Guest Ranches: Rx for Urbanitis

25-mile ride to the High Country. Photo by Linda Ballou

Guest ranches have provided a means for city folks to air out their spirits since the turn of the century, but today they are multi-sport adventures, leaping generation gaps and crossing cultural barriers in a single bound. They are perfect for the single parent traveling with a teen; extended families spread across the continent looking for a place to re-unite; mature couples in which one half of the unit is a horse-person, and the other is “normal“; mature singles who enjoy sharing in a family environment; and anyone who ever dreamed of being a cowboy or girl.

For me, the best way to experience a landscape is up close and personal on the back of a good horse. That way, I can smell the sage, hear the chatter of an energetic river while breathing deeply of clean air and listening to birdsong. Guest ranches are the perfect way to explore the wild west of North America.

One of my favorites is the Nine Quarter Circle located near the west gate of Yellowstone in Montana. To reach it you fly to Bozeman and drive up the stunning Gallatin River Valley to the secluded ranch setting. The rides through flower-infused meadows tracing gurgling creeks to stunning vistas are wonderful. 

Your ranch hosts will pack you a lunch for a day trip into Yellowstone or arrange for a rafting trip down the Gallatin where segments of A River Ran Through It were filmed. Don’t miss the chance to do some fly fishing in this pristine setting.

The Spotted Horse Ranch in Wyoming just south of Jackson Hole is another ranch on the top of my list.  Day trips include rafting the Snake River through the Tetons and hiking in the easily accessed trails of the splendid range to sparkling lakes. Each morning I enjoyed my coffee on the porch of my cozy log cabin overlooking the Hoback River while the wranglers brought the horses in over a bridge from the grazing range. A spectacular 25-mile ride into the high country to take supplies into a tent camp remains burned in my brain. I can still smell the sage and wildflowers as we marched through high country meadows.

In “Amazing Arizona” the Elkhorn Ranch is a little tough to get to but well worth the jaunt 50-miles outside of Tucson in the Sabino Canyon. This is an especially wonderful place to stay during the holidays. Regulars come here for the warm festive gathering in what feels like the home you always wanted at this time of year. It is crisp and clear in December and January with temps hovering around 70 in the daytime. You can watch the Christmas-red cardinals play at the feeders in the courtyard of your private casita. Fun romps chasing jack rabbits through the southwestern desert stand out in my mind.

Laramie River Ranch on the border of Wyoming offers real-deal riding in a Wild West setting. Head-spinning views of the snow-streaked Rewah Range and Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park can be seen poking into blue skies in the distance. The Laramie River Ranch is a breathtaking stop in time that reminds us of how the world was before our ancestors came to tame this land. Home-cooked meals, friendly folk and a welcome hot tub at the end of the day help relieve the kinks after a day of riding.

 If you yearn for a wilderness retreat far away from it all, the Tsylos Lodge in the back-country of British Columbia overlooking azure Chilko Lake is just the ticket. The lodge offers five-day pack trips into a trackless forest to head-spinning views. Ardent equestrians love the romps in the hills around the lodge at a breathtaking clip. Fly fisher people come here from around the globe to try their luck in the glacier-fed waters of Chilko Lake/River.

There are ranches for all appetites, shapes and sizes. They are a homey, safe and comfortable way to travel that allow you to see, smell and touch the beauty that surrounds them.  Meals are served family style with lots of home-cooked favorites. You don’t need to be a rider. There are hiking options and day trips at all the ranches I have visited. Ranch holidays are all-inclusive, so you don’t have to worry about a thing once you hang your hat on the rack provided in your cabin. Unplug and enjoy a week of all your needs being taken care of. You can check the many options at

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Linda Ballou

Adventure-travel writer, Linda Ballou, shares a host of articles and information about her travel books on her site You will find information about her novels and media offerings at

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