Get your boots our of the closet, wrap your red bandana around your neck, put on your chaps and make sure you have your cowboy hat on and we are going off to be real city slickers at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana.
We had taken the family there and it is one of our most favorite and special vacation trips we have EVER done. Whether you are part of a family or just an adults only trip, this is a fun place to vacation. This trip can be as active or as relaxing as you want it to be – the choice is all yours!
We knew that we wanted to do a dude ranch vacation but which one to choose? Which state to choose it in? Lots of options and lots of decisions. We quickly determined that we did not want to do it in the southwest where it was very dry and too arid. We also knew that we wanted to be at a ranch where there would be other children for our children to play/ride/hang out with. Some of the ranches were too small, some were way too big and we found one that, for us, was just right. Sounds a little like Goldilocks doesn’t it? We chose the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch because it had the number of people we were looking for, the types of activities and was in a location that we wanted to travel in – Montana. This was Big Sky Country and we were ready!
How to Get There
There are several different options for flying. West Yellowstone, about 30 miles away, is served exclusively by Delta Airlines. Bozeman, a little further away, is serviced by Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways. Check with the ranch to see what the nominal fee is if you needed to be picked up from the airport. Another option is to fly into Salt Lake City, rent a car and drive the six hours to the ranch.
We chose to fly into Billings, spend the night there, pick up our rental car and drive to the ranch. We wanted to take this opportunity to see more of Montana. We stopped in Bozeman to pick up a few things that we needed and forgot to bring with us. Back in the car and then we turned to head south to the ranch which is located in south central Montana.
We were in a two bedroom cabin that had it’s own bathroom and wood burning stove to keep us warm during the cool nights and to take the nip off the cool morning. The rooms weren’t large but they were just what we needed as we were barely in our cabins. Our three kids were in one room that had bunk beds – just like they were used to at home. The furniture was all made of pine logs that are quite standard for western lodges. Quilts made at the ranch were on all the beds. Porches were outside so we could sit and take in the scenery and the environment that we were in while watching the kids play with others.
When you hear the clanging of the meal bell you know that it is time to head up to the dining room where all meals are served family style. Don’t worry about dressing up for dinner, just come as you are as this is informal. For breakfast you eat with your family. That’s the one and only time you do that. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked that or not, but I did grow to understand and appreciate it. After breakfast it was time to get ready for our morning trail ride and pick up our horse at the barn. At lunch time the kids eat with their age groups and wranglers. Adults eat together and can have a conversation without cutting up someone’s food for them or cajoling them to more. Dinner is the meal that I appreciated the most. The kids all go up to the dining room when the bell rings, about 45 minutes before the adults, with their wranglers, babysitters and have a kid friendly dinner. The adults have a Happy Hour knowing that their kids are well taken care of. When the children are finished (and this includes teens) they play outside under supervision while the adults have dinner together without any interruption. This was heaven.
Meals are plentiful and are good home cooking. You will not lose weight here and you will notice what a hearty appetite you have particularly after being outdoors all day. Homemade biscuits, baked goods…mmmm.
Twice a day there are rides through this beautiful landscape. You are assigned a horse that you will ride for all of your trail rides. You get to know your horse and he gets to know you. Since they are ridden so often by a variety of skill levels, they are very gentle and easy to work with. The horses are raised by the Kelsey family who have owned this ranch since the 1940’s. Howard Kelsey, who bought the ranch back in the 1940’s was one of the original Marlboro Men who used to ride horseback through the rugged West when cigarette commercials were shown on television. His son Kim with wife Kelly and adult children now own and run the ranch – a true family business.
Our daughter, who was eight at the time when we stayed at the ranch, was in the 6-9 age group that went off and had their own kiddie wranglers on their twice daily ride through the meadows, across the stream and up Lincoln Mountain which was basically across the dirt road. Blogger Son #2 was in my group (the average skill group) and we went on the same trails though not at the same time, walking and loping (galloping for those city folks) through the meadows, crossing streams and sometimes jumping over them. We were thankful that the kids and I took some horseback riding lessons in the month prior to acclimate our legs to being around a horse. We saw some people who were walking very bowlegged 🙂 Blogger Hubby and Blogger Son #1 were in the more advanced group and I think there was more jumping and more loping involved. The ranch has permission to ride through the Gallatin National Forest so you can imagine how beautiful it was.
We looked forward to our daily rides although if you didn’t want to ride, you didn’t have to. Since we were in the area where “A River Runs Through It” was filmed there was great fly fishing. Blogger Son #1 was enthralled watching some of the men at night making flies to use the next day. He went out with the fishing guide a few times to learn to fly fish and to this day enjoys the art of fly fishing . If you wanted to keep what you caught, you could bring it to the kitchen and they would cook it for you!
One of the activities that the ranch provides a an overnight pack trip into Yellowstone. Blogger Hubby and Blogger Son #1 decided that they were very interested in the over night pack trip and since there were limited spots available, they signed up immediately. To do this, you do need to bring your own sleeping bag which we sent to the ranch by UPS. Early in the morning a pack of horses leaves taking the supplies with them. The riders followed and rode all day through Yellowstone. At night there was dinner by campfire and games. The next day they rode back in time for dinner at the ranch.
Additionally, the ranch provides a myriad of activities Mondays through Saturday. Sundays are reserved for check in and check out. Here is a sample of what they provide:
Mondays – softball game
Tuesdays – s’mores around the campfire
Wednesdays – Happy Hour for the adults at the Log Cabin down the road
Thursdays – Hay Ride
Friday – ride your horse to dinner on the trail. Ever have a bison burger with bacon wrapped around it? If you don’t want to ride, a car will transport you.
Saturdays – this is an exciting day because in the morning we sit around the corral and have Gym Khana which means games on horseback. This is for both children and adults. Some of the games are barrel racing, going around poles and roping. Guess who came home with a ribbon for roping – ME! Blogger Hubby roped me and received nothing other than a kiss from me. That evening there is a square dance in the loft of the barn. Make sure you bring your petticoats ladies and men bring your best bolo tie.
This vacation is not inexpensive but you get three meals a day, lodging, two trail rides a day, free fishing lessons, daily activities at night and a barrel full of fun. I highly recommend having a vacation like this that is electronic free (wi fi is available for those who need it though there is no cell phone reception), quality time spent with your family outdoors and an opportunity to visit a part of our country that many people don’t visit.
Do you think a dude ranch vacation is in your future? Try it and you’ll have an experience of a lifetime, I promise. We’d love to go back with our children and grandchildren to experience this wonderful ranch and all that it has to offer again. I’ve been assured that not much has changed since we were there and that is just the way I like it!