This was by far the best vacation our family has ever had. To do it justice, I have a lot to say, so bear with me. I am going to try to do this by categories. Here goes:
Choosing to go out west: It was time to plan our summer vacation. Typically we rented a beach house, or some years we travelled – Europe or elsewhere. This year, we decided we wanted to see the west and that we wanted an active family vacation. The answer was a dude ranch. After doing our research and talking with friends, we chose the Elkhorn Ranch – a ranch with a lot of history and tradition. I have to confess while we were excited, we were a bit nervous. This was definitely out of the box for us. I had ridden as a child, my husband had never been on a horse, and neither had our son. Let me just say, this was by far the best vacation we ever had. We all agreed – we would be going back and often. When we got to the ranch, we were greeted by Linda, the ranch manager, who is also the granddaughter of the ranch founders. She is so at ease, so comfortable, we felt like we were being wecolmed to someone’s home.
The accommodations: Every family or group has their own log cabin – they are charming – big front porch with a view out over the ranch, roomy bedrooms, and a sitting room with a wood stove. Not pseudo-ranch, Ralph Lauren fancy, but true western cozy and comfortable. The meals are served in the dining hall – a beautiful old log structure, huge fireplace and sitting area on one end. The food was varied and delicious – for all diets. My husband and son are meat eaters, I am more of a vegetarian. We were all very happy.
The riding: And now for the best part – the riding – it was truly unbelievable. We rode each day in small groups – about 6 – 8 guests with a wrangler/guide – either half day rides or all day rides. The wranglers are the real deal. They are helpful (giving you pointers and suggestions on riding,) they really know the area - the flowers, the mountains, the history, and most of all they are really fun! The all day rides are amazing – you travel far and high into the National Wilderness areas, including some days into the far northern parts of Yellowstone. It is beautiful. Big Sky. Glorious views. Open meadows. Wildflowers. Really beautiful. We saw elk, moose, bear, deer, hawks, eagles, huge owls, and we saw them in their own habitat. On one ride we encountered a herd of elk - mothers and babies who were calling to each other - it was amazing. Yes, you are tired at the end of the day, and the first few days your butt is a bit achy. But it is worth it. Hang in there – by day 3 the aches have worked their way out.
The riding and kids: While we rode with other adults, our son rode with the peanuts - kids roughly his age. Okay, so let’s talk about that. As a mom of an only child, I was anxious about not riding with our son. Yes, I am one of those parents who want to know where my kid is at all times. So I was anxious about this. The first morning is a family ride, we rode altogether, and I have to say, I spent most of that ride focused on my kid – how was he doing, was he having fun, those sorts of things. After that ride, he rode with the kids and we rode with the adults, and let’s just say – Elkhorn knows what they are doing. Our son had a sense of freedom, a sense of ownership, a sense of self that I can honestly say I had not seen before. You could see it in all the kids – they got to run around, ride, play, laugh, without their parents looking on and hanging on. They were supervised at all times (but they didn’t know it) by wranglers and peanut butter mothers (20+ year olds) who they looked up to and adored. The kids had an absolute blast! No other way to put it. When they weren’t riding and in the evenings after dinner, the kids all play volleyball, softball, frisbee, or made up games, again with the wranglers and peanut butter mothers and sometimes parents joined in. It was like camp – lots of laughter, activity and fun.
The horses: It’s important to know that Elkhorn has its own horses, they raise their own horses, they train their own horses. The focus on horse temperment and safety is evident. The horses are sure footed, of course, but more importantly there are sure tempered. Each of us fell in love with our horse, signing its praises over all others and hoping we would get the same horse when we returned for another year.
The people: The staff and crew at Elkhorn are wonderful. They are friendly, open, smiling people who really want to make sure you enjoy your stay. You’ll get to know them by name (and they will definitely know yours) and at the end of the week you will have made new friends.
The guests: What I never really thought about in planning our trip was the other guests and I should have, because they make a difference. Many of the guests at Elkhorn have been coming back for years. There is a sense of caring about the ranch and the people that the guests share along with the staff. At night, people invite each other over to their porch and share a beer (or whatever they have brought along) together. You meet people on your rides and by that evening you are sitting together on someone’s porch sharing a drink, a laugh, a good time. The closest I can compare this experience to is overnight camp (in a good way.) By the time our two weeks had come to a close, we all felt we had made new friends who we will see again. It was the best.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- A traditional Montana Dude Ranch started in the 1920's. We specialize in family vacations that include horseback riding, fly-fishing, and outdoor activities. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Elkhorn Ranch Montana/Gallatin Gateway