Travel Out WestGo West, Urban Cowboy
Good For: Giddyup, y’all. This is the chance for the whole family to play cowboy, from skeet shooting to horseback riding.
- This is the real deal: The 7D offers as close to a genuine Western experience as you’re going to find without actually being invited to stay on someone’s ranch.
- Activities galore, from fly-fishing to sweaty outdoor treks through the wilderness. Keep an eye out for wolf tracks and bear scat.
- Kids are the stars here. The ranch staff emphasizes experiential learning, from Native American history to wrangling. Your kids may almost forget they own an iPhone.
What to Know: The ranch is in Sunlight Basin in Wyoming, an hour’s drive northwest of Cody and the Yellowstone Regional Airport. Pack for exploring the outdoors, but note that the ranch has pretty much everything you’ll need, from fishing equipment to horseriding gear.
You know the drill. School’s out, so it’s time for the obligatory summer vacation. The days may be long gone when families packed up the station wagon for the annual road trip, but you still have a deep desire to explore the great outdoors. The problem is, millions of others have the same idea.
Let’s face it: As splendid as they may be, our country’s beaches, lakes, campgrounds, and national parks will be packed with visitors anxious for a taste of the open air. So how can you still enjoy the grandeur of Mother Nature without having to join the masses? Here’s a tip: Have you seen “City Slickers?”
After some thorough research, we decide to venture out west for a week’s stay at the 7D Ranch in the Sunlight Basin of Wyoming, an hour’s drive northwest of Cody – the “Gateway to Yellowstone.” This dude ranch, which technically means a ranch that takes on (paying) visitors, probably offers as close to a genuine Western experience as you’re going to find without actually being invited to stay in someone’s rustic home. Besides the horseback riding, it offers world-class fly-fishing, skeet shooting, scenic hikes, and a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Best of all, they have everything you need right there on the property, so there’s very little to prepare for before arrival.
But be warned, there may be times when the experience can feel a little too authentic. One night after dinner, we were invited to participate in a "Wicki-Up,” which simulates the Native American sweat lodge experience. Basically we had the choice of going into a small igloo-shaped enclosure filled with burning rocks that brings the temperature well into the mid-100 degree range. Even though this is nothing like a luxurious Swedish sauna, we couldn’t resist. For the Indians, sitting inside one (for hours at a time) represented a cleansing of the body and mind. For us, it was a test to see how long we could stand to be in an extremely hot and cramped hut with several other dripping guests and staff members, before running out to the bar to rehydrate.
Despite feeling like we were being cooked alive, there was something about this rather atypical “resort” activity that we found fitting. It wasn’t contrived or set up solely to amuse tourists. Rather, it was an attempt to connect us with a sense of tradition unique to this part of the country.
At 7D Ranch, perhaps their most valued guests are the kids. There are specific programs tailored for 3- to 12-year-olds, but most appealing is their emphasis on experiential learning. No textbook, video game, or TV show can substitute experiencing ranch life in person. In fact, our boys almost forgot they even owned an iPhone. Ecological relationships and Native American history are taught by example on daily hikes and trail rides by young wranglers who make it their job to keep things fun and entertaining for kids. But one of the week’s most memorable activities, for both the parents and kids, was the “Gymkhana” on the last full day of our stay. This riding demontration, put on by all the children, showed off the riding skills they attained during the week. Not only did it provide our boys with a sense of accomplishiment, but the wranglers all got dressed up in crazy costumes and doused the crowd with water, a comical and fitting way to deal with the afternoon heat.
What ultimately makes the 7D experience so unique, however, are the people and natural elements that are so distinctive to this area. Our fly-fishing guide, Nick, traveled out west from New Hampshire with his fiancée Dani to work on the ranch because he just plain loves to fish. They met at a guide school and conveniently both found jobs at 7D. Even though they may not be native to the state, they were drawn to Wyoming for its way of life. After spending a week out here, we could see why.
And then there’s the wildlife. Although not always visible, it’s an important component to the state’s stunning landscape. After seeing some fresh grizzly bear scat along a trail, wolf tracks on a creek bed, and skeletal remains scattered around the hills, we had all the proof we needed to know these indigenous predators are out there. Besides, to really see elk, moose, bear, wolves, and bison, you can always drive to nearby Yellowstone National Park.
So what was most memorable about our dude ranch adventure? It was the gift of fully and actively experiencing the great outdoors for seven consecutive days that really resonated most with us. When you fish here, you get in the water. Pedaling the trails or hiking means you’re going to get hit with Wyoming’s infamous wind. The wildflowers paint the landscape with brilliant colors. The mountains of the Absaroka Range and trees of the Shoshone National Forest provide vistas that rival any postcard. Simply put, it was a rare opportunity to reconnect with nature and with the kids – something we too often take for granted.