This past summer, our family set off on the
adventure of a lifetime: we rented an RV and drove from Chicago to
Gallatin Gateway, Montana, stopping at all the must-see classically
American destinations along the way: Wall Drug, the Corn Palace,
the Badlands, Mount Rushmore and Old Faithful. The capstone and
highlight of our trip, however, was our final destination:
Nine Quarter Circle
Ranch, a family guest ranch overlooking the northwest
corner of Yellowstone Park on the eastern slope of the Continental
Divide. Stunning vistas, beautiful horses and challenging trails
brought our family closer together as we made memories to last a
lifetime. For one unforgettable week, we became a family of cowboys
and cowgirls, living the good life on an idyllic Western dude
With its secluded mountain location at 7,000 feet,
surrounded by millions of acres of National Forest, Nine Quarter
Circle Ranch pretty much seemed like paradise on Earth for our city
family. This guest dude ranch is a Wild West style all-inclusive
"resort," where families live in cabins on the extensive ranch
property. All meals are included and served family-style in a
magnificent lodge and "resort" activities include horseback riding,
hiking, taking dips in a swimming hole, square dancing, fishing and
My kids, ages 12 and four, loved running free in the
grassy plains, splashing on the banks of the Gallatin River and
chasing the bunny rabbits. We all loved donning our cowboy boots
and hats every morning and opening our cabin door to gorgeous
mountain sunrises. But more than anything, we all fell in complete
and utter love with the herd of 120 beautiful Appaloosa horses that
live on the ranch.
Our family has some experience with horseback riding, but
we still fell on the beginner side of the skills range. Nine
Quarter Circle arranges 2 two-hour morning and afternoon trail
rides, for beginning, intermediate and advanced riders, into the
timbered forests and through the grassy meadows. Since the horses
are all raised and trained by the ranch owners - the Kelsey family
- they know each horse's temperament and stamina in the mountains;
you can be sure that your skills and personality will be perfectly
matched with the right horse, who will be "your" horse during your
In addition to the trail rides, two all-day rides are
offered during the week for the intermediate to advanced riders,
with one of the all-day rides following a trail through Yellowstone
Park. The weekly overnight pack trip, for intermediate to advanced
riders ages 13 and up, will take you into the high country by
horse, where you'll camp for the night near a mountain lake or
The entire family will enjoy participating in the Gymkhana
(games on horseback) held on Saturday mornings, where ranch guests
have a chance to show off newly- acquired riding skills.
My 12-year-old son honed his horsemanship skills over the
length of our stay, gathering confidence and pride as he steered
his magnificent horse over streams, alongside mountains and through
deep forests. It was such a treat to watch him ride, while I
steered my own horse, on several trail rides.
Meanwhile, my four-year-old daughter was able to ride a
horse for the very first time, thanks to the expert wranglers. I
won't ever forget the look of pride upon her face as she first sat
on a horse's saddle, wearing her pink cowgirl boots, looking
towards the mountains, ready to hit the trails.
Nine Quarter Circle Ranch also has "Kiddie Wranglers" and
babysitters on staff. The Kiddie Wrangler helps out with the the
kids ages six to nine, teaching them to ride and leading them on
daily kid-friendly trail rides. The babysitter looks after children
six and under on the playground or at the barn with a short lead
ride around the pasture. As the mother of two kids with quite a
wide age gap, it was nice to be able to go on more advanced rides
with my son while my daughter played with her new friends at the
park or on a pony ride.
All meals are served family-style in the log constructed
Main Lodge with it's huge stone fireplace. The hearty, home-style
cooking was so outstanding and our days so packed with refreshing
outdoor activity that we usually filled and then emptied our plates
Several outdoor meals are scheduled each week including a
late afternoon ride to dinner on the farther reaches of the ranch.
Families can opt to be seated together, but most of the kids ended
up sitting with their peers. The little kids enjoyed a "small fry"
table where the Kiddie Wranglers and babysitters were on hand to
keep everyone well fed and entertained. Dinner is also served early
to the children so mom and dad can relax and enjoy happy hour in
the rustic lounge. I enjoyed meeting the other ranch guests from
around the world, and because guests are limited, we all had a
chance to truly get to know one another over evening
The log cabins were cozy and comfortable, furnished with
forest furniture and handmade quilts. Single bedroom cabins are
available, but our family opted for a two-bedroom cabin so the kids
could bunk in a room of their own. There are also several three and
four bedroom cabins to accommodate larger family groups. Best of
all, the cabins are wonderfully technology free: no one in our
family missed TV and technology for our week at the
Wifi is available at the main lodge and cell phone service
is available but may be spotty. Trust me, you won't miss any of it
at all. At night we nestled into our little log cabin, heated by a
cozy wood burning stove and enjoyed quiet evenings reading or just
talking while rocking on the wooden chairs on our porch.
Many of the Nine Quarter Circle guests have been literally
coming for generations. I met one extended family that has been
coming to the ranch yearly since the 1970's, with new family
members tagging along each year as more children and grandchildren
are added into the mix.
Our family had such a wonderful time, too. We will no
doubt be returning.
While we chose to drive via RV from Chicago, you can also
fly to Bozeman, MT where you'll have to rent a car for the scenic
one and a half hour drive to the ranch. Some guests also opt to fly
into Salt Lake City, rent a car and then drive. Salt Lake City is
only six hours from the ranch. Other more adventurous guests fly
directly to the ranch thanks to its 4,000 foot long
For more information on this amazing family travel
experience, visit Nine Quarter Circle Ranch online at ninequartercircle.com
Amy Bizzarri is a writer, Chicago public school teacher and mom to two kids - a preschooler and a middle schooler - living in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.
See more of Amy's stories here.
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