Long before the humor and adventure of City Slickers, vacationers delighted in the Wild West thrills of California's guest ranches. Few states, or even countries, can rival the diversity of spectacular natural settings California's countryside offers "city slickers". For the John Wayne or Annie Oakley in each of us, sightseeing by horseback is the ultimate way to go.
The Alisal Guest Ranch & Golf Resort, located 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is tucked away on 10,000 acres in a quiet corner of the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley. A working cattle ranch since 1946, Alisal is a horse lover's paradise. Enjoy trail rides with a private guide, early morning breakfast rides, half-day lunch rides, and moonlight dinner rides to a private lake. Outdoor activities include fly-fishing, boating, pedal boating and windsurfing at The Alisal's private 90-acre spring-fed lake; year-round swimming in a heated pool and spa; hiking and wildlife watching. Golf and tennis enthusiasts are in the swing with two 18-hole championship golf courses and seven tennis courses. Special activities for children include arts and crafts, hay rides, mini-rodeos and special trail rides and riding clinics. Settle back and unwind in one of 73 suites and studios with high-beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces, covered porches and garden views. The Alisal is open year-round.
Chanslor Guest Ranch, a 378-acre working ranch,isperched above Pacific Coast Highway 1 in Bodega Bay, just 65 miles north of San Francisco. A truly unique experience, guests can enjoy magnificent beach rides on more than a mile of ocean front trails at Salmon Creek Beach. For avid bird watchers, this is an excellent area to view birds using the Pacific flyway. Accommodations include a three-bedroom ranch house, rustic two-bedroom ocean view house, and romantic loft with private balconies and fireplace, plus a variety of camping options. Chanslor Guest Ranch is open year-round.
Circle Bar B Guest Ranch & Stables offers tranquility along with down-home comfort. Situated on 1,000 acres, the ranch is approximately 20 miles north of Santa Barbara and a scant 3-1/2 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Accommodations include cabins and ranch rooms all with private baths. For an additional fee, 1-1/2 hour guided trail rides or ½-day excursions featuring a picnic lunch are available. Dinner theater productions in the Old Barn are presented weekends, April-November. Other activities include horseshoes, croquet, hiking, swimming and hot tubbing. If you decide to explore the beautiful countryside beyond Circle Bar B, ranch staff will be happy to pack you a picnic lunch. Circle Bar B Guest Ranch is open year-round.
The 367-acre Coffee Creek Guest Ranch is surrounded by the pristine beauty of Trinity National Forest and Trinity Alps Wilderness Area. Activities include horseback riding, bonfires, movies, bingo, square dancing, archery, trap shooting, hiking, cross-country skiing, dogsledding, gold panning and fishing. Coffee Creek has disabled accessible accommodations and riding. Unique offerings include romantic weekend getaways, haunted hayrides and horse rides to view colorful fall foliage. All accommodations are cabins--most with wood burning stoves. Located 72 miles northwest of Redding, the ranch is open year-round.
Nestled in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Drakesbad Guest Ranch accommodations are rustic, modest and most are without electricity. Outdoor enthusiasts revel in natural trout fishing in nearby streams and lakes and the swimming pool filled with mineral water from nearby hot springs. Four-hour trail rides take in such scenic spots as Devil's Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake, Kings Creek Falls and Terminal Geyser. All-day rides are available for the more adventuresome. Located 17 miles northwest of Chester in Plumas County, Drakesbad opens in early June and closes in early October. At an altitude of 5,700 feet, expect warm, sunny days and cool nights.
A true oasis in the desert, Furnace Creek Resort is approximately 300 miles from Los Angeles. In the heart of Death Valley National Park, the Inn at Furnace Creek is a Spanish Villa-style grand hotel that has long played host to Hollywood's elite. For the high spirited, the rustic 224-room Ranch at Furnace Creek is reminiscent of an old mining town, complete with general store, saloon, town square and the Borax Museum, which houses relics from Death Valley's famous mining days. Both offer leisure opportunities galore: golf on North America's lowest course (205 feet below sea level), tennis, croquet, bicycling, carriage rides and swimming in a naturally warm spring-fed pool. Spectacular desert excursions include Zabriskie Point, Scotty's Castle and a snow-capped Panamint Mountain backdrop. Furnace Creek Inn is open October through mid-May; Furnace Creek Ranch Resort is open year-round.
Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch is located on 840 acres in the fantastic Feather River country of Plumas County – “a land of 100 lakes and 1,000 miles of rivers and streams." The rustic ranch borders the Plumas National Forest, so outdoor activities abound. Rustic lodge rooms and one- and two-bedroom cabins are your home away from everything. Choose among horseback riding, fishing, boating, gold prospecting, mini-rodeos, rope spinning and bonfire sing-alongs. Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, approximately 10 miles east of Quincy off Highway 70, is open from mid-April through October.
Hunewill Guest Ranch, established in 1861, is situated at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the magnificent Bridgeport Valley, 5 miles southwest of Bridgeport off Highway 395. Hunewill has been a part of the 4,500-acre cattle ranch since 1931. Riding is the main activity at the ranch. Highlights include mountain rides into the pristine Toiyabe National Forest, moving cattle, swim rides to the creek and fall foliage rides in late September. Other activities include trout fishing, hayrides, swimming in a sparking stream and hiking. Guests are accommodated in cottages with porches as well as rooms in the ranch house. Hunewill is open May-October.
Founded in the early 1860s, the 31,000-acre the Rankin Ranch stretches over the Tehachapi Mountain countryside 42 miles northeast of Bakersfield off Highway 58. Most people visit for the ranch lifestyle, which harkens back to the Old West. Guests rest comfortably in six two-room cabins with home-cooked meals served in a high-ceilinged dining room furnished with family antiques. Wanna-be cowhands can generally get in on a round-up if they come at the right time, and genuine wranglers lead trail rides daily. Supervised children's programs are available. Facilities include a swimming pool and a pool table. Rankin Ranch is usually open April 1 until October 31.
Old West romance and excitement endure at Wonder Valley Ranch Resort & Conference Center. Cottages set among large sycamores near the babbling Mill Creek, as well as motel-style rooms offer pool, mountain and lake vistas. Wonder Valley, decorated by wildflowers each spring and crimson and gold leaves each autumn, caters to groups and bed and breakfast visitors and is open September through June. There are facilities just right for conferences, retreats and reunions. Senior citizen activities also are a specialty. Trips into nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are available as are nature walks, hayrides, fishing, sailing, canoeing, swimming, aquathenics, bocce ball, and, of course, horseback riding. Wonder Valley is 40 miles east of Fresno.
Before selecting a guest ranch vacation in California, determine how "authentic" you want the experience to be. With a multitude of guest ranches throughout the state, California can accommodate virtually all ability levels, ages and needs, from an eight-year-old who wants to bed-down under the stars, to a 50-year-old who's dreaming of riding the range rounding-up cattle or luring trout out of a ranch's backyard creek.
If you're a cowpoke hankering for a variety of recreational pastimes -- riding, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, hayrides, golf, tennis -- most ranches will meet your heart's desire. A stay at many ranches includes ample meals and planned activities that revolve around each specific ranch's topography. With a bit of Old West know-how, you can select a guest ranch to fill all your needs. The best thing to do is contact each ranch directly.