We've ridden down a narrow dell to the edge of an aspen-ringed meadow, where a quarter-mile of sunstruck pasture beckons. Urging our horses on, we break into a canter that takes us past a placid pond and into the woods.
We're savoring the solitude, riding horses we saddled that morning. I'm on a big one, a 16-hand paint with a penchant for chewing on dandelion blossoms.
The 2,000-acre ranch where we're riding, the Flying U, is unusual in many ways, not the least of which is that it permits guests to ride unescorted.
But in British Columbia, surprises are par for the course. Almost as varied as its terrain is the province's selection of guest ranches and lodges whose primary purpose is to allow visitors to enjoy the pristine outdoors ― everything from coastal rain forest to arid canyons to snowcapped peaks ― sometimes in exquisite comfort. One ranch pampers guests in its elaborate, Thai-style spa. At a coastal wilderness lodge on Vancouver Island, guests are escorted in a horse-drawn wagon to a luxurious camp of tent cabins warmed by remote-control fireplaces and decorated with Persian rugs. In British Columbia's interior, the largest working cattle ranch in Canada welcomes the adventurous to ride through 500,000 acres of golden grasslands dotted with serene lakes.
At home on the range, or in a lodge?
Before you plan a trip, decide whether you'd rather try a wilderness lodge or a guest ranch. For the most part, lodges are geared toward hiking, boating, and fishing, while guest ranches usually focus on horseback riding. These distinctions are often blurred, however. Whether you stay at a ranch or a lodge, you can expect to find outdoor activities and excellent wildlife watching, abundant (sometimes quite sophisticated) cuisine, uncommon friendliness, a whole lot of peace and quiet.
When you are quoted prices in Canadian currency, keep in mind that the Canadian dollar is trading at about 66 cents U.S., so the price in U.S. currency will be lower (prices quoted below are U.S.). The most economical guest-ranch accommodations we list here start at a price you might pay for a motel in the States ― about $50 U.S. a night.
Peak season at these properties is from mid-June to mid-September, but most open for summer activities in early May. There are many advantages to visiting early in the season: prices are lower, weather is usually moderate, crowds are few, spring flowers are most likely in bloom, and bugs are minimal.