Team of Clydesdale horses hitched to a red wagon, driven by two cowboys from Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon

 

Unless you are an avid golfer, you may not know about The Retreat, Links and Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch. The boutique retreat located in Eastern Oregon is a little out of the way, but it’s worth a visit. The year-round resort caters to golfers, but this family-friendly ranch was a delightful find for this equestrian.

You’ll need at least three days to simply scratch the surface on all the activities at this outdoor wonderland. Whether you enjoy birding, biking, horseback riding, fishing, golfing or relaxing by the lake, you’ll find something to keep you occupied, even if that means sitting on the porch in a rocking chair. Dive right into my Silvies Valley Oregon Ranch review and you’ll come up for a breath of fresh air in eastern Oregon.

About Silvies Valley Oregon Ranch

 

Silvies Valley Ranch is an ambitious project in Seneca, Oregon. Situated between Boise, Idaho and Bend, Oregon, next to Malheur National Forest, you’ll likely be driving to this destination. However, there is a private airstrip on property and Boise Airport is less than a four hour drive.

Established in 1883, it wasn’t until 2007 that Dr. Scott Campbell, his wife Sandy and several partners purchased the 142,000 acre property and turned it into an eco-resort that doubles as a working Oregon ranch. The resort could be described as Dr. Doolittle meets John Wayne in cowboy country. I say that with all due respect to Scott and Sandy, and the crew, as they all love the animals and wildlife that roam free on this 142,000 acre patch of paradise. The cattle and goat ranch straddles Grant and Harney County, Oregon, attracting visitors from near and far.

Like a barn cat, the eastern Oregon ranch has had many lives. Originally serving as homesteads for the likes of John Hopper and Charlie Owens, I had the opportunity to join Ranger Tiffany Wratchford on an early morning horseback ride out to the 1910 wood cabin.

Rock fireplace decorated with horse wagon yokes, tan leather furniture and elk shed chandelier greet guests open arrival at Silvies Valley Ranch Gate House in Seneca, Oregon.

Silvies Valley Gate House is where guests check in. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

There’s a lot of history on this ranch with the owners taking great care to be stewards of the land. Using sustainable, organic practices, Silvies Valley Ranch grows its own mountain wildflower hay for its cattle, while the goats munch on sagebrush and juniper, among other forage.

Dr. Campbell is able to walk the talk as a rancher. Afterall, he started as a farrier, shoeing horses in his youth, before graduating from veterinarian school. Sandy Campbell was a nurse, before starting her herd of Silvies American Range goats. Currently, Sandy oversees the largest organic goat herd in the United States and largest meat only herd. These Chevon, as the French call them, are featured on the menu in the on-site restaurant.

Lodging at Silvies Valley Ranch

 

Elk log cabin interior with elk antler shed chandelier, dining room, leather sofa and rock fireplace.

Elk lakeside log cabin suite photo © Nancy D. Brown

There are 3 buildings of ranch houses, 4 double king beds and 2 single king beds per building, for a total of 12 double king rooms and 6 single king rooms. This, in addition to 8 log cabins, with 2 master suites in each cabin. If you can swing it, I highly recommend the log cabin suites. We stayed in elk lakeside log cabin with a view of Otter Pond and a private hot tub on the deck.

The rooms feature Western interior decor. I loved the 1930’s Pendleton wool pattern used on the curtains and bedding throughout the resort. It’s a classic design that was discontinued by Pendleton Woolen Mills, now brought back to life thanks to Sandy’s interior design skills.

Nightly gourmet dinners in the lodge were equipped with homemade sourdough bread, salad, soup and a choice of Silvies organic grass-fed beef flank steak or Silvies organic native-browsed chevon meatloaf. Evenings we enjoyed watching the otter pond while we roasted marshmallows for s’mores by the fire ring. Eventually, we waddled next door to flop into our bed in our Elk lakeside log cabin suite.

Here are some of the unique activities you can experience at the Ranch:

Horseback riding at the Oregon ranch

 

Chestnut Quarter Horse looks out to Charlie Owens homestead. Original wood cabin still stands at Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon.

Horseback riding to the Owens homestead on Silvies Valley Ranch, Seneca, Oregon. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

After a hearty breakfast, including Uncle Jeff’s sourdough cinnamon roll that was as big as a Clydesdale horse shoe, I was off to the stables. While the ranches main focus is not horseback riding, you’d never know it by looking at the tack room. Silvies tack room wins best in show for the most gorgeous barn. Each of the four Quarter Horses has a custom made saddle from Bend, Oregon. Each stall, with paddock, has beautiful iron work and the barn has the stunning elk chandeliers that are featured in all of the cabin suites and main buildings.

Tygh Campbell does the majority of the ironwork, welding and fabrication on property. A girl can only imagine having a life-sized Barbie doll dream house like Silvies horse barn with chandeliers in the tack room. A matching team of Clydesdale horses pull the dazzling red wagon. The night prior to my wagon ride, I learned that Oz and Magic, the Clydesdale team, were actually from the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding program. The standards for a Budweiser draft horse dictate very specific color and markings. When the team didn’t make the grade, the ranch was happy to purchase the matched pair.

Ranger Tiffany Wratchford took me on my two hour, walking only, horseback ride. While many experiences are complimentary, such as wagon rides, lap swimming and visiting the Goat Caddies, other experiences have an additional charge. We lead our horses to the corral and mounted using the mounting block (yes, I’ve had two hip replacements.) Out on the trail we saw antelope, deer and osprey. We ventured over to the Owens homestead for our authentic Western photo opportunity using the cabin as a backdrop.

At Silvies Valley Ranch they run 1,100 pairs of cattle on property. I learned a little cowboy etiquette from Tiffany when I asked about the size of the herd.

“Never ask a cowboy about how many cattle they have,” said Tiffany. “It’s like asking someone how much money they have in the bank.”

 

Polaris Ecology Tour

 

Looking out to the artificial beaver pond created on Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon.

Restored beaver pond in eastern Oregon. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

 

As noted above, you’ll need at least three days, ideally a week, to try all of the experiences offered at Silvies Retreat.  Our visit started with a Polaris Ecology Tour with Ranger Guide Russell Clark behind the wheel of the Polaris RZR. The eco-tour was a good way to get an overview of what the ranch has to offer. With 144,000 acres to cover, we glided by bat and bird houses, splashed through an artificial beaver pond, watched an osprey take flight after catching a fish, and stopped for jaw dropping views on a plateau.

The two hour tour on Silvies Valley Oregon ranch property is surrounded by Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. It’s rich in local wildlife including Pronghorn antelope, deer, elk, beavers, bald and golden eagles, osprey, hawks and ducks. Bring your binoculars, as we saw many birds and animals during our four-wheel-drive journey. It was uplifting to see that the artificial beaver dam has successfully recreated an active beaver pond, now filled with trout.

I look forward to returning to the ranch when they have their star-gazing program up and running. With little to no light pollution here, I can imagine strolling into a yurt to grab a cup of hot chocolate and then sitting down in a comfortable chair to watch the night sky light up.

 

Goat Herder trail drive experience

 

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown herding Silvies American Range goats in Senaca, Oregon.

Travel writer Nancy Brown herds goats in Seneca, Oregon

The goat herder experience was a highlight for me on this Silvies Valley Oregon Ranch. We hopped in the Polaris and went in search of the herd, or bunch, as the goats are referred to. Once we found a bunch, we quickly spotted Sasha, a Great Pyrenees guardian dog. Her job, along with Sotil, the Peruvian goat herder and his uncle, is to protect the goats from coyotes, bear, wolves and mountain lions. The border collies are the herding dogs for protecting the perimeter and keeping the goats together.

Some of the young goats are very friendly. Sotil, the shepherd from Huancayo, Peru, and his uncle, have names for their favorite goats. I would liken these Silvies breed of goats to the Angus of the cattle world.

Links style golf in eastern Oregon

 

Sand trap rake states "Stop Counting" to add humor to the golfers with balls stuck in the sand trap at Silvies Valley Ranch golf course.

Sand trap humor on the golf course. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Silvies Valley Ranch offers an oasis of golf in eastern Oregon. Designed by golf course architect Dan Hixson, it is a destination course for the golfer and offers great variety starting with reversible 18 hole courses.  The two 18’s have names:  Hankins Golf Course and Craddock Golf Course.  My husband played the Hankins course during our stay.  It was his first time on a reversible golf course, and he was amazed with the high-quality fescue fairways and serene golf setting of Hankins.

One would not notice that the golf course is reversible and he wished he had had the time to play the opposite way the following day.  (They play one way on alternating days, not faced off hitting towards each other, as I assumed reversible meant.) Five sets of tee boxes range from 6,803 yards for the low handicapper to the 4,448 on the Mauve tees.

There are two 18 hole golf courses winding though the valleys with goat herds or mule deer quietly observing you. Additionally, there is a delightful and perfectly manicured par three course which plays around Lake Eagan, a very fun way to work on one’s short game.  So that is a lot of golf, but there is more.  McVeighs Gauntlet is ‘challenge’ golf with a goat twist.  Seven greens are located on ridges seemingly floating in the juniper. This is target golf extreme and goats are used as caddies!

Attention to detail is high for all aspects of these eastern Oregon golf courses. My husband was amused by the messages on the rakes in the traps. Remember when I mentioned Tygh Campbell’s ironwork skills? He adds a wicked sense of humor at the numerous sand traps throughout the links course.  My husband also enjoyed the clubhouse, Egan’s Hideout, for the view, well appointed pro shop, and of course the cold beer.

Rocking Heart Spa

 

Rocking Heart Spa metal work on the wall of the Silvies Valley Ranch. Spa robes hang in the shop for sale in Seneca, Oregon.

Rocking Heart Spa photo © Nancy D. Brown

After a full day of experiences, including a trip to the pistol range with Western-style revolvers – think Colt peacemakers, 22’s, Rugers and Smith & Wessons – I was ready for the spa! I hopped in my electric golf cart and traded my throwing axes and throwing stars for a plush robe and refreshing coconut water. With a half-size Olympic lap pool, climbing wall, gym, treatment rooms, saunas, hot tubs and quiet room with waterfall, I could have spent the entire day at the spa.

Instead, I settled in, face down, into my heated massage table and let Tara work my shoulders. The soundtrack to the Last of the Mohicans beat like a drum in my head as I floated off on my version of a Native American inspired vision quest.

Oregon Ranch rates and details

 

The dining room at Silvies Valley Ranch lodge includes restaurant booths and tables. Large elk shed chandeliers suspend from the wood-beamed ceiling in Seneca, Oregon.

Meals are served in the lodge. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Rates range from $299 per night for a single king ranch house to $329 for a double king ranch house and up, depending on the season.  The ranch is a non-tipping resort with a 20% resort fee. The resort is pet-friendly with a $65 per night additional charge. Airport shuttle is available from Burns, John Day or Boise for an additional fee.

Traveling in an RV or with a trailer? The recently opened Rendezvous Coach and RV Park offers guests full hookups and access to all ranch resort amenities.

If You Go:

Silvies Valley Oregon Ranch Review 2020, YouTube video and photography by equestrian travel expert Nancy D. Brown. All views above are, as always, my own.