Lucinda Dyer, author of Eco-Horsekeeping: Over 100 Budget-Friendly Ways You and Your Horse Can Save the Planet (www.horseandriderbooks.com), reminds us that this summer, “thinking green” can be about more than recycling and watching our gas mileage.
Take a moment and picture your next vacation. Will you be staying in a crowded hotel with neighbors partying until 3:00 am, grabbing lunch at fast-food restaurants, and begging your kids (or spouse) to please look up from their cell phones and video games and engage in their surroundings? Or will you wake up to the sound of birds outside your window, sit down to regular home-cooked meals, and spend your day riding horses across crystal-clear streams, and through pine forests, woodland meadows, and high mountain passes? Tough choice.
America’s guest ranches may not bill themselves as “eco-destinations,” but most are “green” without making a big fuss about it. Some are off the grid, many serve produce from their organic gardens and beef from home-raised herds in their dining rooms, others participate in wildlife conservation or use cattle for prescriptive grazing programs. One thing they all have in common is a commitment to preserving the wilderness areas of America and sharing that passion with their guests. What could be greener?
Gene Kilgore, founder of www.ranchweb.com (which profiles and provides links to more than 150 guest ranches, from the remote and rustic to the outrageously luxurious), recommends four ranches that offer great “green” riding vacations for riders of all skill levels and disciplines.
Bitterroot Ranch, Dubois, WY (www.bitterrootranch.com)
Open May 23–October 1.
Bitterroot Ranch has scenery spectacular enough to earn it a spot in the best-selling book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and a broad range of riding activities that includes trail rides, cattle drives, roundups, and pack trips, as well as a challenging cross-country course with 80 fences, and lessons with certified instructors for riders up to the intermediate level. Their herd of 140 horses for an average of 25 guests means that mounts can be matched with riders of any skill level. The ranch also hosts regular clinics with world-renowned clinicians Linda Tellington-Jones, Donna Snyder-Smith, and Anna Twinney. Non-riders in the group can try their hand at fly fishing or hike miles of trails high into the mountains. While there are no special programs for children, wranglers will take them on short rides and they can interact with the ranch’s menagerie of foals, dogs, llamas, lambs, and birds.
Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, Winston, NM (www.geronimoranch.com)
Open from March 1 until after the New Year’s holiday.
Geronimo Trail offers a unique opportunity to ride back into history as you follow the outlaw trails of Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, visit native ruins from the early Mimbres culture (750–1150 ad), and explore canyons that sheltered the Apache warrior Geronimo. Trails start at the ranch’s backdoor and take riders through Ponderosa pine forests teaming with wildlife, atop hills with panoramic views of the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest, down into deep canyons with sheer cliffs and crystal-clear streams, and across lush meadows where you may well encounter a herd of elk. There is no “typical” day at Geronimo Trail—you tell them how you’d like to spend your time and trail rides (on horses suitable for beginner to advanced riders) are planned according to when you want to ride. For non-riders, there are miles of hiking trails and someone is always around to give the kids a roping lesson.
Marble Mountain Ranch, Somes Bar, CA (www.marblemountainranch.com)
Open April through September as a Guest Ranch, and September through early Spring as a Fly Fishing Lodge
The “Saddle, Paddle, and Shoot” vacations at Marble Mountain combine trail riding with whitewater rafting, kayaking, sporting clays, fly fishing, and jet boat adventures on the Lower Klamath River. Rides through the dramatic and rugged Klamath National Forest go from ancient Douglas Fir tree stands to high vistas with views across deep river valleys and granite ridge tops. Advanced riders can expect to be challenged by rapid gains and losses in elevation as they traverse the mountainous terrain. And riders of all ages and levels will want to take advantage of the lessons offered as part of the ranch’s all-inclusive rates. While children five and up can take part in the full range of ranch activities, the “Buckaroo” program for kids aged three and four gives them a chance to help feed the ranch’s small animals, swim, take nature walks, and enjoy ranch arts and crafts. The ranch also offers a special “non-participating” rate for seniors traveling with their family.
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Phillipsburg, MT (www.theranchatrockcreek.com)
Open all year round
For great riding plus all the amenities of a luxury guest ranch, it’s hard to beat The Ranch at Rock Creek. Thirty miles of trails weave through Alpine meadows and past mountain lakes on the ranch’s 6,600 acres, and private instruction in the roping arena is available for beginner to intermediate riders. After a tough day in the saddle, guests can drop by the full-service spa for a Saddle Sore Soak in a custom blend of aromatic and healing herbs. Don’t have room in your suitcase for your hat and boots? The ranch has a supply on hand for use during your stay, and you can stock up on upscale riding gear at the ranch’s Mercantile. Non-riders can fish, hike, cross-country ski, mountain bike, or participate in sporting clays, archery, and paint ball. The ranch can also arrange golf at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Old Works Golf Course. For children six and up, there are morning and afternoon programs that include arts and crafts, swimming, fishing, and carriage rides.