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On the Road with Nancy Brown: Canada’s Cowboy Country

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown connects with her inner cowgirl at British Columbia's great guest ranches.

Nancy D. Brown (far right with baseball cap) joins riders at Echo Valley Ranch & Spa. All photos by Nancy D. Brown.In the suburbs of Contra Costa County, a house with an acre of property is considered a sizable plot of land. But in British Columbia’s Cariboo Country, the 104-acre Big Bar Guest Ranch is small potatoes compared to the neighboring 1,500-acre OK Ranch. Yet like a Russian nesting doll, OK Ranch would fit well within the borders of world famous 1,080,000-acre Gang Ranch, once the largest working cattle ranch in all of British Columbia.
But bigger is not necessarily better. Big Bar Guest Ranch and the 160-acre Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in Clinton offer BC hospitality to a horse of a different color.


Cariboo Country: Canada’s Version of Marlboro Country

Covered in stands of black cottonwood, Douglas fir, pine, and trembling aspen trees, broken up by stretches of open grassland that surround fresh water ponds and lakes, it’s no wonder that cigarette maker Philip Morris filmed a Marlboro Country commercial on this British Columbia ranchland. And while the Marlboro men of today may be battling tobacco-related illnesses, Canadian wranglers still enjoy crisp clean air and wide open vistas farther than the eye can see.

A Day in the Life of a Wrangler

After a night grazing under the stars at Big Bar Guest Ranch, horses are rounded up in the early morning twilight and brought to the stable for family trail rides. Wranglers’ spurs clank on the wooden planks of the tack room floor, while the ears of cattle dogs perk up, knowing they’ll be trail bound soon.

Sleep in a Teepee at Big Bar Guest Ranch.The sounds of the cast iron triangle bell reverberate around the ranch, calling Big Bar guests and ranch hands to the communal dining room for breakfast. Apple pancakes the size of wagon wheels are stacked in the warming tray alongside thick, apple-wood smoked bacon, link sausage, and eggs. After a day of archery, sporting clay, and horseback riding, I feel justified sitting down to this buffet. But when the cowboys join us, I’m well aware that I am a guest and these dudes are earning their keep at the ranch.

Working cowboys are a dying breed for several reasons, including: 1) wrangling cows, horses, not to mention guests, is not an easy life and 2) family ranching is difficult to sustain both financially and physically, with ranch children often opting out of the family business for economic and societal reasons. However, once a cowboy, always a cowboy; they love what they do.

Family-Friendly Big Bar Guest Ranch

Big Bar Guest Ranch offers bunks for every cowboy and cowgirl from the girlfriend getaway Coyote Lodge that sleeps 12 to four self-contained cabins looking over Squarry Pond, the eight-room Sage Brush Inn, or camping and RV sites. Heck, they’ll even let you borrow a pair of boots and a hat to help you blend into Cariboo Country.

Insider Tip: Looking for a unique place to hang your hat at night? Kids and kids-at-heart should reserve the Teepee. Priced at a reasonable $52 per night, the Teepee sleeps four and comes with an indoor fire pit and electricity!

Big Bar Guest Ranch, 5960 Big Bar Road, Jesmond, Clinton, Canada, (877) 655-2333, bigbarranch.com.

Upscale Country Fixings at Echo Valley Ranch

For those looking for a more upscale experience with amenities such as wine upon arrival and gourmet food and spa selections, look no further than Echo Valley Ranch and Spa. You’ll know you’ve landed in the lap of luxury when you land, via Cessna plane, on owner Norman and Nan Dove’s private air strip (the ranch is also accessible by car).

Newlyweds will enjoy the Honeymoon Cabin at Echo Valley Ranch.Don’t get me wrong; there’s not a bone of pretentiousness in either of these ranch owners. English born Norm was a Honeywell engineer in his first career, and his attention to detail and grand-scale thinking clearly shows at Echo Valley Ranch. Originally created as a sanctuary for the Dove’s and their friends, the hard working couple expanded the property and opened the ranch in 1995 as a guest ranch and spa.
Nan’s Thai heritage shines through in the Thailand-inspired architecture of the Baan Thai pavilion and in the décor of the two spas. Wedding guests will want to linger in the Thai suite, while newlyweds and romantics should request a stay in the quaint honeymoon cottage. Horse lovers will want to bunk in the Lookout Lodge near the horse corral, which offers views of Mt. Bowman and horses grazing in the nearby pasture.

Conquer Kostering Mountain

Those looking for the ultimate hiking challenge or an all-day horseback ride may consider tackling the climb up Kostering Mountain, rewarding magnificent Fraser Canyon views from the top. After a day of adventure, try the traditional Thai massage to ease those sore muscles. Of course, there’s always a soak in the hot tub, too, located on the back deck of Dove lodge, followed by some time in the dry sauna or a dip in the indoor swimming pool.

Communal Ranch Dining with Gourmet Flair

Echo Valley Ranch Cariboo Spa.While Executive Chef Justin Folk focuses on creating fresh and local cuisine, he’ll leave the calorie-counting to guests. Folk sources products from the ranch’s vegetable garden and farm (they raise cattle, pigs, turkeys, and chickens) as well as other nearby farms and oceanwise seafood suppliers from Vancouver. Yet, the ranch also offers fresh baked goods nightly and a notorious cookie jar that I never did find…

Insider Tip: Get your morning started right with a complimentary yoga stretching class. Called Ruesri dat ton or “Hermit’s Self-Stretching Exercise,” the yoga-style practice was developed by religious hermits in Thailand to restore energy and flexibility after long periods of meditation. The class is offered at 7:00 a.m. daily in the Baan Thai pavilion and is a great way to loosen up before a day of hiking or horseback riding.

Echo Valley Ranch, five km. from Jesmond, Clinton, Canada, (800) 253-8831, evranch.com.

For a better view of Cariboo Country, check out the video below:


Been to British Columbia? What are your favorite spots to share with Diablo readers? We'd love your recommendations in the comments below.

A lifelong resident of Contra Costa County, Nancy D. Brown grew up in Moraga. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Lafayette with her husband and teens. Nancy is the Uptake.com Travel Editor, writes the What a Trip blog and is a Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun columnist. Horse lovers will find her at writinghorseback.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at twitter.com/Nancydbrown.