I was provided a vehicle and accommodations at no cost in order to provide an honest opinion of my experiences. All thoughts expressed are my own.
Summer vacation. It’s something that we all dream about, spend many hours planning, looking for just the right destination to please all in the family. Easy? Typically not, but I might have discovered the secret destination that everyone will love and all you have to do is show up! Just where is this perfect location? Well, it’s not just one place, there are many to experience. It’s a dude ranch!
Yes, that’s right, I said DUDE RANCH! We were invited to visit the Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana recently so we packed up the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander for a test drive and headed out 6 hours northeast to see what a dude ranch is all about. I honestly didn’t know what to expect since we have almost no experience with horses, being on a ranch, and the movie “City Slickers” is the only thing that came to my mind. Let me tell you, being at the Bar W was simply amazing for all of us (myself, my husband and our girls age 8 & 12), and exceeded all our expectations.
The drive up to the ranch was wonderful in the Outlander. (Check out my review on Examiner.com) You’d be amazed how much stuff you can fit in that SUV! We took our time to enjoy the scenery and ended up arriving a little later than we had planned so I called up to the Bar W to tell them we running behind and the manager on site, Dave, said no problem and said he’d pull aside some plates for us so we wouldn’t miss dinner. A small detail but very much appreciated since we had a full days drive. This bit of hospitality was just the first of many friendly experiences we’d encounter from all the staff.
In the morning, we woke up to the breakfast bell, 15 minutes until breakfast is served. This is how each day starts at the Bar W. Breakfast at 8 am followed by morning activities ranging from lessons, to trail rides. Lunch at 12:30 followed again by activities such as more trail rides, rafting, rock climbing, skeet shooting and archery, or the special guest rodeo! Dinner was always at 6 pm. Evenings generally are free to go out and explore Whitefish, Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain, go swimming or fishing at the lake, and one night they even took us all to a real rodeo!
The food you ask? Well yes, I know we all love to talk about food here on Daily Dish Magazine so I will tell you the food was incredible home cooked delights for every meal. Everything is served up family style on large tables so you can sit with your family and new friends and chat about all your adventures of the day. From time to time the staff might even sit down and join you so you get a chance to know everyone better. On one evening when all the other guests had gone back home, the owners of the ranch Dave and Janet came down to dine with us for dinner. They truly are an amazing family and have a wonderful story in starting the ranch and it was so great to be able to spend the evening with them. My little one who happens to be a very picky eater even got special treatment making sure she got “enough to eat” of her favorite foods. A very nice gal named Jackie introduced her to bananas with peanut butter and chocolate syrup and she ate that at nearly every meal!
Now, back to the ranch. The wranglers are all very knowledgeable and very friendly and always willing to help. The ranch has a large selections of horses and they match each rider to the best fit. My husband and I had the same horses all week long. Little John and Big Gus. My daughters took a few horses to find the one that suited them best, but eventually found their match with Blaze and Wimpy. After a short lesson, we were all off and riding the trails into the mountains surrounding the Bar W. So relaxing and beautiful. As the week went on, my husband even did a few special “loping” rides which allowed him to run with his horse a bit on the trails!
The kids had a blast even when we weren’t doing family trail rides. There was a game room to hang out and play pool and board games, a volleyball net, bikes and balls, the lake… a never ending supply of activities. The best part is that mom and dad could sit out on our porch as watch them play. It really felt like a second home.
The accommodations at the Bar W were just as outstanding as all the staff. We spent half the week in the “Bear Den”. One of two cabins on site, and the second half in the “glamping” tent. Both were so comfortable and I loved each for different reasons. The cabin was roomy and allowed us a lot of privacy. The tent was cozy with a queen size bed and futon and it felt a little closer to nature, especially when the thunder storm and rain rolled in! Listening to the rain on the tent and the thunder rolling off the mountains actually very relaxing and we stayed 100% dry!
At the end of a full week, all of us were so sad to see it come to an end. Not only did we make new friends with guests all over the world, new friends in the staff, we also found time to really spend time together as a family without phones, computers and TV’s! We all are missing every bit of the ranch and can’t wait to return. It’s like staying in a luxury hotel in a super casual atmosphere.
Thank you SO much to all of the folks at the Bar W for making our stay so memorable!
Thank you Dave and Janet, Dave (manager), Joe, Kate, Richard, Jackie, Lindsey, Nicole, Janie, Lauren, Monica, Haley, Megan, Sky, Eli, Brian, Randy, Gamble, Alex, Emily, Anna, and Sedley. (and anyone else I might have missed!) You all went above and beyond each and every day we were there for us and all of the guests. You made us feel so welcome and special, just like family. A special thank you also to Leah at the Dude Ranchers Association for connecting me with the Bar W!