Health Female Adda
1 year ago
You Can Do This: Four Days at a Dude Ranch

A New Yorker at a dude ranch isn't surprising. These places were made for urbanites like me, who fantasize about galloping through open fields (especially when we're racing some schlub for a subway seat). Where have all the cowboys gone, dammit? After researching the country's best horse towns, I decide that Whitefish, Montana, has everything a girl could ask for: Wild West action (from rodeos to hoedowns), great restaurants, and massage therapists who know what to do with a pile of hot stones. A month after googling "Whitefish," I'm there.

WH Long Weekend

Thursday - Escape from New York
The sun is impossibly bright when my boyfriend, Mikel, and I land at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana. We drive our rental past 15 miles of snow-covered mountains, green fields, and sparkling lakes to our base camp, the Bar W Guest Ranch, just outside downtown Whitefish. The modern, 6,200-square-foot, six-room lodge has a pleasantly western décor: mounted deer heads and cowhides tossed over the backs of comfy leather couches. Since the wranglers, who will take me from couch to saddle, are on an all-day ride, we hop back in the car and head a few miles to Central Avenue, Whitefish's short main drag, complete with hand-carved storefront signs and Wyatt Earp-worthy facades. But a sourdough slice at MacKenzie River Pizza Company makes me feel right at home.

At dinnertime, the lodge is packed: nine horse wranglers, three guests, and Ted, the ranch manager from North Carolina, who has a bushy Tom Selleck mustache and an even thicker drawl. We swap introductions over a cheesy manicotti made by the lodge's chef, Darla. After dinner, I seriously think about grabbing Mikel for a real roll in the hay -- until I remember what the stable smelled like when we wandered past.

Friday - Dude, where's my horse?
After a Big Sky Country breakfast of egg frittatas, biscuits, fruit, and coffee, Mikel and I head into town for a rendezvous with Steve Thompson, the owner of Lakestream Fly Fishing. (Not casting a line in Montana would be like skipping the shopping in Paris.) At Gate Lake, Mikel gets the first bite, but about an hour later, I reel in a 21-inch rainbow trout that makes his catch look like a guppy.

By 2 p.m. we're back at the Bar W for our first riding lesson. I rush to my room and pull on a pair of Ariat Ladies Legend riding boots, which will keep my feet from slipping through the stirrups. We meet our wrangler, a curly-haired college grad named Mandy, out by the stables. She's not exactly the brawny, Stetson-crowned cowhand I'd envisioned, but when she hoists me into the saddle as if I were a 2-pound bag of coffee, I'm impressed. My ride is Blue Duck, a gray-and-white gelding. (Ted swears he's docile despite being named for the evil Indian in Lonesome Dove.) Mandy gives us a crash course in horsemanship: To go, squeeze his belly with your heels. To turn left or right, gently pull on the respective rein. To stop, pull back and say "whoa."

After 2 hours of practicing on the trail behind the lodge, my knees -- not my genetically cushioned ass -- start to ache, from over-gripping. Though it's a short ride, by the end of the day I'm so beat that I almost fall asleep at the dinner table.

Saturday - Trail riding, rodeo, and moose drool
Nine of us -- six guests and three wranglers -- prep for a half-day ride. Before heading into the chilly, sun-specked trail, the wranglers don dusters, the warm, full-length coats you've seen in cowboy flicks. I pull on an old sweatshirt, wishing I'd brought something thicker. We carve through the bristly firs and head deep into a massive forest. When Ted points out moose poop, I go on high alert, but fail to spot antlers among the battalions of trees. Feeling cocky, I give Blue Duck a kick so he'll pick up the pace. He trots a few yards until he rear-ends Mikel's copper-colored horse, Big Mama, who instantly gives him a hoof jab to the snout. Horrified, I yank on the reins, and Blue Duck dutifully backs up. Mikel laughs as I squeak out an apology and pat my loyal steed on the neck.

Back at the ranch, we wash up for a late-afternoon trip to a rodeo at the outdoor arena behind the Blue Moon Saloon in Columbia Falls, 15 minutes east. At dusk, we eat burgers and watch chaps-clad cowboys hold on to crazed bulls. Apr?rodeo is at the saloon, where we down Montana's own Moose Drool ale and watch locals two-step. We opt for a slow dance -- no skills required.

Sunday - Biking into blue sky
I can't leave Montana without seeing the renowned Glacier National Park. So we rent bikes at MSI Cycle & Ski Shop on Central Avenue, drive 30 minutes to the western entrance, and pedal on Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park's 50-mile highway, stopping frequently to snap shots of tumbling waterfalls and the towering Rockies.

Heading back into Whitefish, we grab a drink at the upscale Lodge at Whitefish Lake. Mikel talks about buying a fly rod, while I ponder the area's real estate prices. It may be an 8-hour flight from New York, but I'd take this weekend getaway over the Hamptons any day.

Essential Whitefish

Where to Stay
Bar W Guest Ranch
thebarw.com Stays start at $715 for 4 nights, 3 days in the fall, including food and select activities

Where to Eat and Drink
MacKenzie River Pizza Company
mackenzieriverpizza.com
Order this: The Cottonwood, a chicken fajita pie with veggies on a tasty sourdough crust

Tupelo Grille
tupelogrille.com
Order this: The Looziana Crawfish Cakes and to-die-for bread pudding

Montana Coffee Traders
coffeetraders.com
Order this: The refreshing Evening in Missoula Tea, infused with peppermint and 19 other flavors

Blue Moon Saloon
406-892-9925
Order this: Big Sky Brewing Co.'s sweet Moose Drool brown ale

Lodge at Whitefish Lake
lodgeatwhitefishlake.com
Order this: a creamy latté from the Coffee Dock

Where to Play
Lakestream Fly Fishing
lakestream.com; $299 for a half-day trip for 2, including gear and snacks
Tip: A calm lake is better than a river for learning.

Remedies Day Spa
remediesdayspa.com; massages start at $25
Tip: Make your own scrub fresh in their kitchen.

MSI Cycle & Ski Shop
mountainsportscycleandski.com; price per day for a bike and helmet starts at $25
Tip: Rent bikes the night before so you're ready to go first thing in the a.m.

Glacier National Park
nps.gov/glac; $25 entrance fee per car
Tip: New to hiking? Try Avalanche Lake Trail.
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