Range Rovers

Search for a new kind of vacation takes couple to Montana dude ranch

They liked it so much they have already
booked a trip for next year

AUGUSTA, Mont. (August 2015) – Tired of the same old beach vacation every year? Have you had enough sand and sun for a while? Want to try something new but can’t decide? How about a Dude Ranch? This trip has something for every member of the family.

Photo provided

Louisville, Ky., native Doug Jansen of Boca Raton, Fla., rounds up a steer during his recent vacation to a dude ranch in Montana.

This year, my wife, Rachel, and I thought we would try something new. We did some research and ended up at JJJ Wilderness Ranch in Augusta Mont. We flew into Kalispell, Mont., and spent the night. From there we rented a car and proceeded to drive to Glacier National Park.
This was a good way to segue into the dude ranch. Everything is within driving distance. We started on the west side of the park. We took the main road in. But it was only open for about 15 miles. The road was closed due to snow and avalanches. Keep in mind that this was early June, and there was still snow in Montana.
There is so much to see. The geography is wide open. It’s nicknamed “Big Sky” for a reason. While traveling through the park, we were able to see most of the tourist sites – mountains, McDonald Lake, beautiful flowing rivers and streams.
We proceeded to the southern end of the park and up the east side. We were able to spot a mountain goat perched on a cliff high above. We spotted a few deer and an occasional pronghorn sheep (antelope). From the east side of the park, we headed out on Hwy. 89 toward Great Falls. It was almost time to get to the ranch.

Photo provided

Louisville, Ky., native Rachel Jansen learned quickly at the dude ranch, considering she had never ridden a horse before her trip to Triple J Ranch in Montana.

Traveling towards Great Falls, we were able to see more of the snowcapped mountains as well as the plains. These are the same areas where the West was won. Buffalo grazed on these lands, the Blackfeet Indians as well as other tribes flourished on these lands. Yes, it is the true American West.
We finally made it in to Great Falls around 6 p.m. after about three hours of driving. After spending the night, our driver, Ethan, picked us up at the airport, and we headed off to the ranch.
Ethan was quite the character. He was recently returning from Patagonia. Ethan spent the past year studying the ways of the Gaucho. Ethan was what the ranch referred to as the jack-of-all-trades. Our first night was mostly introductions with the staff and getting to know our wranglers for the week. We also were sized for our saddles and horses. All the guests were dropped off at their designated cabins.
We were assigned the Wilderness Cabin – tucked away in the woods, private and secluded. Our first day started out with a hearty breakfast, prepared by Jack, the chef. Jack’s wife, Sheri, with the help of Marie and Taylor, finished out our Chuck Wagon staff for the week. 

Doug and Rachel Jansen

Now it was time to meet our new four-legged friends. I was introduced to my partner for the week. We were going to get to know one another and bond for the week. My trusty steed’s name was Trooper. By week’s end, he became “Super Trooper.” My wife’s companion was named Chips.
We rode every day and could ride for as long or as little as we wanted. We rode out on the plains, and we rode along lakes and dams. The rides up into the mountains were extremely nice. The majority of our riding was in what is called the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Just when you thought the view couldn’t get any better, around the next bend was another awesome view. The big closing event for the week was the “Guest Rodeo.” We were able to run the poles, the barrels, a relay, as well as team penning.
Overall, this was a trip of a lifetime. Going to a ranch in Montana and living like a cowboy – it doesn’t get much better. Our trip was very much enhanced by the staff. Our wranglers were exceptional.
In today’s world, it’s hard to find young adults without the entitled approach to life. These guys and gals made sure everyone had a great time and was comfortable. You could say they went out of their way for us. For the week, we had Haley, Megan, Sara, Jimmy and Tristen. Four were in college, and one just wants to be a cowboy – a stunt cowboy, that is.
So as we packed up our things to head home, my wife and I decided to go ahead and make our reservations for the same time next year. Ernie and Kim Barker run a top-notch operation. They offer three adults-only weeks, and the rest are family weeks. We did our research online before committing to this ranch.
Others we saw were a little too “fu-fu” for us – the type of place where you get your nails done at the spa, a massage or perhaps a mud bath. Oh yes, why not try and get 18 holes in before lunch! Settle down in the evening for dinner, a four ounce filet and a sprig of something green.
No, we wanted the true West. Nothing beats the West like being on the back of a horse, the way it was meant to be experienced.
So, if you’re looking for something new and exciting for the next family vacation, I would definitely check out a dude ranch. Leave the sand castle buckets and shovels at home.

• Doug Jansen is a Louisville, Ky., native who relocated to Boca Raton, Fla., two years ago with his wife Rachel. He has since obtained his Captain’s License and now works as a self-employed fresh water fishing guide. For more information, visit his “Capt. Doug Jansen” Facebook page. For more information about the JJJ Wilderness Ranch in Augusta, Mont., call (406) 562-3653 or visit: www.triplejranch.com.

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