loads of other ways to get your cowboy on and work up a sweat. At Tanque Verde, you can join the Team Penning Competition.

Team Penning pits you (and your teammates) against is a herd of eight sometimes-ornery cattle. Team Penning is done at a walk or trot, so riders of all skill levels may participate.  The goal of this timed competition is to maneuver the cows through a series of obstacles and into one of three pens. (Doctors or lawyers may find this exercise akin to getting a patient or client to do what they’re supposed to do.) Or you may find it’s just a fun twist on your dude ranch experience and a great way to bond with friends, family or co-workers.

Details: May through October is Value Season, so rates are the best of the year. (Rates, from $395 per night, double occupancy, include three meals, all trail riding and horseback lessons, fishing, guided hiking and mountain biking, art classes, water aerobics, tennis clinics and lessons, and a fully supervised children’s program.  Also included are outdoor BBQ cookouts (Wed and Sat), and breakfast ride. All rates INCLUDE service charge!)


Ranch getaways for grownups only

horsebackThe other day, my friend C was telling me about how her six-year-old daughter has learned how to really push C’s buttons, and that on those occasions, a long soak in a bubble bath just wasn’t enough of a getaway. It’s true. No matter how much we love the little ones, sometimes you just need to leave them with the grandparents and sneak away for a little ‘grownups time’.

Maybe you work with other people’s kids and need a getaway with no rugrats for a change of pace (teachers, we hear you!). Or maybe you just enjoy a big slice of peace and quiet with a side of adult conversation. Whatever the reason, specialty weeks like Adults-Only weeks at a dude or guest ranch resort can be a real lifesaver.

They’re easy to locate when you use the right tools. Check out the Ranch Categories on and look for Adults Only section. You’ll find some 30 ranches listed with such weeks, from Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Montana to the Sweetgrass Ranch in Wyoming. It’s just another way helps you find your perfect guest ranch vacation. Here’s a sampling of what as few of those ranches offer:

Rankin Ranch
Best known for its children’s programs, Rankin Ranch is a cattle and guest dude ranch that offers horseback riding, haywagon rides, barbeques, fishing, square dancing and evening activities for all. It has since branched out to included adults-only periods built around special activities. Its set in Central California in the beautiful secluded mountain valley of Walker’s Basin at the southern tip of the Sierras, about a 1 hour drive northeast of Bakersfield.
Details: Art Week: May 20-25 (special rates/ adults only; Off Season Rates Apply). Scrapbooking Weekends: Oct. 18-21; Oct. 25 to 28; Nov. 8 to 11 (special rates/ adults only); $379 for Fri. & Sat. Nights Additional $100 for Thursday Arrival.

Black Mountain Ranch
Call it a guest and dude ranch, or a working ranch, Black Mountain offers everything from horseback riding to cattle drives, fly fishing, trap shooting, and over night pack trips. Choose among four private cabins and eight cozy suites each featuring a private bath, fireplace, sitting area and custom log furniture built right on the ranch. What’s included: Unlimited horseback riding and instruction, genuine longhorn cattle drives EVERY WEEK, overnight pack trips, whitewater rafting, skeet shooting, riflery, archery, children’s program, trip to the rodeo in Beaver Creek. They pride themselves on the quality of their herd. Details: ADULT ONLY WEEKS:  May 27 – June 3, June 3 – 10, June 10 – 17. All options of accommodations available.


Flathead Lake LodgeAverills_1
Join the crew at the Flathead Lake Lodge for their annual Adults Only Fall Getaway set for September 2-6. What’s included: lots of horseback adventures (breakfast rides, arena lessons, an extended luncheon ride, guide horseback rides), plus lake cruises, sailing excursions and an evening of music around the campfire. Guests can relax at the pool or explore the shores of Flathead Lake, and all the lodge’s outfitters will be on hand for fly fishing, lake fishing, whitewater rafting, massage and so much more.
Details: per-person, 4 night package rate of $1,500.00 is all inclusive of ranch recreation, lodging, meals, tax and service charge. Contact 406/837-4391 or click here.

Sweetgrass Ranch
A sixth generation, family-owned working ranch and guest ranch on about 10,000 acres, Sweetgrass is set in the Crazy Mountains of Montana. You’ll find unparalleled riding opportunities, including cattle drives, lessons, swimming horses and wonderful adventures for families and singles. Hiking, packtrips, fishing in the Sweet Grass Creek, numerous alpine lakes and local ponds, horsemanship clinics, photography are also possible. Details: Adult-only weeks:  September 2-16.

7D Ranch
Set in the remote and pristine valley called Sunlight Basin, the 7D has been giving families great vacations for over fifty years. You can’t buy experience like that.  Details: Adults Only Weeks are offered: August 26- September 2, September 2 – 9,  September 9-16.


Around the world on horseback

We love bloggers who love horses, so we were delighted to chat recently with the author of As a child, Nancy D. Brown was like so many young girls, dreaming of owning a horse. “ I cleaned out many a horse stall to earn my riding lessons as a child,” Brown admits. “But when my parents saw how serious I was about it, I got my first horse.” That Quarter Horse—Cricket—fired a lifelong passion in Brown. Now, she has combined her passion for horses with her love of travel and created a career. CowgirNancy

With her blog Writing Horseback, professional travel writer Nancy D. Brown (at right) guides her readers to the best equestrian-based lodging properties and resorts all over the world. For Ranchweb blog readers, it’s a good additional resource for travelers who love horses. And she notes that she’s enjoying Ranchweb’s redesigned website and its blog. “Horse lovers will find ranch recommendations, and those looking for ranch jobs will find resources, as well,” Brown comments. “Like a good team roping pair, I think Ranchweb/Ranchweb blog and make a great duo.” (We couldn’t agree more!)

Take a look at her blog’s home page and you’ll see a black and white picture of Brown aboard Cricket (look to the upper left). Admittedly horse-crazy in her youth (Brown says she missed out on many high school dances in favor of showing her Quarter Horse in as many shows as her budget would allow), she never stopped loving all things equestrian. So now, Brown travels world-wide in search of the best resorts offering quality riding opportunities. Does that include dude and guest ranches? “I do cover dude ranches!” Brown says. (The photo of her on the fjord horse below is from Big Bar Ranch, a dude ranch in Clinton, BC, Canada.)

She’s clear about one goal: no ‘nose to tail’ riding trips for her. The destinational rides she writes about are always adventurous and cover the globe, from the Argentinean Andes to Perthshire, Scotland and lots of U.S. destinations in between. Her favorite trips so far: riding fjord horses in Norway (see a fjord horse, below) and a trip up to a butterfly-filled valley in Puerto Vallarta, ending the trip with a swim beneath waterfalls.

Nancy on a fjord horse in Bergen, Norway.

Nancy Brown on a fjord horse.

Next, Brown heads for Darby, Montana and the Triple Creek Ranch for ‘Clicks for Chicks”. It’s a 4-day endurance ride that she says she’s really up for. And if she gets sore, Brown notes, “I’ll just have to soak my aches away in the Triple Creek Ranch hot tub.” Oh, tough.

What’s on her bucket list? “I’d like to ride in an African safari” Brown says. Another dream trip: “Someday I hope to ride to the Blue Lagoon on an Icelandic horse.” Sounds fab.

Details: When she’s not traveling, she makes her home in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two teenagers. Brown writes the “What a Trip” travel blog and authors a column by the same name for the Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun, a publication of Media News Group. She is the Lodging Editor for She writes an on-line travel column for Diablo magazine and the “Traveler Making a Difference” column for Escapes magazine.

She is a BootsnAll Insider for California and has contributed to InsideBayArea, and Write to Travel blogs. She is a member of Bay Area Travel Writers (BATW), BlogHer, Matador and She also owns a public relations consulting business.


Artistry in Arizona



Open Mid November through end of April, Elkhorn Ranch offers desert and mountain riding insouthern Arizona. Here, the Sonoran desert country has unique and abundant birds and wildlife. Which is why its fitting for them to offer a Photography, Art & Natural History Workshop, Jan. 22-29, 2012. Learn the secrets of digital photograph from equipment to composition and cataloging. Photographer and naturalist Stewart Aitchison, plus artist Ann Kramer, are your instructors. In this, the fourth workshop offered, you’ll enjoy workshop activities along with all the rest of the Elkhorn fun, from riding to hiking and relaxing.
Details: Cost: $1398 per person per week (plus tax and gratuities). Accommodates 32 – 40 people, 20 cabins. Comfortable for singles, couples and families. For the workshop, bring your laptop and camera gear.


A winter spa-cation at a dude/guest ranch

pic4-1When you’re talking about a relaxing, rejuvenating winter vacation, the words “spa” and “ranch” don’t often come in the same sentence. Yet there are dozens of dude and guest ranch resorts that combine those two fabulous ideas. Imagine taking a dashing horseback ride through the snow, or showshoeing up hill and dale, and then coming back to steamy soaking tub and a massage. Or on a warmer note, heading for a sun-drenched Southwest ranch for a day of riding hrough the saguaros, followed by a facial or a mani-pedi? A real  ranch spa-cation. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

After a tough 2010, you deserve all the pampering you can get; these ranches are sure to help you unwind and rejuvenate. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Snowy ranches

Resort at Paws Up

Look for first-class service, luxury accommodations, gourmet cuisine, and amazing adventures on Paws Up’s 37,000 acres nfear Greenough, MT. Winter spa-cation: If that’s not enough, how about taking a canter in the 74,000 square-foot equestrian center with indoor arena. But perhaps the most popular spot in January is Spa town® at Paws Up, set on the edge of a silent, snow covered meadow. You’ll find eleven large, well stocked tents, in one of the most unique spas you’ve ever seen. Stroll through the snowy woods along a wooden boardwalk that brings you to a little tent town where relaxation lives. Enter the massage tent and you’ll find relaxation for your body and mind.  It’s a great way to end a winter’s day at the ranch.
Fun and fit/winter activities: skiing and snowshoeing, snowmobiling, winter atv, dog sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, winter horseback riding.

The Ranch at Rock Creek

Montana’s Big Sky, and the Ranch at Rock Creek’s Big Luxury. What a combo; accommodations range from the Granite Lodge, the Luxury Tent Cabins, and the Log Homes. It’s near Philipsburg, MT, open year-round. Winter spa-cation: professional massage therapy treatments available in a dedicated five-room spa inside the stone-and-timber Granite Lodge. Swedish deep tissue massage, warm mountain rock treatments, high-tech or all-natural facials, and the signature ‘Rock Creek Ritual’ are always welcome after a vigorous day outdoors. Hair and nail styling is also available. Peruse the inviting options on a daily spa menu, tell them what time is best for you, and their staff will take care of the rest.
Fun and fit/winter activities: Horseback riding, downhill skiing at Discovery Basin with 60+ runs of all skill levels, fly fishing, sleigh rides, sporting clay shooting, ice skating, gourmet ranch cuisine, a spa and luxury amenities.

Sunny ranches

Tanque Verde Ranch

Just east of Tucson and next door to the fabulous Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest, Tanque Verde is one of the most loveliest Arizona ranch resorts. And now it boasts new, lower rates and a January 2011special: Buy 6 nights…Stay 7 nights. Winter spa-cation: Looking for a special spa getaway, girls spa retreat, or romantic spa escape to soothe the muscles and refresh the spirit? At their La Sonora Spa, you’ll find it all, from spa massages and Arizona body treatments to nail treatments and hair salon services. Ask about their spa packages.
Fun and fit/winter activities: Horseback riding, dancing, desert hiking trails, fishing, mountain biking, swimming, tennis, watercolor painting, and learning in the desert nature center.

Rancho de los Caballeros

An historic guest ranch and golf club with true Southwest flare, Rancho de los Caballeros is a warm winter wonderland. Set near Wickenburg, AZ, the ranch boasts 20,000 acres of rugged trails for horseback riding, championship golf, fine dining, and spa treatments. Winter spa-cation: Take a desert bath, in a soothing herbal bath or an actual milk bath (hey, it worked for Cleopatra). Get a wrap, a scrub, or just chill out with a mani-pedi. A facial or a massage.     Fun and fit/winter activities: tennis, swimming, trap and skeet, Los Caballeros golf club, nature program and birdwatching, exploring historic Wickenburg, evening entertainment. You’ll love taking long rides through the Sonoran desert landscape, or just breathing the warm scented air undisturbed by anything except, perhaps, the call of a cactus wren.


Alisal Guest Ranch

Just north of Santa Barbara, this  famed resort ranch offers golf and horseback riding on 10,000 acres. (it’s also great for families, thanks to its extensive children’s programs).
Winter spa-cation: You should be calmed and invigorated just by experiencing the fresh air, open spaces, and natural beauty of the Santa Ynez Valley. But it that’s not enough, head for the fitness center and spa, where you can work on weights and cardio equipment or join a fitness class (yoga, Pilates, Zumba and ab sculpting). Next step: the spa for soothing Swedish and deep tissue massages, gentle cleansing facials, or a therapeutic mud and herb wraps (great for the skin, some say). Fun and fit winter activities: Horseback riding is big here, but so is golf and tennis. You’ll also find a private lake and some of the best bass fishing in the state (fishing on Alisal Lake is reserved for guests of the Ranch exclusively. All bass are natural spawn wild fish and fishing is catch and release.) Want more? Try bird and nature walks, archery and air rifle range, and a gourmet restaurant.


Ahhh, wilderness pack trips

pic5Wilderness. It speaks to something different in each of us, something elemental that’s hard to get at in the over-protected and all-too-virtual world of civilization. A pack trip puts wilderness within your reach. Consider a wilderness pack trip can be your all-access pass to secret trout streams and hidden fishing holes, to trails into some of the most pristine areas left in the world, and perhaps even to a wilder part of your soul.

Fall is prime time for pack trips, for not only hunters and anglers, but for those hunting up crisp, cool days and photographs of dazzling autumn colors. A pack trip can make it a lot easier to reach those remote rivers alive with fat trout, and hills and vales that hide bears, coyotes, elk and deer.

Traveling to high mountain lakes, river gorges, through mountain passes and meadows, pack trip vacations do not always involve dude ranches, but many extraordinary pack trips originate from dude ranches or are offered in conjunction with dude ranch vacations. Pack trip vacations can be an overnight trip, a weeklong holiday or longer. Generally the packers, or outfitters, pack supplies on sturdy mules and horses and trek into the back country.

Choose a trip that’s fully guided, or a spot pack trip (where your ggear is ferried to a pre-arranged spot and dropped off, then picked up at trip’s end).

The Ranchweb site lists links to 43 ranches and outfitters that offer pack trips. Here’s a quick sampling:

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch
The Cow Camp adventure is a for many a vacation highlight, a true Old West experience (no electricity, no plumbing). Cow Camp is a rustic log homestead from the late 1800s, set in the aspen trees along Cedar Creek. On this overnight pack trip, you’ll enjoy the open air, mountain stillness, and starlight, and who knows, you may just see your friends, family, or co-workers in a whole new light.

Triple Creek Ranch
Whether you prefer extreme sports, a true western adventure or simply the serene beauty of mountain fishing, there is no more scenic backdrop than the Bitterroot Valley. Enjoy a guided trip into the Selway River country, perhaps the most pristine fly-fishing river in America (available through October).

CM Ranch
Take a pack trip as part  of or separate from a traditional week-long dude ranch vacation.  Guests can go to the CM’s base camp at Union Lake, and find glacier-fed lakes are just a short ride away. Or choose a progressive trip and camp next to a different lake each night.  They also drop gear for hikers and backpackers who wish to see the area on foot. Call ahead for pack trip schedule.

The Hideout Lodge & Resort

“We see trophy deer and elk, fox, coyote, lynx, big horn sheep, mountain lion, black bear, and moose,” says the Hideout.  They’ve made efforts to enhance their habitats to ensure the stability of game herds on the Flitner Ranch properties, and hunting is one of the tools used to accomplish this goal. Their motto: “Every management decision made on the ranch takes our hunting habitats into consideration.” They partner with Powder Horn Outfitters, based out of Sheridan, Wyoming, for pack trip through November.

Triangle C Ranch
For a pack trip in the Greater Yellowstone Area, and a real western backcountry experience, Thunder Mountain Outfitters at the Triangle C Ranch can take you there from June through September.

October specials

Triple Creek focuses on cowgirls during “100 Klicks for Chicks” and artistic passion

Known for its spectacular setting in the Montana Rockies, its luxurious accommodations and superb, personalized service, Triple Creek Ranch is an award-winning member of Relais & Châteaux. Set under the Montana Big Sky, the ranch is rated the number one US inn in Travel + Leisure’s 2010 World’s Best Awards. This month’s events:  Klicks for Chicks: Venture into deep canyons, over mountain passes, past crystal-clear lakes and through open meadows to discover the true frontier of the Rocky Mountain West. Cowgirls are invited to participate in a one-of-a-kind horseback riding adventure, created and led by Triple Creek Ranch owner Barbara Barrett.  The first annual Klicks for Chicks 100-kilometer ride is the flip side of the existing all-male 100-mile Los Caballeros and Bohemian Grove endurance horse rides. The ride is for women only and cowgirls will ride rugged all day but return to the luxury of the Rocky Mountain resort at night.   Gourmet evening meals are followed by crackling fires in Triple Creek’s luxurious cabins; a relaxing outdoor hot tub is your reward for a long day in the saddle.

Artists’ Workshop Weekends: (Oct. 7-10, Oct. 14-17, Oct. 21-24) and David Stoecklein Photography Weekend¸ (Oct. 28-31). Arts-loving guests will have an opportunity to fine-tune their skills alongside some of the West’s most accomplished professionals. The series of four-day/three-night workshops each features three celebrated artists leading morning and afternoon hands-on workshops.  The all-inclusive weekends include luxurious accommodations in a mountain cabin with wood-burning fireplace and hot tub (in cabin or nearby), gourmet meals and complimentary house wine and spirits, ranch activities, artists’ welcome reception, a guided tour of the Ranch’s art collection and farewell art exhibit.

Mountain Sky focuses on food

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

This month’s Flavors Out West event (Oct. 15-19) promises to be a world-class culinary experience. Head chef Brian Bielen and pastry chef Pam Comstock open their kitchen for the first time to share the secrets behind thier cuisine.  Learn the how-to’s of each gourmet dish, or let the sommelier guide you through the perfect pairing of wine with each dish.

Join in on hands-on workshops, or simply revel in luxurious accommodations, cast a line into Big Creek, take a hike through Paradise Valley’s fiery foliage or follow the wranglers to the ‘top of the world’ on horseback.

Details: Flavors Out West; October 15 – 19, 2010; $1475/person. Package price includes: lodging, all meals, on-ranch activities, use of all ranch facilities and amenities, and  complimentary wines with workshops. For more, go to


Cowboy up: join a dude ranch cattle drive

Dudes and wranglers herd cattle at the McGuinness Ranch

Dudes and wranglers herd cattle at the McGuinness Ranch

A nice vacation can thoroughly relax you—and be forgotten in a week. A really memorable vacation can actually transform you. That can happen on a dude ranch. Since the late 1800s, dude and guest ranches have taken city slickers, put them atop gentle horses and into the great outdoors, and, in the process, unlocked their inner cowpoke.

And some dude ranches give you the ultimate in involvement—the chance to be a real cowboy or cowgirl for a time. A number of ranches offer you the chance to saddle up and actually work with cattle—driving them across high pastures and helping out with all manner of cattle work. Finding a dude and guest ranch with the option of joining a cattle drive is easy on Ranchweb—just click the Selecting a Dude Ranch button and toggle over to Cattle Drives.

Below, we’ve listed six ranches from Colorado to Ecuador that offer cattle drives in fall or spring; some let you take a hand in all manner of ranch work throughout various seasons. It’s more than a good idea to be physically fit and able to ride fairly well in order to participate on most cattle drives. And just for fun, before you go, rent a DVD of the John Wayne classic film Red River. You’ll get a sense of what adventures the old time cowboys faced on their cattle drives (most of which, hopefully, you’ll avoid).

But then, after a week or so of playing cowboy, you’ll feel right at home on the range. And thoroughly transformed.

Chico Basin Ranch
This 87,000-acre ranch, near Colorado Springs, remains one of Colorado’s largest historical cattle ranches. It is said that famed cattleman Charles Goodnight grazed his cattle herds in the region of the Chico Basin Ranch in the late 1800’s. Today, the ranch offers ‘active participation for guests interested in hands-on’ experiences: cattle herding, natural horsemanship, cowboy traditions, land positive range management, and the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat. WHEN: Fall and spring, plus other various times; call ahead.

Vista Verde Ranch
Don’t wait to sign up for their Fall Cattle Gather, one activity where luxury meets rustic. Guests enjoy all Vista Verde’s fabulous amenities, meals, and accommodations, but will be doing the hard work of cowhands during the day.  The week begins with a quick review of cattle work during clinics in the arena; the rest of the week is spent riding to find and gather the cows and calves on more than 16,000 acres of forest land.  WHEN: cattle gather weeks are September 12-19 and September 19-26.

McGarry Ranches

The McGarry Ranch is a working cattle outfit that’s really three ranches. They’re all in spectacular locations in southeastern Idaho, in the upper Snake River Valley and along the South Fork of the Snake River (some 90 miles west of Jackson Hole, Wyoming). Owner Theron McGarry is a fourth-generation rancher and the real deal: a lifelong cowboy.

And when you stay at the McGarry guest ranch, you can (at various times of the year) become cowboy or cowgirl for a spell, helping out with the cattle operations. Join the cowboy crew and help with whatever: branding, calving, doctoring, gathering the herd to move to the mountains or on the drive from the mountains back to the valley for the winter. Plus, there are always fences to mend, roping to do, and other jobs around the ranch. As the family says, “Thank you for your interest in our way of life. Come share a bit of the cowboy dream with us.” WHEN: Various times, call ahead.

McGinnis Meadows Cattle & Guest Ranch

Outside Libby, MT, you’ll get lots of riding in (not the boring head to tail chain of horses kind, but real riding). Cattle drives start during the third week of May; you can drive cattle all summer long throughout 75,000 acres of spectacular country surrounding Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge in Northwest Montana. You can help with moving cattle to new pastures, riding for strays, and pushing cattle up to the high country. The wranglers at McGinnis will teach you about the ways of cattle, and even add tips about proper land management. WHEN: The ‘Fall Gather’ runs through all of October and throughout the peak of fall color. You’re welcome to participate as much as you wish.

Burntwell Guest Ranch

Near Roswell, you’ll find the real deal: at an authentic working ranch, join authentic week long cattle drives. You’ll sleeping, eating and living with the cattle—just like John Wayne in Red River. WHEN: Their fall drives will be October 3-9, 2010 (Bonney Canyon Ranch Drive) and October 24-30, 2010 (Kerr Ranch Cattle Drive).  They have no details yet (go to the webpage for more). Details and dates on the spring 2011 drives will be posted later on.

Hacienda La Alegria

Okay, Quito is a bit farther West than John Wayne ever got, but they know horses there. And this is a family-run organic farm in the heart of Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes”. Join a South American-style cattle drive, true horseback riding adventures (even a volcano ride), delicious food, and a warm family environment. The Cattle Round-up Ride lasts 10 days and the riding difficulty is listed as: Moderate to Advanced (the itinerary can be customized for non-expert riders). WHEN: Call ahead for dates and details or write to

Get a kick out of a great boot

A really great pair of cowboy boots, like a great vacation, can also be transformative. Just check out the Share Your Boot Stories archive on the Justin Boots site ( and you’ll see how people feel about their boots. (One writer even related how his boot saved his foot in an accident on the ranch!) The story of the Justin Boots company itself began in 1879, when founder H.J. Justin left Lafayette, Indiana to ‘start a new life’ in Spanish Fort, Texas. Today the brand is so well respected for quality and tradition that the firm was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, managed by financial genius Warren Buffet. (According to the company, it takes more than 100 steps and over 16 square feet of leather to produce one pair of Justin Boots.) To see their new fall line, due soon, check

Ask anyone who knows about footwear and chances are they’ll have heard of Lucchese boots—considered by many to be the Ferrari of cowboy boots. They’re sleek, stylish, distinctive—and they often have a price to match. It’s no accident that Lucchese  has a line of boots called Diva. Those are the kind of boots you might see on the red carpet at a film premier. They also have the rough, rugged, and ranch ready Resistol line of boot under the Lucchese umbrella. Sam Lucchese started the brand in 1883, and the company is still making hand-crafted quality boots to this day. The new Fall 2010 Lucchese Collection is coming soon; go to

Getting the right boot fit is about more than style. Hint: the boot should fit properly in the instep, ball, and heel of your foot. Here’s a complete explanation.


Personality profile: Bayard Fox, Bitterroot Ranch, Wyo.


“In seventy years of riding I have been privileged to know some superb horses,” says Bayard Fox. “They are a glorious part of my life and have enriched my existence immeasurably.  If I ever get to heaven, it could hardly be that great a place unless horses are there too.”

You gotta love a guy that loves horses. That’s Fox riding through the picture at left (in front, in the dark blue shirt). And it’s not a terribly surprising sentiment, coming from a dude ranch owner like Bayard Fox, who has since 1971 operated the Bitterroot Ranch outside Dubois, Wyoming.

It’s the rest of the story that you almost can’t believe. Horses, career accomplishment, and a passion for adventure are woven through the fabric of Bayard Fox’ incredible life. Hollywood screenwriters could not have made this tale up—you’d never believe it. But it’s all in his bio. Read on…

Bayard Fox began life in 1929 on a farm in Chester Country, Pennsylvania; then in 1943, Fox headed west for a horse packing trip through Yellowstone Park and southern Montana.  Soon, Fox began a pattern of cramming several lives into one, working variously as a seaman, a forest fire fighter, and a longshoreman in Alaska before graduating from Yale in 1951.  He did some work as an advertising model (in a DeBeers ad, shown below), and learned to fly fish (bottom right). Bayard_Kane_FoxHe also biked through Europe, lived and worked in Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Iran, Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and the Solomon Islands, becoming fluent in many languages along the way.

In Iran (while working as an agent for the CIA), Fox spent a couple of years riding and hunting with the local people.  It was while practicing lancing from horseback (for some pig sticking with the Bakhtiari) that Fox had a life-changing accident. His horse cartwheeled on him, smashing up his left hip and the lifelong horse-lover was left to move about on crutches for two years, unable to walk or ride.

For some that would mean tragedy. But for Fox, that was simply a motivation to work hard to recover. Along the way, he set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. Of course—swimming was something he could still do.  Fox spent over two years roaming about the remote parts of the Solomons, diving for langoustes with the natives. Because he was swimming so much, and working in the water, he eventually began to recover. Tentatively at first, and then with greater strength, he began to walk and ride.

In 1971, Fox bought the Bitterroot Ranch. With his family, Fox runs Black Angus and Highland cows plus horses, including purebred Arabians which they raise and train.  In due course, Fox and his family began running it as a dude ranch catering to an international mix of guests. For 25 years, the Foxes also ran a wilderness hunting camp behind the ranch. Today, the Bitterroot is “more a destination for equestrian vacations than it is a typical dude or guest ranch,” says the ranch website. “We focus on providing our guests with quality riding and are especially proud of our Arabian horses, many of which have been raised and trained on the ranch.”
Soon, the Foxes found new projects. East Africa was a logical place to grow new aspects of the business, since Bayard’s wife, Mel, grew up on a farm near Mt. Kilimanjaro, worked in Kenya’s national parks, and speaks fluent Swahili. In 1980, Mel and Bayard embarked on a new horse-related venture, escorting a group of former ranch guests on a riding safari. Their venue: the spectacular Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa’s famed game country.  The excursion was a smashing success, heralding the creation of Equitours Worldwide Riding Holidays—now the largest riding tour company in America. Headquartered in Dubois, Wyoming, Equitours organizes and sells rides in 30 countries today.

Ask him how his international travel has influenced him and he’ll say it has, for one thing, helped him be a better dude ranch owner/host. It also inspired him to start Equitours. “One of the things I appreciate the most is travel on horseback,” notes Fox. “You see things from the back of a horse you can’t see any other way. Equitours fits in well with the dude ranch business,” he says, “because I often ride with folks I’ve met on my travels.” Fox, his wife Mel, son, and daughter-in-law have all traveled and experienced various riding techniques and riding gear from all over the world, so much so that it has expanded what they know about riding beyond what’s practiced in the American West. One thing he learned on his travels that has helped his dude ranch: “There’s more to riding than what most other classical Western dude ranches offer,” Fox says.

The international ride the he finds most inspiring? “The first ride, into Kenya’s Masai Mara (for advanced riders),” he answers, calling it the best not only for wildlife, but the ride itself, past the colorful Masai tribes and for the splendid polo ponies who at times race the wild zebra and wildebeest.

One of Fox’ main concerns now is with the future of dude ranching, especially in a society more involved with the virtual than with the real. “Video games, computers, TVs those don’t let you get connected to the land,” Fox contends. “A visit to a dude ranches requires real participation. I’d like to see more ranches go back to the old style horse and cattle ranch, and emphasize riding over heated swimming pools and TVs in every room.”

And for ranchers wanting to attract more of the international crowd, Fox suggests learning another language or two, educating themselves on foreign cultures, add website translators, and find good overseas tour operators.

Fox’ point of view about computers and gadgets on the ranch is understandable; he carved out a life that emphasizes the real over the virtual in every sense. Bayard Fox has lived a life of adventure, travel, and accomplishment. Through it all, he made sure he was never too long out of the saddle. In fact, the dude ranch owner estimates he has spent over 40,000 hours on horseback, riding enough miles to circle the globe six times or more. “People more likely to accept you when you ride up on a horse,” Fox contends.

With a life like that, the guy should write his autobiography. We hope he is. Thing is, it may be tough to find a title that adequately sums up Fox’ incredible life. The title would have to include words like “Joie de Vivre” to convey his zest for life,  “Quest” or  “Adventure” to convey the Indiana Jones nature of his roaming, and both “Fearless” and “Hospitable” to convey his personality. And then the title should somehow work the ideas of family, ranching, Wyoming, and world traveling into the title. Oh heck, maybe the Bayard Fox story should just be called The Man Who Loved Horses.


Rustic adventures in Canada

panoramicWhen you want to really explore and head deep into Canada’s backcountry, there are outfitters ready to show you the way. Some, like Alberta’s Warner Guiding and Outfitting Ltd. (shown in photo, above), and Tsylos Park Lodge & Adventures, have been in business for years. Others, like Tod Mountain Ranch, in British Columbia, are brand new.

“We ride in almost 30,000 hectares of mountain trails, forest and alpine that surrounds the ranch and is home to bear, deer, moose and coyote,” notes Tracey, of Tod Mountain. “Look up and you just might see a bald eagle or hawk flying overhead.”

Tod Mountain Ranch is a small, cozy facility accommodating up to 16 guests in a setting that is both luxurious and rustic. Buildings have a natural look to them and the services and amenities are high quality with a touch of luxury.

“Our cabins have all the comforts you would expect to find in a luxury hotel,” Tracey adds. Each cabin has a private bathroom and is furnished with custom-designed log furniture and and high-end amenities.

Tsylos Lodge (pronounced sigh-loss) has been around since 1957, set at wild Chilko Lake in British Columbia. It offers wilderness adventures from fully guided fly-fishing trips to pack trips and grizzly adventures.

Warner Guiding and Outfitting Ltd. has both in-town rides (ideal for those with just a day or so), plus longer backcountry trips along the Bow River, or up onto Sulphur Mountain. “Our backcountry rides are perfect for people of all ages and abilities, who have a little more time to spend in the Rockies with us,” contends Jill. They offer tenting or lodge stays from two to six days and horseback packtrips deep into the heart of Banff National Park.

“We’ll take you to the perfect spots for capturing once in a lifetime photos and viewing wildlife in its natural habitat,” says Jill, of Warner Guiding and Outfitting Ltd. “Bring along a fishing rod for a chance to cast in some alpine lakes or mountain streams.”

Warner’s specialty trips, dubbed Holidays on Horseback, offer a number of interpretive trips each summer featuring leading authorities on wildlife and their habitat, environmental issues, conservation, mixed with both fun and history. Choose topics like Mountain Photography or Year of the Grizzly.

One added benefit to a Holiday on Horseback is that you’ll know that you’re helping the local environment: a portion of your trip cost is donated to continuing wildlife research and conservation in Banff National Park through the University of Calgary Grizzly Study, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Friends of Banff programs.