Looking for a dude ranch vacation in Whitefish, Montana offering authentic western hospitality? The Bar W Guest Ranch is a small, family-friendly guest ranch, located near Glacier National Park in western Montana. I’ve been fortunate to review numerous dude ranches in Montana. However, my Bar W Guest Ranch review is a first for me in Glacier Country.
One of the unique features of Bar W Guest Ranch is its proximity to Glacier National Park (GNP) and downtown Whitefish. Located only 23 miles from the park and 3.5 miles to downtown Whitefish, the ranch is close to trendy shopping, art galleries, restaurants and local bars. Yet it’s seemingly miles away from street lights and city life.
About Bar W Guest Ranch and the Surrounding Area
The Bar W is all about creating horseback riding memories for beginners and experienced equestrians. Located on 150 acres at the base of Spencer Mountain, the Bar W is surrounded by the peaks of the Stryker mountain range to the colorful meadows of Swisher Lake.
We camped in GNP and then rolled into the Bar W for our three night stay. The family-owned ranch is open year-round and offers distinct seasonal recreation opportunities from horseback riding, fishing and white water rafting in spring and summer, to winter activities such as sleigh ride dinners and skiing at the nearby Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Bar W hosts several weekend activities, like the popular photographers’ week, adults only week, and several Cowgirl Up sessions. Also, the cowgirl women’s adventure package is perfect for solo equestrians or girlfriend getaways.
While I didn’t have a chance to experience their cattle drive, offered two times a year in the spring and fall, I’m always on the hunt for places to go on a cattle drive and will definitely add the Bar W Guest Ranch to my authentic cattle drive bucket list.
Bar W Guest Ranch Horseback Riding Review
During my visit, we enjoyed scenic trail rides through wooded forests owned by the State of Montana, as well as ranch property, along the shores of Spencer Lake. White-tailed deer leaped and bounded around us, while the horses calmly looked on, the scent of wild honeysuckle, mingling with pine, filled the crisp mountain air.
I mentioned that I experienced a three-day stay, however, I recommend you opt for the week-long vacation package. Guests arrive on Sunday and attend the orientation program. Head Wrangler Lindsay Engibous runs a safety-first operation, overseeing 80 horses, including 6 draft horses, steers, goats and chickens.
Trail rides range from lead line, walking rides for children, teenagers and adults, to all day rides, with loping opportunities for those who have passed the riding test in the arena. Safety comes first out on the trail, so guests are offered riding lessons if they are novices, need a touch up for rusty riders or simply want to learn how to pass the lope test with flying colors.
Trail and rider safety done right
The ranch follows the LFTG motto of “Looking for the Good” in what a horse is doing right. And, after riding with several Bar W wranglers during the week, I must say that both the staff and the horses are doing things right.
As members of both the Montana Dude Ranchers’ Association and the Dude Ranchers’ Association, I was impressed with The Bar W’s 1 to 4 wrangler ratio and commitment to safety.
Cam Martel of New Symyrma Beach, Florida noted this was his first time to a dude ranch and his first time to ride a horse.
“I was promised a horseback ride about 10 years ago and now it came to fruition,” Cam said with a grin. “It was a smooth experience. I wanted to be able to ride the horse fast, so I took the lope test. It was difficult to get my horse out of the trot, but one we were loping it was good. Just remember that you are the boss of the horse.”
Bar W Childrens’ Program
At the Bar W, they believe experiences are meant to be shared and consider children to be the heart of the ranch. This was evident to me as soon as I saw the large array of cowboy boots of all shapes and sizes at the entrance to the lodge. That, and the fact that the first night began with an ice cream social down at the barn.
The Cowpoke Program for little ones ages 4-6 years old, along with the Junior Wrangler Program for ages 7 and older, keep children entertained. Throughout the week children are able to jump head first into the rich cowboy culture that is Bar W. From painting horses to decorating horse shoes, the Cowpoke program is designed to provide parents a chance to experience the ranch, while the buckaroos make memories with their ranch counselors.
Optional Bar W Guest Ranch activities
As noted, there’s something for everyone at The Bar W Guest Ranch. My husband is not an equestrian. He only gets on a horse if it’s our anniversary or he’s going back country hunting.
He did enjoy the clay pigeons and shooting a 22 rifle, while others tried their hand on the archery range. There’s nothing like seeing a small child get a bang out of her first time firing a rife.
Needless to say, there is a range master supervising the activities. Bar W requires all guests to participate in the safety discussion and wear proper safety gear, including ear protection.
Fishing at The Bar W Ranch includes opportunities for pike on Spencer Lake or fly fishing (catch and release) in the small trout pond. If guests want to cast their line on Flathead River, the ranch is happy to arrange for a fly fishing outfitter for an additional charge. There is also the opportunity to reserve a massage or guests might like to join the mid-week whitewater excursion.
Workshops and other activities
If Montana weather creeps in, there is an indoor arena for working cattle or taking a horseback riding lesson. At the end of the week, Bar W hosts a guest rodeo to put your equestrian skills to the test. Activities include barrel racing, pole bending and other fun games like water balloon toss or sack races for the folks who prefer not to ride.
There are also opportunities for steer roping and cutting workshops and even roping lessons on stationery steer heads. I missed the afternoon guest rodeo and Friday night campfire on the ridge, thus my recommendation for the six night, seven day ranch vacation.
Cabins and glamping at Bar W Guest Ranch
There are several lodging accommodations available at Bar W Guest Ranch, from the lodge, to cabins or glamping.
The 6,200 square foot lodge sleeps up to 16 guests in 6 bedrooms. Meals are served in the lodge. Downstairs includes a game room, big screen television, pool table, card table and bar. Outside is the hot tub with views looking out to the pasture and forest or a star-studded sky.
Further from the lodge is the two story log cabin. Upstairs is the Western-themed Eagles Nest and downstairs is the aptly-named Bear Den, both levels look out to the south pasture and forest.
The glamping tents
One of the favorite parts of my stay, aside from horseback riding, was staying in the glamping tent. I’d seen elaborate Montana canvas tents at the Resort at Paws Up, but this was my first time to experience glamorous camping Montana-style. I spoke to a fellow guest about her glamping experience and here’s what she had to say.
“We booked a room in the lodge for our son, but truthfully, it was my back up plan if I didn’t like the tent or got too cold.”
I too was a little concerned that I might be cold, but with a heater in the tent and a brand new electric blanket waiting in the wings, the brisk Montana weather was not a problem. In fact, we didn’t even turn on the electric blanket for our queen bed.
It was relaxing to hear the patter of raindrops on the canvas tent at night, knowing that the sun would make an appearance the next day. I checked in the next morning during breakfast with our fellow glamping guests and they, too, loved their room and in-room coffee maker.
I loved that each of the four glamping tents came with a private bathroom, equipped with a large shower and granite counter top sink. The bathroom heats up quickly on a timer and there was plenty of hot water, shampoo and conditioner in the shower. A full-sized hair dryer was included in the bathroom vanity, as was liquid and bar soap.
Ranch rates and details
Ranch rates vary depending on room choice and season. For examle, during spring, summer and fall the ranch vacation packages are all-inclusive. Please visit the website or contact the ranch directly for a quote. If you mention Writing Horseback you’ll receive VIP ranch goodies. Stay hydrated with a water bottle to use and take home with you. Additionally, you will receive a journal for keeping your Bar W Ranch memories.
Bar W adds a 13% ranch fee to all-inclusive package stays. A shuttle service is available to and from Glacier International Airport for an additional fee. The Bar W allows pets on a space available basis for an additional fee.
If You Go:
Bar W Guest Ranch
2875 Highway 93
West Whitefish, Montana 59937
Bar W Guest Ranch Review 2020, YouTube video and photography by equestrian travel expert Nancy D. Brown. Note: thank you to Montana Dude Ranchers’ Association for arranging my stay. All views above are, as always, my own.