The ride went on for many Dude Ranches even with COVID-19 restrictions. This past summer and fall brought some of the harshest conditions to century’s-old establishments such as luxury, dude, guest and working ranches. There was fire, drought and storm, but the pandemic is what truly made the 2020 season spectacularly strange and special. Several ranches from West of the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean were still able to open and demonstrate to long-standing and new guests the quality and value of a dude ranch vacation, even during COVID-19.
White Stallion Ranch, located within the Tucson city limits, is a multi-generation operation lead by the True Family. Here, guests enjoy private casita lodging with exterior entrances, plenty of al fresco dinning on an expansive patio and enough outdoor horse and desert activity to safely distance and still maintain the true dude ranch experience.
“When Thanksgiving plans with our extended family fell through due to COVID-19 fears, we were fortunate enough to reserve two rooms at the White Stallion Ranch. It turned out to be the perfect place to spend with my immediate family, including my wife, Kristen and our daughter and son, Macy (18) and West (16). In fact, it was like being with a great big family as the employees, wranglers and other guests at the Ranch all came together for the Thanksgiving week,” explains Bill Smith, a guest from Reno who just left the property a couple weeks ago.
“The White Stallion Ranch is a great destination anytime, but especially while we are all dealing with the pandemic! Being outdoors with lots of sunshine, dry air and wide, open spaces is probably the last place the virus wants to be! While we noticed the Ranch taking extra precautions for COVID-19 (hand sanitizer, food service, extra cleaning), it never got in the way of the horseback riding, the family meals under the stars or the tranquil beauty of the Arizona desert. Going to a dude ranch has always been an opportunity to step back to a simpler time. Going to the White Stallion, even while we are dealing with this horrible virus, left our whole family feeling like we rediscovered our freedom, our love for the great outdoors and a chance to reflect on the things we love about one another,”
Western Pleasure Ranch, located in Sandpoint, Idaho, served up a sensational summer despite varied restrictions. The heritage, century-old, ranch switched over to guest operations in 1991, yet maintains the original cattle ranch and persona.
“We all felt most welcome, from the time we entered the lodge until our tearful farewell. Our rooms, the beautiful location, amenities, food, and friendliness of absolutely every family member and staff we saw more than exceeded our expectations,” reminisces Diane Bottini Thomas, a guest this past summer from California.
“We haven’t stopped raving about our experience since our return, and the fact that we have so highly recommended it to our friends, many of whom now plan on going, speaks perfectly of how amazing our experiences were. You can find a more luxurious dude ranch, one with a spa, etc., but if you are searching for a real ranch experience, run by a generational family whose love of the land and of nature, of life itself, look no further than this exceptional Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. This visit not only renewed my faith in humanity, it also renewed my soul!”
Western Pleasure was just one of the stellar ranches that continued their hospitality and authenticity during COVID-19. Most ranches operated at a much smaller capacity, and many ranches also held off opening until later in the year. They were able to implement different eating arrangements where only families sat together, offered up more outdoor dining, no buffets, and cleaning was certainly done differently as well including mask wearing, gloves for kitchen staff, etc. While repeat guest might find things a little different than normal years, they all did a great job giving every person who bravely showed up the experience of their lives.
Three Bars Ranch, located in British Columbia certainly had a challenging start to the season. Many of the guests were not allowed to cross the border into Canada, preventing the ranch from hosting families for the 2020 season. Nonetheless, the season was to ensue, regardless of labored bookings. The legacy guest and cattle ranch was built in 1989, is nestled on 35,000 acres, houses 21 log cabins, a 7,500-square-foot main guesthouse, and two acres of grass courtyard to run wild, picnic and more.
“Tyler and his crew were exceptional throughout the process……a truly first-rate experience. Tyler and his ranch maintain a professional and high integrity business. Despite all the Covid-19 mess – Three Bars exceeded expectations and were so helpful,” describes a summer visitor from Orange County, California.
Across the Rockies, outside of Antonito, Colorado, is Rainbow Trout Ranch. This historic ranch has the title of the second largest wood lodge constructed east of the Mississippi. The larger only Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, the largest log cabin in the world! Yes, there is heaps of space, including a wrap-around deck. The fresh air at 8,500 feet above sea level and the sounds from the horse herd in the valley below immediately lower blood pressure and pump endorphins through the blood.
“2020 was a bust…except for our June trip to Rainbow Trout Ranch! As quarantining restrictions loosened, we started looking for a last-minute summer vacation, something different to escape being at home. I called Linda at RTR and because of cancellations we were able to find availability. Our family of four (8yr old girl and 5yr old boy) hopped in the car a few days later and headed from Arkansas to RTR,” notes the family with serious cabin fever!
“Wow! What a find! The scenery was spectacular. The horses were majestic. The accommodations were cozy and peaceful. But what really makes RTR special is the people. The staff and the family were amazing. They helped create one of the best family experiences we have ever had. We conquered our fear of horses and created memories that will last a lifetime. We look forward to our next visit.”
First-time dude ranch guests were a common theme during Covid-19 with people looking to vacation in unique, bucket-list, and often, drivable locations. “We traveled to the Flathead Lake Lodge with very few expectations and absolutely fell in love with this place. It is like going to summer camp if summer camp were gorgeous, clean, filled with fun, good food and remarkable staff. The Lodge is beautiful and cozy and we loved gathering for meals, relaxing by the fire and listening to music. Our little cabin had lovely lake views, a relaxing porch to relax and a spacious lofted bedroom with comfortable bed,” explains a first-time visitor from Minnesota this past summer.
“Happy hour each day features excellent music from a talented couple. My husband and I rode horses, hiked trails, learned to paint, did yoga, took boat rides, kayaked, had fly fishing lessons, shot clay pigeons, spotted elk, rode a firetruck to a steak fry, jumped off the tower into the lake, sang by the campfire under the Milky Way, took naps, laughed and remembered what joy it is to be in nature,” lists the guests of only a few of the weekly activities.” This is commonality amongst ranches, the freedom and yet, ideally-socially-distanced structure to enjoy safe vacationing paths.
“We were both sad to leave. What a beautiful experience. What heightens the experience are the kind, hard-working, smart, talented staff that work here. They love what they do and where they work and it is contagious. We learned much from them and felt so welcome. This is not an inexpensive trip, but it is worth it. Really, a once in a lifetime experience. Honestly, we never stopped smiling!”
A family blogger, grandparentgoglobal, from Casper, Wyoming, was enthusiastic this fall when reflecting on their summer vacation choice. The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch in Shell, Wyoming, already ran with a small guest count; therefore, Covid-19 restrictions where not as impactful. The ranch backs up to 650,000 acers of wilderness with tremendous diversity of scenery and altitudes ranging from 4,200 to 13,100 feet. “This is a very upscale dude ranch run by a European couple who have endeavored to make their guests as comfortable as possible, even in this time of the Coronavirus,” writes the blogger.
“The campus is first rate; the staff are experienced and well trained and the food excellent. To make the point here, one of our wranglers had recently exited the U.S. Marines as an officer; she graduated from the Naval Academy and was spending some time pursuing her passion for horses before going on with the rest of her life.” Family legacy and extremely experienced and good-natured staff certainly make for a memorable vacation.
“My wife is not a confident rider. The wranglers quickly recognized this and attended to her fears so she could enjoy her experience. Meanwhile much more experienced riders were driving cattle. Many guests return year after year and we will now be two of these as we are going back in 2022.
Pandemic and Covid-19 era and restrictions were impactful, yet not alarming. Rather the challenge to host guests in fresh air with massive amounts of space was easier for ranches than other destinations. They kept to their steady trail, and the ride keeps going!
With the anticipation of a COVID-19 vaccine dude ranches are already filling up fast for 2021, so be sure and get your “Bucket List” family vacation booked sooner rather than later. Be sure and check out ALL 10 ranches of the Spur Alliance/Bestduderanches.com