Alberta’s authentic ranch vacations delight

Kids spending too many hours glued to their electronic devices? An authentic Alberta working or guest ranch vacation might just be the hard reset a kid needs to learn how to enjoy the outdoors.

*photo credit: Travel Alberta

*photo credit: Travel Alberta

Not long ago, we packed up the kids to drive a portion of the Cowboy Trail and spend a few days on a guest ranch in the heart of Alberta. The Cowboy Trail is a 735-kilometre stretch of highway winding through traditional ranching settlement areas from Cardston to Mayerthorpe, Alberta. The old west is very much alive in the art, hospitality and culture of the area.

Choosing accommodation

There are two main types of ranch vacations – working ranches or guest ranches. At a working ranch, your host family will invite you to join in a range of daily ranch activities, which may include cattle work, feeding animals, branding, fixing fences and other ranch chores.

*photo credit: Jason Stang

*photo credit: Jason Stang

On a guest ranch, you’ll have the opportunity to observe and enjoy the western ambiance, cuisine and atmosphere, without having to get your hands dirty. Both types of ranches will have varying highlights for everyone in your group, often featuring wide open spaces for the kids to run around, lakes or streams for fishing, trees to climb, horses to ride and farm cats to pet (if your pockets carry treats).

*photo credit: Jason Stang

*photo credit: Jason Stang

I highly recommend booking your trip through the Alberta Country Vacations Association, the collective voice of country vacations in Alberta. They can provide a recommendation on the best property for your family’s interests. We chose to lay our heads in a beautifully appointed cabin with an outdoor hot tub under the stars at working cattle farm Red Deer River Ranch. The cabin was spacious and came fully stocked with everything we required (towels, full kitchen, corkscrew), with a babbling brook in the woods behind us. It was the perfect spot to unwind and let the kids run wild.

Active activities

Along the Cowboy Trail you can easily find riding, hiking, swimming, fishing, bird watching and even art exhibits or antique shopping.

Red Deer River Ranch is located in Alberta’s aspen parkland, 120 kilometres northwest of Calgary. From this home base we were able to drive to a horseback trail riding outfit and white water river rafting launching spot. Choose a ranch that offers some of the things you want to do within an short drive, or where those activities are available on site.

Enjoy the local fare

If you’re not eating at your accommodation, ask your hosts for recommendations on local restaurants or for directions to the nearest farmers market. There you can pick up fresh, local ingredients for picnic lunches or late night snacks under the stars.

*photo credit: Canadian Tourism Commission

*photo credit: Canadian Tourism Commission

Even our biggest Minecraft addict quickly adapted to the country life, sitting patiently waiting for the ranch’s kittens to tumble out of the barn to play and gently feeding carrots to the horses. If you’re looking for a vacation of the beaten path, a ranch vacation is the perfect choice.

Sarah Deveau
Sarah began freelance writing for the Calgary Herald at the age of 15. Since then, she's written hundreds of feature articles, book reviews and business, restaurant and individual profiles for magazines and newspapers across Canada. Sarah has three daughters who sometimes accompany her on her travels, and she blogs at Doing All The Things. You can read some of her other travel pieces at http://sarahdeveau.wordpress.com/.
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