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“The best vacation our family has ever had.”
Review of Elkhorn Ranch

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Elkhorn Ranch
chestnut hill
Level 5 Contributor
63 reviews
19 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 69 helpful votes
“The best vacation our family has ever had.”
Reviewed 18 August 2012

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.

  • Stayed July 2012, travelled with family
    • Value
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Helpful?
5 Thank nancy w
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Traveller tips help you choose the right room.   Room tips (12)
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  • English first
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English first
Malvern, PA
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed 23 February 2012

In 1984 we decided it was time to take our young family west and began talking to friends about dude ranches. We decided on the Elkhorn Ranch in south western Montana , located about an hour south of Bozeman and right on the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. We arrived as total east coast neophytes outfitted with new jeans, borrowed equipment and lots of excitement. It turned out to be a total success and Elkhorn has been a key part of our summer plans ever since. Now we are thrilled to be able to share this special place with our grandchildren.

What's not to love - A beautiful mountain wilderness surrounds you. In early summer the high mountain meadows abound with colorful wild flowers and perhaps a herd of elk, a black bear or moma grizz and her cubs, a moose ora variety of other wild critters. An experienced crew guides you through each day and attends to your every need. Surefooted, carefully selected horses carry you along gurgling mountain steams an up beautiful mountain trails until at 10,000 you feel like you are riding on the top of the world. Amazing fly fishing is just outside the gate. Great hiking is just outside your door not only at the ranch, but also in Yellowstone Park. And of course, you meet interesting fellow guests both young and old that through the years become like extended family.

Family rides start each week and can be arranged later in the week if the kids are willing. More often however, each day the children (or Peanuts as they are known) join other children under the careful supervision of the Peanut Butter Mothers for a ride to the Peanut Fort, the bear caves, Sunshine Mountain, a lesson in trotting or loping, a picnic by the river and often a chance to swim on hot summer days, or just an afternoon playing games at the ranch or swimming in the pond. Teenagers ride off into the mountains with their wrangler eager to go as far and as fast as they can. All the while, parents and grandparents are free to ride, fish read, or just spend a quiet day around the ranch knowing that the children are having a blast under careful supervision.

Every family has their own rustic, but comfortable log cabin. Their great porch provides a perfect place to hang up your hat, curl up with a good book, take a nap or gather at the end of the day with friends and family to share a drink and tales of the day. On cool mornings a crew member comes by to light a fire in the pot belly stove to warm the cabin before it's time for your feet to hit the floor. Excellent varied meals are served buffet style in the common dining hall or out on the trail.

Elkhorn Ranch - try it. It truly is a very special place!

  • Stayed July 2011, travelled with family
    • Value
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Helpful?
4 Thank Shirley M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Lakewood, Colorado
Level 3 Contributor
13 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed 20 February 2012

After trying several other dude ranches, our family found the Elkhorn Ranch in Montana and have been going there for decades. Now our grandchildren are enjoying it as much as our children did. There are horses to suit every ability level, beginner to expert, and the horses for the children are the best. The scenery is varied and beautiful, the cabins are very comfortable, the food excellent, and the service provided by the crew is outstanding. The children's program is well supervised and the kids have a wonderful time. Over the years, we have made many special friends among the guests, with new additions every year. This is a really special place!

Room Tip: Linda or Gail will help you find the right cabin for you; they are extremely helpful in all matters.
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  • Stayed July 2011, travelled with family
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Helpful?
2 Thank Anne and Rick B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Massachusetts, United States
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed 8 February 2012

We have have been going to Elkhorn for years because of the surefooted, safe horses that take you into gorgeous Montana high country, always interesting guests of all ages, great food with healthy options, rustic but comfortable cabins and the best, most caring "management team" and wranglers you will find at any dude or guest ranch. You and your kids will always remember a week at Elkhorn. Don't worry if you've never been on a horse, you won't be alone. If you're an experienced rider, you'll lope on trails at 9,000 feet or along rivers and creeks that will make you grin for hours. Cool nights, warm days, beverages on your porch with new friends, world-class fly fishing all around, Yellowstone down the road, and all that horseback riding in Montana wilderness. Try it and you will likely become one of the many regulars who are drawn back every summer!

Room Tip: Linda and Gail will guide you to the perfect cabin for your family.
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  • Stayed July 2011, travelled with family
    • Value
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    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
1 Thank Steve S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Washington DC, District of Columbia
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed 6 February 2012

Every Summer i look forward to going to the Elkhorn for 2 weeks. It is literally the highlight of my Summer! I'm 14 and have been going there for 6 years and still have fun every year I'm there. It doesn't matter when i go, there is always other kids there, usually around my age, to hang out with. Once you make new friends at a new place, you always want to go back! This is a family friendly ranch where there is something to do for everyone. There is horse back riding almost everyday and if your up for it, you can go for a hike in the mountains. The food is delicious and the staff is great! You will never be bored when you are at the Elkhorn. They treat you like family!

Room Tip: The closer to the dining hall the better! You do not want to walk back and forth to your cabin at le...
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Stayed July 2011, travelled with family
Helpful?
2 Thank kelly w
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Herndon, Virginia
Level 3 Contributor
10 reviews
7 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 59 helpful votes
Reviewed 12 July 2010

Dates - June 27 through July 4, 2010.
Background - We are a family of 4, with two boys (13 & 11), living in the VA suburbs. My wife is not an outdoors(y) type, and, literally, none of us had ever been on a horse. We decided on a Dude Ranch because it was completely different from our normal beach trip. We wanted a traditional ranch without a lot of bells and whistles, where we could focus on learning to ride a horse, hike and explore terrain completely different from where we live. Doing online research, I first settled on a region (Yellowstone Park), and, using tripadvisor, ranch web pages and some dude ranch associations, narrowed it down to 4 or 5 ranches. Follow-up phone calls resulted in selecting the Elkhorn. I have never written a review, so I will try to organize as best I can. The Elkhorn's website is not flashy, but does have a lot of useful information which I won't duplicate.
Arrival - We flew into Bozeman Airport. A ranch hand met us at the baggage area, assisted us to his van, and filled us in on many ranch details during the hour ride to the ranch. At Elkhorn, we were greeted by Linda (the ranch manager), who escorted us to the dining room while our bags were taken to our cabin. The owners' daughter walked by, introduced herself, and asked if we would like to join her for an afternoon hike. We did, and got a personalized history of the ranch.
Cabin - we stayed in Highpoint (there is a map of the ranch layout on the website), which has 3 bedrooms and a bathroom all off a living/sitting room that had a table, chairs, desk and wood stove that was lit for us every morning before we awoke. It was clean, beds were comfy, and the maids came by every day. It got very cold at night, but a heavy comforter kept us warm. It's a log cabin, so don't expect a luxury suite, and it suited our needs just fine. We spent many hours reading on the porch. A bonus of this cabin was that it overlooked the horses being brought in from pasture each morning and led out to pasture each night.
Grounds – Website covers it pretty well. I should say that the dining room has a large, very comfortable sitting area off of it, and there was a rustic charm that made one feel at home.
Riding - Jim, who probably has some official title but, at a minimum, ran the stables and the horses amongst numerous other responsibilities, selected a horse for each of us based on our personalities and experience. After some basic instruction (left, right, forward, backward, stop), we went as a family on our first ride. During most rides, we were bookended by two experienced wranglers, who instructed us throughout. We were trotting on the first day, and loping/cantering by the second day. The ranch is set up so that you ride as much or as little as you want, you select the type and duration of your rides each day, and we took full advantage with several full day rides (they pack lunches for you and also meet you on the trail with dinner on some rides as well), and three days were we did both morning and afternoon rides. Under their instruction, we improved pretty rapidly, culminating with a final 20 mile ride that went up in elevation almost a mile to a place called Monument. Nobody, including my wife, would have thought a week earlier that she could have done it. The patience and guidance of the wranglers can’t be overstated.
People – As I now understand it, many of the ranch guests repeat year after year, so they know each other. Have to admit I wasn’t initially fond of the idea, especially given we weren’t “horse people” and might not fit in. In fact, it was the friendliness of the guests, wrangler, workers, etc. that helped to make the trip so amazing. Guests and workers alike took great pains to get to know us, to give us riding and trip tips, and to make us feel welcome. You eat and ride with other guests (I saw rides of a couple people up to a ride with 10 people), so enjoying their company matters. Several evenings or afternoons found us on a neighboring porch enjoying a refreshing beverage and wonderful company.
Food – Very good and plentiful. One highlight was a horse-drawn chuckwagon meeting us on a ride, where we enjoyed fresh trout and steaks grilled on a fire. If you like a cold beer, cocktail or wine in the evening, make sure you stop in town and bring it with you. There are coolers in each cabin to keep things cold.
Kids – While the website indicates there are two groups (Jets and Peanuts), in reality it’s a starting point for grouping the kids. My boys ended up together despite their ages technically putting them in separate groups. This had been a concern of mine, as I wanted them together, but I need not have worried. Kids are put together based on age, experience and what works best for all. There were two women assigned to supervise all the kids, and they were wonderful (and so patient) with them. My boys also received excellent riding instruction, and, in fact, were loping/cantering by the end of the first day. We rode together four days after our first family ride, and seeing the transformation during just one week was amazing. They both are begging us to go back.
Misc –
1) Linda, the Mgr, is one of the most energetic and amazing people I have ever met, and never stopped making sure we were enjoying ourselves and our trip was going smoothly. She runs this ranch, and her imprint is all over it. Every one of the employees and guests spoke well of her.
2) Do not expect to always ride with your children. The ranch’s philosophy seems to be that kids should have the chance to be with kids and do “kid stuff” as well as family stuff. Kids rides are geered to them. We all ate in the same dining room, but the kids ate at the kids’ table. Initially, our boys wanted to hang with us, but it took only a day for them to prefer playing with the other kids, swimming in the pond, or hanging in the rec hall. The end result was a nicely balanced family vacation, where we had lots of family time, but also where we all were able to do things we wanted to do.
3) Go to Yellowstone. After a morning ride on Wednesday, the horses were given the afternoon off to rest. We told Linda we wanted to go to Yellowstone that day/evening, and she arranged for a packed dinner, a car, maps, etc. Yellowstone itself is singularly amazing. Other juests went rafting and fishing during the week, and spoke well of those activities. We chose to mainly ride.
4) Wildlife is abundant. A bald eagle circled us during our very first ride. We saw two bears, elk, deer, hawks, bison, hawks and even a mountain goat. The mountains and scenery are incredible.
5) You will be sore. During the rides, my wife’s knees were sore by the fourth day and my back hurt by the fifth day. Take Motrin or whatever BEFORE, as well as during the ride if you get sore during the week. (Medicate in advance of the pain). ALso, tell your wrangler what is sore. I understand that a simple stirrup adjustment solves knee issues. My older son had some chafing, didn’t admit to it, and it was pretty tender by the time we figured it out. Wearing tight (but comfortable jeans) alleviates chafing.
6) The website doesn’t (I don’t think) tell you what to pack. Ask them. Also, there is a washer/dryer there that guests can use. During our week, temperatures ranged from a low of 38 to a high of 84.
7) Including airfare, this is not a cheap trip. However, the prices at Elkhorn were very reasonable compared to other ranches. Be careful, as some ranches limit riding or have pay as you ride pricing. I didn’t want to have to deal with that.
8) Drink lots of water until you get used to the altitude. My older son was a bit lightheaded after running around that first day.
9) This ranch takes pride in teaching people to ride, so having little or no riding experience shouldn’t stop you from going if this is something you want to try.
Hope this helps you all!

  • Stayed June 2010, travelled with family
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
12 Thank OBXbound13
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Durango, Colorado
Level 3 Contributor
6 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 March 2009

We have been going to this Ranch for years, and have always left with happy memories of our times at Elkhorn. This is a traditional dude ranch that has been at this same location near Yellowstone National Park for over 80 years. We both enjoy seeing the mountains and wildflower-covered valleys from the back of our well-trained horses. I would describe the food as rustic gourmet, and have never left the table hungry. The cabins are very comfortable, and the wood stoves are a nice touch as it does get chilly overnight. If you're looking for a real dude ranch trip, this is the place to go.

  • Stayed June 2008, travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
1 Thank Scott_FLC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Elkhorn Ranch

Property: Elkhorn Ranch
Address: 33133 Gallatin Rd, Gallatin Gateway, Big Sky, MT 59730-9634
Region: United States > Montana > Big Sky > Gallatin Gateway
Amenities:
Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly)
Hotel Style:
Ranked #5 of 5 Speciality Lodging in Gallatin Gateway
Number of rooms: 15
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

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