By Cheryl Rhodes
It almost feels like I’m flying, my hair whipping around my face, and the exhilarating rush of the scenery whipping past in a kaleidoscope of colours as if I’m in a dream. I’m riding a feisty Appaloosa horse named Root Beer, cantering across a meadow that is springing back to life after being covered in snow all winter. I pull back on the reins, bring the horse to a halt, and take in a deep breath of the crisp, fresh, country air. I look up at the mountains, blanketed in green hemlock and fir trees, with a cap of snow clinging to the peak, and a cold April breeze hits me. I wish I’d thought to pack a warmer coat and shiver on top of Root Beer as my husband and I follow our guide through the trails near Big Bar Guest Ranch, about a 45 minute drive from Merritt, B.C.
Our guide leads us to a place that he calls devil’s graveyard, a section where the trees grow close together and he doesn’t normally bring riders to this part of the trail. My husband and I have owned horses for years and we ride confidently through this tangle of closely growing trees, taking care our legs don’t smack into the trunks. We emerge from the woods and spot an old school bus parked in an enormous meadow and wonder how it got here. This reminds me of a scene out of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild where a young man lived his last days in a school bus abandoned in the Alaskan wilderness. Our guide tells us that the old bus is used in the winter months by snowmobilers as a place to rest and warm up. All too soon the ride is over and we return to the ranch, light a fire in the woodstove in our cabin, and warm up with hot chocolates. Later on we’ll enjoy a ranch-style dinner in the main house, and afterwards we’ll bundle up on the porch to admire the twinkling stars in the pitch black sky and watch the full moon cast its beams across the lake.
If you’re looking to get out of the city for a few days, how about heading into British Columbia’s cowboy country to relax at a guest ranch, often referred to as a dude ranch? Escape to the country to breathe in fresh air, admire how brilliant the stars are when they’re not in competition with city lights, and enjoy a peaceful commune with nature – trees, pastures, meadow flowers, and wildlife. The highlight for many guests is the chance to try riding a horse, but ranches offer many other activities: wagon rides, rowing, canoeing, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, campfires, soaking in a hot tub, and just enjoying nature. Many dude ranches are located in the southern Interior and Cariboo regions of British Columbia, a few hours’ drive from Metro Vancouver.
Staying at a guest ranch can be an experience in itself with many types of accommodation to choose from: a rustic cabin, an Indian teepee, a hotel room, or lodging inside the main ranch house. Some ranches offer self-contained units with kitchens where guests prepare their own meals, and other ranches sell a meal plan package or provide dining room with a full service menu. Pack in your own food if doing your own cooking because most ranches are miles away from the nearest grocery store.
If you’re traveling with family or a group of people, you’ll need to research several ranches to find one that offers different activities that everyone can enjoy. If the intention is to ride a horse, avoid disappointment and check with the ranch about their policies regarding minimum age and maximum weight for riders, which may vary from ranch to ranch. Guest ranches must follow the conditions laid out by their insurance carrier and all riders have to sign a liability waiver.
Most guest ranches are open year round and cater to guests who enjoy sleigh rides, cross country skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, and other winter activities. To find out more about British Columbia dude ranch vacations, visit this page http://www.hellobc.com/british-columbia/things-to-do/outdoor-activities/guest-ranches-horseback-riding.aspx
Published: May 21, 2013
Cheryl Rhodes writes from Surrey, British Columbia where she lives with two dogs and three horses. She’s the author of 5 novels and a cookbook, and enjoys traveling, photography, swimming, geocaching, reading, and writing mysteries. Visit her at www.cherylrhodes.com