Trail riding is offered at Alberta’s Rafter Six Ranch Resort. // © 2012 Alberta Country Vacations
As our horses came to the top of a hill in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, the wilderness seemed to spread out before us. We could see foothills, mountains, rivers and streams and it wasn’t hard to imagine that we had traveled back in time to an Alberta not yet intersected by roads and fences. It is little wonder that the producers of the Academy Award-winning film “Brokeback Mountain” selected this scenic wilderness area as a key filming site. Our guest ranch vacation couldn’t have been located in a better spot.
Riding horses in the shadow of the rugged Rocky Mountains is one of the West’s iconic experiences, and Alberta is a popular vacation destination for those who want to indulge in rural pleasures and channel their inner cowboy (or cowgirl). Within a short drive of the province’s two international airports in Calgary or Edmonton, there are a wide variety of ranches where city folk can indulge in old-fashioned chuck wagon meals, enjoy campfires and ride horses until their legs ache. Some of the ranches are simple working farms while others are all-inclusive Western resorts with a multitude of onsite activities to enjoy. Some accommodations are more appropriate for adults and others are great for families. Helping your clients choose the right ranch escape for their interests and needs makes all the difference when it comes to this type of Western vacation experience.
Working Ranches and Guest Ranches
On a working ranch vacation guests can join with a ranch family in the daily activities of running a ranching operation, which may include feeding animals, ranch chores, riding fences or cattle work. A working ranch vacation is an authentic adventure where guests get a feel for ranch life as it was in the past and as it is today. Alberta’s working ranches include Brown Creek Ranch Bed & Breakfast and Lucasia Ranch Vacations, located near Claresholm; Range View Ranch Vacations, near Cardston; Ride the Wind Ranch, located near Rocky Mountain House; Rolyn Hills B&B and Guest Ranch, near Red Deer; and Sierra West Cabins & Ranch Vacations, near Lundbreck.
Alberta guest ranches can generally accommodate more guests than a working ranch and food may be provided in a restaurant, instead of at the family dinner table. Guest ranches may also offer additional amenities and activities. Brewster Kananaskis Guest Ranch, located in Kananaskis Country, has an onsite golf course and offers golf packages, white-water rafting, trail rides and overnight pack trips, Wild West rodeos and western barbecues. The Outpost at Warden Rock, located near Sundre, offers the option of an old-fashioned stagecoach to get there and more. Rafter Six Ranch Resort, located in Kananaskis Country, offers riding lessons, trail rides, white-water rafting, a rodeo, a ropes course and a zipline and more.
Cattle Drives and More
There’s no better way to feel like a real cowboy than to participate in a cattle drive. Cattle drives and roundups are still an important part of many large ranching operations and they offer a more challenging equestrian experience to visitors fortunate enough to participate.
At Lucasia Ranch, guests can experience a six-night, seven-day cattle drive, with accommodations, meals, riding instruction and more, starting at $1,595 per person. Sierra West Cabins features shorter, two-day drives in scenic mountain countryside close to the Livingstone Mountain Range in southwestern Alberta. Prices run $350 per person. Rolyn Hills offers a one-day cattle drive for $125 per person, including meals. Accommodations are also available at an additional cost.
Other experiences designed to fine-tune guests’ Western skills are available at various Alberta ranches as well. For instance, the Cowboy Short Course at Rolyn Hills gives guests the opportunity to learn how to saddle up, ride to check the herd, brand and throw a lasso. The Cowgirl and Cowboy Certificate Program at Ride the Wind Ranch includes three days and nights of accommodations, meals, riding and cowboy training for $455 per person. Three certificate levels are offered: Buckaroo, Wrangler and Cowpuncher.
In a place where cattle outnumbers people, making a Western ranch visit part of a client’s visit to Alberta adds a unique twist on the standard vacation, and provides memories for a lifetime.