Wilderness. 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).
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.
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
It’s no secret that 2009 was a challenging year for dude and guest ranches just about everywhere. The good news is that ranches have responded with enthusiasm, ramping up new programs, special deals, and energizing the industry with a new way of looking at and promoting their unique offerings. At the same time, ranches strive to maintain some of the best traditions that are so beloved by guests of many generations.
So what is new? More targeted events like the special Cowgirl weeks or weekends (like a slumber party with horses, one guest said). And how about spruced-up menus that lean more toward brioche than beans. The menu of activities is richer, as well, going beyond horseback riding and fly fishing to often include things like yoga, rock climbing, or spa treatments.
We hope you’ve had a happy holiday season and enjoy a warm and wonderful New Year. Here’s a quick roundup of news from the range:
- Winter fun at Vista Verde Ranch, above
VISTA VERDE RANCH
Winter specials at this luxe ranch outside Steamboat Springs include Share and Save, Work of Mouth Special, and Give Winter a Try. But do read the fine print: Discounts can not be combined. They are also hosting two horsemanship clinics- Jan 3-6 and Mar 2-6.
Details: Share and Save- January-March. Prices are as stated for the first 2 people in a cabin, then bring along some friends or family and the extra guests are 50% off. Word of Mouth Special- The ranch normally pays a finder’s fee in the form of Vista Bucks when you refer a friend. But this winter they are upping the ante; send a new guest to the ranch for a winter stay and both you and your friends save 25% on your 2010 winter stay. Give Winter a Try- January-March. Pay for 3 nights and get the 4th night free.
320 GUEST RANCH
Check out the Winter Wonderland Special, where you can escape to the 320 Guest Ranch for a night of true Montana hospitality. Whether it is a romantic getaway, a girls’ night out, or some family fun, the Winter Wonderland Special can do the trick. Set out under the stars for a sleigh ride pulled by Percheron draft horses; follow it with scrumptious cowboy cuisine at the 320 Steakhouse & Saloon and finish the evening with accommodations in a cozy cabin.
Details: Winter Wonderland Special costs $200 for two persons (alcohol, taxes and gratuity not included). Good/Valid for 2009-2010 Winter Season; can extend stay up to 7 nights at a discounted lodging rate. Reservations: 406/995-4283 or firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
ALISAL GUEST RANCH AND RESORT
From quiet luxury to exciting adventure, the Santa Ynez Valley’s Alisal Ranch and Resort is both rugged and refined. This 10,000-acre working cattle ranch and luxury resort has created the perfect getaway with the Wine & Roses Package. All the ingredients for a romantic retreat are here: a crackling fire, Champagne, even a bed of roses. Sign up and you’ll make sure everything is coming up roses this Valentine’s Day.
Details: The Wine & Roses package is available for $1,850 per couple. Suite rates are available upon request. It includes studio accommodation for three days/ two nights; sparkling wine and roses on arrival; welcome basket with fresh fruit, cheese and chocolate truffles; breakfast and dinner daily, including wine with dinner; a picnic basket for two with wine. In addition, it includes one hour couples massage; horseback riding on scheduled rides, golf green fees, tennis and fishing at Alisal Lake, as well as taxes and service charges. When: Available midweek September through May, or any two nights from November through March (excluding summer and holidays). For weekends during September, October, April and May, add $200 to the package price. To book, call 800.4.ALISAL or click here.
VISTA VERDE RANCH
They’re working on putting together some details for a cooking school in March as well as a yoga retreat sometime in the future. Stay tuned.
Details: For more, click here.
SIWASH LAKE RANCH
One doesn’t don’t usually speak of cowboys and carbon footprints in the same sentence―but you can when talking about this remote off-the-grid dude ranch. The ranch is lightening its eco-footprint with innovative clean energy technologies. Rated by the Globe and Mail (a well-respected newspaper) as one of Canada’s top eco-friendly luxury destinations, Siwash Lake Ranch is overhauling its power system.
The Siwash Lake Ranch is eliminating over 90 percent of its fossil fuel energy production by installing a solar power plant as their primary source of clean, renewable, and reliable energy. It features a state-of-the-art solar photovoltaic system for electricity and also includes a retro-fit of the hot water heating system, along with new technology to capture excess energy from heated water. The ranch is also switching from gas-powered to solar-powered pumps for irrigation and other water systems.
“This project will save $32,000 per year in fuel costs and reduce our annual carbon footprint by 123 tons of green house gases. This is the equivalent of taking 22 passenger vehicles of the road for one year,” says Allyson Rogers, owner and proprietor at Siwash Lake Ranch. “Our guests are excited about all the work we do to make our operations as sustainable as possible,” she notes. “To stay in harmony with our environment by using renewable green energy to fuel our operations is incredibly important to us.”
Details: To learn more about their comprehensive sustainability program, and for a list of their land stewardship initiatives and their daily best practices, please visit www.siwashlakeranch.com/site/sustainability.html. To book, click here
For our December news roundup, we’re continuing to roll out new features for the blog. Last month, we introduced Newsflash, Hot Deals, and Tips from the Ranchers. New to the blog this month: The Smart Ranch Traveler: suggestions on ways to save money on a ranch vacation. Stylish Dudes: New stuff ranchers/guests are wearing at the ranch. And Green Dudes: about new environmentally-friendly practices ranches have introduced. Happy holidays!
THE RANCH AT ROCK CREEK
It’s the newest guest ranch in the West, set to open in May 2010 (but with a soft opening this month, see below). Set roughly halfway between Butte and Missoula, Montana, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a 6,800-acre ranch, anchored by the stylish Granite Lodge, with its spa, and Silver Dollar Saloon. Two private rental houses and several glam safari-style cabin/tents on platforms by the creek and in the woods augment the lodging. Lucky guests have private access to activities from sleigh rides, ice skating, cross country skiing and snowshoeing, to bowling, shooting sporting clays, and horseback riding. Inside the stone-and-timber Granite Lodge, guest rooms are decorated in iconic Western themes, but include all the comforts and luxury of a high-end hotel.
It’s all the vision of investment banker Jim Manley, who spent 30 years searching for the perfect setting for a ranch that he’d dreamed of owning since his youth (when Bonanza was his fave show). This unique combination of the authentic ranch setting with luxury amenities, five-star equivalent food and wine, and state-of-the-art facilities is right here in the American West. While the facility is new, it retains a sense of place and fits the surrounding environment perfectly.
In summer, the fun is endless: angling on blue-ribbon trout streams, mountain biking, archery, target shooting at sporting clays, hiking, or horseback riding in the famed big sky country. Nearby, you’ll find ghost towns, battlefields and museums to roam, rodeos, parades, and wildlife to watch.
At some point, after all that action, you’ll want to relax and rejuvenate at the ranch’s full service spa. Or maybe just hang out and enjoy the wine pairing, tea and cookies, and four-star level cuisine.
“Guests have exclusive use of the 6,800 acre ranch, including The Granite Lodge, Spa, and Silver Dollar Saloon, plus private access to all activities, and everything ‘big sky country’ has to offer,’ notes General Manager Paul Robertson.
Details: The ranch celebrates its official grand opening in May 2010; starting rates (includes meals, activities) in May: rooms from $800 to $950 per person per night, tents from $825 to $1150; houses rent for $5000 to $6200 per night. This holiday season, private groups may get a sneak preview. Starting on December 17, The Ranch at Rock Creek is open for private groups who book the entire facility.It includes downhill skiing at nearby Discovery Basin with 60+ runs of all skill levels, horseback riding, on-ranch cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, massage treatments, and so much more. “Share this unforgettable western destination with your best clients and they will always be grateful.” For the holiday season, the all-inclusive package price starts at $17,600 per night; for details, please call 888/-757-2624.
Smart Ranch Traveler
At the Ponderosa Ranch, Kim & Jeff Lund tell me that “families can save a lot amount of money with the a la carte pricing that we offer our guests”. That is offered in additional to the traditional all inclusive vacation package. Essentially, guests can choose the amount of horseback riding they wish to do and pay only for the hours they ride. Families who do not have a lot of riding experience or are not into the sport only want 1-2 hours of riding at a time and that may be all they wish to do for the entire day. The Ponderosa’s guests can then fill their day with sightseeing activities in the area, which they can pick and choose to fit their budget as well. They can also choose the number of meals they eat with our family. “Each of our cabins have their own kitchens,” say the Lunds, “allowing families on a tight budget to prepare some or all of their own meals.”
Great cost-saving ideas! And it works at Ponderosa because, as the Lunds say, “Our guests chose our ranch because its a small, family-owned operation. We only take one family at a time riding (generally 4-5 people maximum) which allows for a very personalized experience.”
Holiday Packages abound this month. It’s a great way to spend a festive holiday at the ranch and let them take care of the hard work! Here’s a selection of packages:
WESTERN PLEASURE GUEST RANCH
From her desk at Sandpoint’s Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, Janice tells us, “We are trying something a little different this year at the ranch with our sleigh rides.” Indeed. They’re hosting A Simple Christmas – Sleigh Rides And Christmas Trees beginning Sunday, November 29 and ending December 19 or until trees are gone. So gather the family together, bundle up and get ready to enjoy this family outing at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.
First, you’ll load up on a horse drawn sleigh and ride through the forest out to the tree lot. Pick out your own fresh cut, locally-grown Christmas tree, warm up at the bonfire, then hop back into your sleigh and ride back to the lodge where for popcorn, hot chocolate, and coffee.
A Simple Christmas—Sleigh Rides And Christmas Trees runs:
Sundays – Nov, 29th, Dec. 6th, Dec. 13th at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00
Wednesdays – Dec. 2nd, 9th, and 16th, at 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00
Fridays – Dec. 4th and 11th at 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00
Saturdays – Dec. 5th , 12th , 19th at 11:00, 12:00 and 1:00
Reservations are required and available. Cost including tree is $90 plus tax for a family of four.
Each additional person is $15.00. Kids five and under are free. If there is not enough snow, wagon rides will be substituted.
British Columbia, Canada
BIG BAR GUEST RANCH
In Clinton, B.C., the Big Bar Guest Ranch offers a Christmas Package with a difference. “This year we are presenting a Danish Christmas,” our friend Susan notes. “This special Christmas will be complete with ceremonies and specialties from Denmark.” Following the Danish tradition, they’ll be celebrating Christmas on December 24.
Go ice skating, gaze at the star-filled night sky, ride through the snow, go on a dog sled trip, cross country ski, or perhaps just snuggle up in front of a crackling fire with a cup of warmth in your hands. Danish Christmas Package: December 23–26 (3 Nights – 4 Days),
All Inclusive, Sagebrush Inn, $569.30 per couple (taxes included) – special pricing for children includes 3 Nights Accommodation (1 night free) and all meals, including special Christmas Eve Supper. Free outdoor activities: skating, snow shoeing, x-country skiing, star gazing. Activities with fees: Horseback riding, skidooing, dog sledding. All outdoor activities are weather dependent. Adds Susan, “Please let us know which activities you want to commit to at the time of booking.”
TOD MOUNTAIN RANCH
At Canada’s Tod Mountain Ranch, Christmas is a pretty big deal. “We take a traditional approach to the Christmas holidays. Our Christmas tree, which was grown here on the ranch, will be decorated with hundreds of twinkly lights and shiny baubles,” says Tracey.
During the day, relax and enjoy the comfort, calm and tranquility of the ranch. Go hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing on ungroomed trails around the ranch. Visit Sun Peaks Resort (just 15 minutes away) for downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiles. Sun Peaks has 100 runs open on all three mountains and we hear it has snowed pretty much every day for the past three weeks. But the ranch is down in the valley with warmer weather and less snow plus the quiet, calm, relaxing environment of the ranch. Christmas Special Package: December 23- 28 ($125 per person per night). On Christmas Eve, after dinner, you can join the local ranchers at the annual carol service at our country church followed by mulled wine and mince pies back at the ranch. Dinner on Christmas Day will be a traditional Christmas feast with roast turkey, baked ham and all the trimmings. dog sledding and sleigh rides. You can even ski with Santa at Sun Peaks on 23rd and 24th December. Rate includes accommodation, all meals, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks & snacks throughout your stay and use of all ranch facilities.
ESTANCIA LOS POTREROS
Set in a lush reserve in Argentina’s Cordoba Hills, Estancia Los Potreros dates from 1574 and is deservedly proud of its heritage. Travelers to the ranch often come away imbued with the Gaucho spirit that permeates the ranch. Happily, they can take away something more tangible as well.
Shown at right is the boina headgear worn by Estancia Los Potreros gauchos. “This is the ‘new stuff’ we all wear on the ranch,” our friend Robin tells us. “They attract such respect that even the men wear them.” And you can buy boinas on the ranch.
Green Dude Ranches
ESTANCIA LOS POTREROS
We also wanted to mention the Estancia’s Environmental Memorandum, which may be reason enough for some environmentally-conscious travelers to visit the farm in Argentina. The owners have a passion for conservation and the preservation of the environment. They cherish the farm’s spring water and use wind and solar energy.
“We take inspiration from a Native American Proverb,” says Robin. “It goes: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. Well said.
Here is an excerpt from their memorandum:
“…The horses are bred locally and the farm is the source of employment for a number of local people. The farm believe in totally organic farming; they do not use any growth hormones, pesticides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers.”
“They are careful not to overgraze and keep the stocking rate to a minimum level that allows the natural grasses to regenerate. The cattle and horses are free range and the cattle eat back certain paddocks to build natural fire breaks in the winter.”
For more, read their philosophy in full by clicking here.
Instead of waiting to see what treats the Easter bunny left for you out in the garden, why not treat yourself with a quick hop down to a Southwest dude ranch for a well-deserved break?
At Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, you’ll find both sunshine and serene solitude. Take a walk through their tall Ponderosa pines, in the cool higher elevations of the Black Range Mountains of southwest New Mexico, and “the quiet is such that you can hear the approach of an eagle from the beat of the air beneath his wings” say the folks at Geronimo Trail.
Says the ranch’s Diana Esterly, “Spring (and fall) are our best seasons here – warm, sunny days, cloudless blue skies. Perfect!” The ranch is full Easter week (Ap. 12 – 18) but they have availability for the last two weeks of April (Ap. 19 – 24 and 26 – May 1 and later in May also).
It’s an intimate, family-run ranch west of the Continental Divide, and here, the countryside is plenty wild. Herds of elk roam the ranchlands and there are gorgeous meadows, streams, and forests. Sit on the porch, relax in your cabin, take a ride through rocky gorges (pictured above) or take the natural geothermal waters at a nearby spa (partnered with the ranch and offering discounts to ranch guests).
What do folks love best about the ranch? “Absolutely breathtaking scenery.” says Diana, “and amazing history (the area is Geronimo’s birthplace, and home of the ancient Mimbres people).” The ranch is on the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway in New Mexico; it’s a four hour drive (on good roads) from either Albuquerque or El Paso airports.
And right now, they’re having a ranch special: 10% off for the month of April (subject to availability).
More New Mexico ranches: Above Taos, the Lodge at Chama is both historic and world-class; you’ll find hunting and fishing (trophy lake trout) and an elegant lodge. Just outside Raton, the Vermejo Park Ranch (owned by Ted Turner) is the country’s largest privately owned ranch; wildlife viewing (and hunting) is unparalled, from pronghorn and bison to elk. Vermejo Park opens for the season just after Easter, on April 15.
What we love about Christmas on the ranch
The sweet curl of smoke from a chimney into a starry sky
The gathering of friends from far and wide
The neighing of horses tucked snug in the barn
A white coat of ice on the nearby tarn
The laughter of young and old in our families
The chance to make warm new memories
The joy of hard work and pulling together as a team
A lifestyle and landscape that’s out of a dream
Happy holidays from Gene Kilgore and all of us at Ranchweb.com and the DudeRanchBlog.com. We hope your days are filled with the spirit of the season and the warmth of good cheer.
Look for our story on the Rancher of the Year on Christmas Day!
Then, we’ll be back January 1, with more good news from Dude and Guest Ranch Country. And we’d love to hear from you in 2009!