When you’re riding a horse in the British Columbia wilderness, you’re not worried about what you’re missing on TV, or whether you’re going to be able to read your email.
“I like to boast that we have the most unused TVs in any hotel. Even our internet isn’t used very much” said Tyler Buckley, owner and operator of Three Bars Guest Ranch near Cranbrook in the Rocky Mountains between Banff and Glacier National Park. “You’ll see a transition throughout the week. Kids are on their iPhones or their iPads the first night or two, but by about the third day, a natural transition happens and they put those things away.”
Three Bars is one of several guest ranches throughout B.C. that gives visitors a chance to unplug and enjoy a slower lifestyle. The atmosphere harkens back to a time before we were addicted to everything electronic.
Buckley says not only do his guests put away their digital devices, they also do something that people used to do a lot more before the internet – they interact with each other.
“Our guests become lifelong friends,” he said, “We have groups of people who come back year after year; their kids grow up together. It’s a very social vacation.. It’s really cool to watch people come in. At first, everybody is standoffish and doing their own thing, but in a few days everybody has meshed together and they’re off and running.”
Janice Fraser, the managing editor at Destination BC, has visited several guest ranches throughout the province and found it was a welcome respite from a hectic world.
“I think the guest-ranch vacation is really that escape from modern demands,” she said. “It’s a full departure from your usual routine. Instead of getting up and brushing your teeth and going to the office, you are getting up and heading out to explore the wilderness. It is a chance to escape from your everyday concerns and immerse yourself in a remarkably beautiful setting that very few take the opportunity to experience.”
The province has a long history of cattle ranching. The largest ranches in Canada operate in B.C. and today’s guest ranches continue the province’s cowboy traditions.
Most of the province’s guest ranches, including Echo Valley Ranch, Spring Lake Guest Ranch and Siwash Guest Ranch, are located in central British Columbia on the Interior Plateau between the Cariboo and Coast Mountains, but there are a number of other places that are home to cowboy culture and western lifestyle, including areas around Merritt and Cranbrook.
“The types of guest ranches are really quite varied,” said Fraser. “Some are really suitable for kids. Often they’ll have accommodations in stand-alone cabins which makes them perfect for families. Other ones are very high-end and have an all-inclusive atmosphere and perhaps are more attractive to couples. It really does run the gamut.”
Most guest ranches in B.C. open in May, depending on when the snow melts, and operate until October, but some stay open through the winter. Their prices will vary depending by the type of ranch and the amenities or activities included in the price.
Often guest ranches will offer a menu of activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, fishing, golf and spa treatments, but the central focus is exploring the surrounding wilderness on horseback.
“Horses are obviously the core of what we do,” said Buckley at Three Bars. “In the old days, people had a strong connection to horses and agriculture in general. Maybe they grew up on a farm so coming to a guest ranch 30 or 40 years ago was like returning home. Today, it’s changed. A third of my guests have never been on a horse in their lives. We have clients every year who have never seen wildlife and never have been up close to experience animals. It’s kind of cool to see people experience those things for the first time.”
What makes guest ranches special is that horseback riding lets people explore places that cars can’t go.
“Pulling away from civilization and the hustle and bustle of roads and towns and moving into the wilderness by horseback is a really special experience,” said Fraser.
Fraser believes that everyone can enjoy a stay at a guest ranch: “Even if you’re not someone who aspires to be a cowboy, you’ll be surprised at how much you love the experience.”