There is something magical about a Canadian dude ranch. I’m not sure if it’s because it was a completely different experience for us, but now that I am home I’m missing being on the ranch. Just driving through the Rocky Mountains on our way to Three Bars Ranch in Cranbrook, BC, was so calming. It certainly set the stage for a magical five days.
When you first pull up to Three Bars Ranch, you drive past Rex the miniature horse, Bailey the donkey and Skittles the goat on your way to the guest entrance. My boys were overflowing with excitement to have finally reached our destination after a beautiful but long drive.
They were already vibrating with anticipation at the prospect of doing so many different activities over the course of the next five days: horseback riding, whitewater rafting, archery, fly fishing, tubing, tennis, swimming. You name it, and Three Bars Ranch had it at this Canadian dude ranch.
We are thankful to The Beckley family for hosting our stay: owners Tyler and Jenna, along with their children Chase and Mya. Together, they gave us the full ranch experience. It was an incredible way of vacationing as a family that we had never experienced before. My boys didn’t touch any electronics for the full five days that we were there, and our family time was endlessly fun. What made it so special for us was the heartwarming hospitality the Beckleys showed us throughout our stay, as they do for all their guests.
“If there aren’t some tears at the end of a stay,” Tyler Beckley said to me during our stay, “then we haven’t done everything right.”
I didn’t really understand him entirely at the time. But, sure enough, on our final morning at the ranch, just as we were getting ready to leave, the tears began to flow. The boys and I all knew how much we would miss our time on the ranch. In that moment, I understood fully and completely the meaning of Tyler’s words.
Check-in at a Canadian Dude Ranch
When we arrived on Sunday afternoon, which is check-in day at the guest ranch during the summer months, we were greeted by one of the wranglers, Billy, who provided us with bandanas to use as face coverings while mounting and dismounting the horses. He walked us to our family cabins, giving us the lay of the land on the way.
The accommodations were beautiful and rustic. We spent five luxurious nights in two of the Family Cabins: cabin 7 had a king bed with a private bathroom, and on the other side of the adjoining door in cabin 8 there were two queen beds for the boys with another private bathroom.
Andrew wasn’t able to make the trip with us, so I had my own space with a big bed to sprawl out in, while the boys had their own separate but attached space all to themselves. The cabins have big front decks with comfy chairs that look out onto the main lodge. I spent my evenings relaxing out there after the kids fell asleep.
Once we got all settled into our cabins, we went out to play some tennis and get some exercise after our drive. Then we hit the pool and hot tub before heading back to get ready for dinner and meet the rest of the guests and staff to officially kick off our first stay at a Canadian dude ranch.
Canadian Dude Ranch – Dinner and Orientation
We joined the other guests at the saloon in the main lodge for drinks at 6pm. There we got to meet the other wranglers as well as owner Jenna Beckley, who provided us with an orientation after dinner of how our week would go at Three Bars Ranch.
While I enjoyed a glass of wine after our long drive, my boys saddled up at the bar to pepper wrangler Billy with questions about the horses and archery and everything else they could think of that involved life on a Canadian dude ranch.
Dinner was served promptly at 7pm. We were seated outside on the patio with a view of the ranch overlooking the valley and facing the Rocky Mountains. The food was so good that my boys cleaned their plates. The all-inclusive feature of this Canadian dude ranch vacation is heavenly!
While we waited for our orientation to begin after dinner, the boys checked out the ping pong and air hockey tables set up outside of the saloon.
Everything you need is taken care of, so as a guest you can sit back and relax with your family. Tipping is discouraged, so there is no need to carry a wallet or purse. Many things are done on the honour system, so if you wanted a soft drink or something from the store, simply write it on the pad and Jenna will apply it to your bill.
After dinner, we were fitted with cowboy boots to use for the week and off to bed we went to get ready for our first big day at a Canadian dude ranch.
Day 1 on this Canadian Dude Ranch
Our first day at Three Bars Ranch started with the boys rising early. They were just so excited to get the day going. Breakfast was a hearty feast of French toast, hash browns, bacon, sausage, eggs and fresh fruit. Two meals in and I was already loving the food. For parents, not having to cook each day is just another thing to look forward to at this Canadian dude ranch.
After breakfast was orientation time with Tyler to learn the basics of horseback riding. We learned when to approach our horse before each ride, how to safely mount a horse, and where and how to hold the reins, among many other tips that we would need to know before our first ride.
We met our horses, Champ for Heath, Blue for Holter and Marshall for myself, all chosen by Jenna.
While we were getting saddled up on our horses, Jenna gave me a great tip: “Keep the back of your calves against the horse so your knees don’t hurt.”
It turned out to be great advice.
And with that, off we went on our first ride. I was surprised at how easy Holter and Heath picked it up and how quickly they felt comfortable on their horses. Three Bars Ranch is one of the few Canadian dude ranches that allows riders as young as six to participate in horseback riding, and the care and training of their horses is a testament to why it’s so successful with kids.
We took a trail out to the hoodoo cliffs. There we were able to stop and take in the breathtaking scenery of the Kootenays. We saw a herd of elk on our ride as well as many different types of birds, eagles, turkeys and pigeons along the way.
Our morning ride lasted a couple of hours, with a 20-minute stop at the cliffs to let everyone rest. It was the perfect way to start our day.
At lunch Tyler came to our table to discuss what we as a family wished to do for our afternoon activity. There are so many options available for guests, and the boys and I were eager to do them all. So Tyler suggested that we do a combination of target shooting and tubing in the creek afterwards to cool off.
At the shooting range, we learned how to shoot a 20 gauge shotgun and tried to shoot some clay pigeons. We then tried our hand at hitting paper targets with a .22 rim-fire rifle. I’m pleased to report that although none of us hit any clay pigeons, all three of us hit the target paper!
It was an incredibly hot day, so we headed to the creek to relax and cool off with some lazy tubing and gold panning. The water was cold, but all of us went swimming. It felt so good after a day of activity outside in the heat.
Each day after the afternoon ride, the horses are let out to the pasture to join the other horses and it is a sight to see them all running down the road together. These animals are just so sweet and we loved learning their names and seeing what horses other guests were riding.
After another delicious dinner, with ice cream for dessert, it was time for archery on the lawn in front of the main lodge. Archery was Number 2 on the list of activities that the boys were most excited about doing, and they spent a solid hour practicing before I was finally able to convince them to put the bow and arrows down and get ready for bed.
Our day had started at 7:30am and ended for the boys at 9pm. It was an action packed day of family activities, and we were all excited to see what Day 2 would bring.
Day 2 on a Canadian Dude Ranch
Our second day at Three Bars Ranch started with another yummy breakfast. I love that we were eating three hearty meals a day and not snacking in between. My boys didn’t ask for snacks at all, which never happens at home. Staying busy and having so much fun meant more playing and less snacking. It helped that at lunch we were given a bag of homemade cookies to get us through until dinner, but the meals were so filling that we weren’t able to finish the bag.
After breakfast we headed to the stables and mounted our horses, this time for a ride down to the river. Wrangler Billy was awesome with the kids, leading the way and keeping an eye on all of us.
I was amazed at how quickly time passes at the ranch. Before we arrived I was a little concerned that Heath wouldn’t last the 2.5 hour horseback ride. But he just happily rode the whole time, talking away nonstop like he always does.
The majestic beauty of the Kootenays is all around the ranch. Every trail we took offered a different view and left me wanting to ride more. When I was arranging our trip over the phone with Tyler, he told me that I would be surprised by how much time we would end up riding. He was so right. I didn’t realize how much both myself and my boys would love it.
You know you are having an awesome family vacation when the hardest part of the trip is choosing what afternoon activity to do with your kids. On this day, we went river rafting on St. Mary’s River and had a water gun fight with the other boat while we were rafting. It was a huge hit with the boys.
We stopped halfway on the beach for a swim to cool off and float in the current, which was incredibly refreshing. The water was cold, but it felt so good in the afternoon sun. More water gun fights ensued on the beach. Then it was time to get back on the raft.
One of the things I was so happy with during our time on the ranch is that the boys became friends with Tyler and Jenna’s children. They are all close in age, and they played together every chance they got whenever we all had some downtime between meals and activities.
Since I was at the ranch without Andrew, who was back home working, it gave me time to relax and have some downtime of my own. And I love when my boys connect so easily with other children. It is one of the many things I enjoy most about traveling.
We finished the day with fire engine games. And let me tell you, it was a blast. Literally! Getting sprayed with a firehose was endless fun for the kids, as was the relay race that required putting on an adult size uniform and tipping the bucket over with the spray from the hose.
As each day came to a close, I found myself thinking how it could possibly get any better.
Day 3 – Our favourite at this Canadian Dude Ranch
Our third morning at this Canadian dude ranch was a treat, as Jenna would be our wrangler on our ride. She was so fantastic with kids. She has the most genuine and caring demeanour and is a great teacher. She taught us how to trot, and she had Heath giggling with joy because he loved it so much.
We rode down to the river, where Jenna showed the boys a few tricks on how to skip rocks. It was so beautiful along the trail by the river, and I enjoyed listening to Jenna’s story of how she came to the ranch and met Tyler. If you visit this Canadian dude ranch you must ask her to tell you the story. It is a good one!
One of the things about our Canadian dude ranch experience that really stood out was the people who work here. Three Bars Ranch is a family owned ranch, and we were lucky to have had quite a bit of interaction with the owners and wranglers.
After our break at the river, we continued along the Wales Trail back to the barn. It was my favourite trail ride of the week, going through all kinds of different terrain and seeing so many different parts of the ranch. As I have already mentioned many times, the scenery and landscape is just so incredibly pretty, and life just feels so calm there.
After lunch we got back on our horses and rode back to the river to spend some time cooling off in the water and relaxing on tubes in the sunshine. It was such a cool experience to ride there, swim and then ride back on horseback.
When we returned from our afternoon ride, we said goodbye to Champ, Blue and Marshall. The boys had been a bit teary-eyed on and off throughout the day as they started to prepare themselves to say goodbye to this Canadian dude ranch the following day and to their horses, who they just adored.
Before dinner, Jenna set up Sully the sprinkler next to the slide at the playground. Soon all the kids were screeching down the slide, having a hay day as they slid through the water. Sully the sprinkler was a huge hit after a full day of riding.
The evening activity was axe throwing. The boys were amazed that they were allowed to throw a real axe! A target was set up, rules were made and away we went, each family taking turns.
It was slow to get any success, but eventually Holter stuck the target – not once but three times! It looked easy enough when wrangler Billy demonstrated it, but it was actually really hard.
Other Activities at Three Bars Ranch
We weren’t able to do all of the activities available to guests, but there are several others that can be included during a stay at this Canadian Dude Ranch:
- Fly fishing
- Hiking to the waterfall
- Taking a 4×4 ATV tour
- Going mountain biking and taking the e-bike trails
- Exercising in the equipped fitness center
- Playing a game on the ranch’s volleyball court
On our final morning at Three Bars Ranch, wrangler Don drove us down to a trail overlooking the valley to have breakfast outdoors with the other guests who rode down on horseback.
Don is an 85-year-old wrangler who works on the ranch each summer and skis over 120 days with his wife every winter. He has worked for the ranch for 17 years in exchange for boarding his horse and, as he says, “to have a break from my wife!”
As lovely as our final morning was, the day started with tears of sadness. The boys loved every minute of our time at the ranch. They embraced every activity we did, they made new friends, they adored their horses and most importantly, they were exposed to a way of life they had never imagined before.
For our family, this Canadian dude ranch vacation was more than just having fun. Each one of us had meaningful experiences that I’m sure will leave a lasting impression on all of us. For the first time, I witnessed my children embracing things that normally they would either shy away from or just quit because it was too hard.
As a parent, this family vacation was a gift. And with the thousands of photos I took over the five days we were there, we will be talking about our favourite parts for many years to come…
That is, until next year when we return to do it all over again.