Equestrians go horseback riding at Rocking Z Guest Ranch near Helena, Montana

Horseback riding on Rocking Z trails near Helena, Montana. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Located in the hamlet of Wolf Creek, Montana, Rocking Z Guest Ranch is like a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Only this house is way more cool, as it offers horse riding vacations on a Montana dude ranch. Situated 30 miles north of Helena, Rocking Z Ranch sits on 2,000 acres and yes, a river runs through it. The Rocking Z is home to 75 horses, several miniature ponies, dogs and numerous cats and kittens.

This Rocking Z Ranch review will give you an overview of what this family-owned and operated guest ranch has to offer. With 8 guest rooms, you’ll get an up close and personal glimpse of life on a working dude ranch. You won’t find luxury glamping tents or individual log cabins here. Instead, expect bright and airy, large bedrooms with Western style wooden bed frames and Native American and cowboy-themed art on the walls.

About the Rocking Z Ranch

Homesteaded by the multi-generation Wirth family in 1952, Zack Wirth and his wife Patty raised their six children nearby, eventually claiming the Rocking Z for their own. In 2000, Zack and Patty opened their home to guests under the Rocking Z Ranch name. Today, Zack and Patty, along with daughters Anna and Maria and their husbands, run the intimate guest ranch near Helena, Montana.

“The land has been placed in a conservation easement,” proudly proclaimed Zack Wirth. “These views will be here long past when we are gone.”

Parelli Natural Horsemanship

 

Cowgirls Anna and Maria Wirth sit on their horses, ready to take guests on a horse riding vacation near Helena, Montana.

Sisters Anna Wirth and Maria Wirth Anderson take guests out on the trail at Rocking Z Ranch. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

What makes Rocking Z Ranch unique is their use of Parelli Natural Horsemanship training. In a nutshell, the premise of natural horsemanship is to make the right decision easy for the horse and the wrong decision difficult. Reward and release the pressure when the horse responds to the proper request.

While our visit was only for three days, a typical week ranch stay begins early Sunday afternoon with a Saturday morning departure. Sunday starts with guest introductions, horse assignments and playing the Parelli ground games where you’ll learn moves like the porcupine and working with your horse to have him or her move away from steady pressure. It all makes perfect sense when you see the equine program in action working with their well trained horses.

Amee and her husband Eric from Chicago, Illinois, brought their three children, ages 10, 8 & 6, to Rocking Z for three days in 2019 and returned in 2020 for a 7 day stay.

“I love Patty’s cooking and the children thrive in the kid’s program. They enjoy grooming the horses and helping with the feeding of the animals. We’ll be back next year!”

 

Horseback Riding at Rocking Z Ranch

 

Five riders on horseback head to the meadow in Wolf Creek, Montana on horse riding vacations.

Horse riding vacations in Wolf Creek, Montana take guests through grassy meadows. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

What is the horseback riding like at Rocking Z Ranch? If you are interested in loping (or cantering as the English riders call it) you’ll have plenty of opportunities for slow lopes through grassy meadows or fast canters on wide open trails and ridge tops.

Once you’ve mastered your equestrian skills in one of several fenced arenas, you’ll be taken out to ride by the Little Prickly Pear Creek, up to Pipeline for some gorgeous views, or on an all day picnic lunch ride on Eddie’s Trail near Canyon Creek. These are just some of the varied rides offered at the Rocking Z Guest Ranch near Helena, Montana.

Professional trail guides

All horseback rides are lead by professional wranglers, with safety being a key priority. I had the pleasure of joining an adult-only trail ride with a couple from New York, another from Seattle and the Chicago husband and wife. All of the husbands would classify themselves as beginner riders. I was delighted to see that all of the riders enjoyed trotting and loping on the trails.

These are not nose-to-tail horse riding vacations. While the horses at Rocking Z Ranch are sure-footed and well behaved, they pay attention to their riders and go where asked, on and off the trail.

Eugenie, an accomplished English rider from New York specifically selected Rocking Z Ranch so that her husband, Jeremy, could learn to ride in a safe environment. I was very impressed with his riding skills and how confident he was loping out on the trail by the end of the week.

Working Cattle at Rocking Z Ranch

The author, Nancy D. Brown, riding horseback behind a lone cow in the arena at Rocking Z Ranch near Helena, MT.

Nancy Brown working a cow in the arena at Rocking Z Ranch.

Another highlight of our ranch stay was working with cattle at Rocking Z dude ranch. I have participated in at least 5 cattle drives in various parts of the United States, however, I have never received one-on-one instruction on how to work with a cow until now. Maria Wirth is a professional cowgirl, and is often recruited to work with cattle on surrounding Montana ranches. She is also a patient instructor, as are all of the wranglers.

“All of our horses are able to work cattle, as this is an essential job for a ranch horse,” notes Maria.

After a successful afternoon of sorting cattle and playing team games on horseback, we took a ride by the Little Prickly Pear Creek to reward the horses for their hard work and concentration. That evening, the adults were rewarded with a margarita happy hour.

Lodging Options at the Ranch

The front entrance to Rocking Z Ranch lodge in Wolf Creek, Montana.

The lodge at Rocking Z Guest Ranch. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Rocking Z Guest Ranch is open year-round. Rates vary by season and include 3, 6 10 or 13 night stays. There are eight large rooms that may accommodate 2 to 4 people. There is one room upstairs, above the great room, for a single equestrian with no single supplement required. All rooms at Rocking Z Ranch include a private bathroom with plush robes. Housekeeping is by request. Fresh towels and laundry are available at no additional charge.

Rooms for singles, couples or families

We stayed in the Malcom Clark room. Each room is named after a local person that had a significant impact on the area. A plaque in the room explains a little history about that person.

Our room was large with a queen bed and additional single bed. Three large windows and a natural gas fireplace made this a welcoming room any time of year. As we had just come from camping in Glacier National Park, I appreciated the clean bathroom with a shower/tub combination.

As I often travel solo, I bring my own boot jack so I don’t need to ask for assistance in removing my cowboy boots. I was pleased to see that each room at Rocking Z came with its own boot jack; a pleasant surprise.

The Malcolm Clark room includes a queen bed and single bed, each made of hand-carved logs. Gas fire place not shown.

Malcolm Clark room with queen and twin bed. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

The ranch includes a saloon with a pool table and a wall full of horse shoes.  A large hot tub is on property, built next to the soaring natural rock walls behind the main building. There are swings and play equipment for the children and an outdoor picnic table if you prefer outdoor dining.

Dining at Rocking Z Ranch

Meals are served family-style in the dining room at Rocking Z Ranch in Montana.

Meals are served family-style. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Meals are all-inclusive at Rocking Z Ranch and served buffet style at dinner. Beer and wine are complimentary with dinner. Other drinks are BYOB.

Special requests are accommodated as one celiac lives on the ranch and two family member are gluten and dairy free. During our horse riding vacation we enjoyed pork chops with apple sauce, asparagus, salad, mashed potatoes, homemade bread, gluten free brownies and ice cream. Another night was barbecued chicken, while the final night was brisket that had been set carefully on the smoker 24 hours prior. Our previous visit at another Montana Dude Ranch didn’t offer homemade bread, brownies or cookies, so I was delighted with the fresh baked goods. Looking at the near empty cookie jar each day, it appears the children enjoyed the cookies, as well.

Children’s ranch program

While our children are now young adults, it was obvious to everyone at the ranch that these children had bonded with their wranglers, as well as one another. The kids were curious to learn that I specialized in equestrian travel writing and offered their opinions on their favorite ranch activities.

The kids enjoyed playing with the kittens, brushing their horses and leading them around the ranch before their trail ride or obstacle course. Movie night in the hay loft and singing around the outdoor fire pit were highlights, as well as decorating their horses manes and tails for the children equestrian show.

Zaya, 10, from Chicago said, “my favorite part was riding my horse Zipper. She listened well and I liked taking care of her. Last year we stayed for 3 days and this time we stayed for a week. It was great that we got to make so many new friends.”

Markus, 9, from Seattle said, “ I loved the trail ride on my horse and playing with the dogs.”

Ayla, 8, from Chicago added, “riding Ditto, my horse, was my favorite because I liked riding and spending time with my horse.”

Activities in the surrounding Montana area

Antique wood wagon sits to the left of the Rocking Z Rusty Horseshoe Saloon in Wolf Creek, Montana.

Rocking Z Rusty Horseshoe Saloon photo © Nancy D. Brown

What else is there to do around Wolf Creek and Helena, Montana? My husband is not into horseback riding vacations, instead he enjoys road trips while I ride. There was Bill Roberts Municipal Golf Course, a public golf course in Helena.  For the shoppers, Birds & Beasleys carries “Made in Montana” products such as gourmet popcorn and huckleberry chocolate bars, coffee mugs, featuring designs from local artists, and my personal favorite, wild huckleberry lip balm and chapstick. In case you missed the common thread, huckleberry products are popular in Montana. Be sure to try a huckleberry milkshake or ice cream cone if you have the chance.

If you like driving, my husband drove to Great Falls to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. For history buffs, Fort Benton is an historic town,  It is a 110 mile drive (about 2 hours) located on the Missouri River with three museums.

Rates and details

Prices vary by season and length of stay. Rates start at $2,000 per person for six nights depending on the time of year.

If you are flying into Helena Airport, free transfers are available from Helena on Sunday and return on Saturday. There is no resort fee at Rocking Z Ranch and WiFi is complimentary. Be warned internet reception is not strong. Our AT&T phone service was limited here. Check in time is by 1:00 p.m. Check out time is 11:00 a.m.

Rocking Z Guest Ranch near Helena, MT is a member of the Montana Dude Ranchers’ Association and the Dude Ranchers’ Association. Book direct with Rocking Z Ranch and mention Writing Horseback for a special rate.

If You Go:

Rocking Z Guest Ranch (406) 465-5534

2020 Chevallier Drive

Wolf Creek, Montana 59648

Rocking Z Ranch Review near Helena, MT written by equestrian travel writer Nancy D. Brown. Nancy was a guest of Rocking Z Guest Ranch, however, all opinions are her own.