Range Rover

Channel your inner cowboy with a visit to this family-friendly, real-life ranch.

In this busy day and age of multi-tasking, overbooking kids and battling traffic, a visit to Greenhorn Guest Ranch is guaranteed to be memorable. The ranch is nestled in pine tree country, three hours north of Sacramento between the historical towns of Graeagle and Quincy. Idyllic and postcard-beautiful, the ranch offers a unique, authentic slice of country life. If you long for a family vacation that has a throwback feel—heavy on personal interaction and light on hand-held electronics—Greenhorn is the perfect spot.  

Take, for example, a typical day. Imagine waking to the gentle sounds of a trickling creek, then grabbing a steaming cup of coffee and watching the wranglers lead the first group of riders out to the trails. Maybe your kids are on that early ride, but you decided to do your own thing. You take a swim in the heated pool, immersing yourself in a juicy novel between dips. Everyone meets at the dining hall for a hearty lunch. A little family time fishing in the pond, and then your day is capped off by an invigorating, guided ride.  

And those are just the days. The evenings are probably what kids will remember most about their time at Greenhorn. The ranch developed a list of activities in the ‘70s and has pretty much stuck with it. We went to the ranch with our extended family—24 in all— to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. All the kids in our group (ages 3 to 15 years) had a ball when the sun went down. 

One night, the activity might be dinner on the lawn followed by stories and songs around a roaring campfire—hosted by the ranch’s owners, Trish Wilburn (lead vocals) and Ralph Wilburn (on guitar). Another night the pastime is boarding a horse-pulled wagon for the trek to a campsite in the middle of a wonderfully fragrant forest for a BBQ.  Kids delight in exploring the nooks and crannies of a minnow-infested creek, while parents get acquainted while sipping local wine. Our kids’ favorite night included frog races—kids sprawled out on the floor, egging on frogs to the finish line, while parents made bets. (Yep, we’re talking cold hard cash, folks.)

Many of the families who come here are repeat visitors who met and befriended each other during a previous stay and then coordinated second trips. We became fast buddies with a couple of clans and exchanged contact information, vowing to do the same thing. Greenhorn is just that kind of place.

One of the things we really loved about the ranch is that there aren’t a lot of hard rules; some resorts can get you pretty worked up (particularly if you have young kids) about what you can and can’t do. The Greenhorn staff will do almost anything to accommodate and completely satisfy guests, making them feel comfortable at all times. Our two ill-trained dogs, for example, had a nasty habit of doing a jailbreak run across the sprawling main lawn, visible from nearly every angle of the property, when we tried to leash them. At some resorts, that would have put us in a cold sweat. But here, no one made a big deal. 

One rule that is strictly enforced, though, is the “lope” rule. There are three different rides: the Walk Ride, the Walk/Trot Ride or the Lope Ride. Before you can do the Lope Ride, which includes a couple of brisk gallops, you need to pass the lope test, which quite frankly is difficult to do. Several people in our group, myself included, had riding experience but could not pass the lope test. It entails cantering around a circular pen, starting and stopping at certain designated spots. To pass, riders must maintain Western form (heels down, reins held in one hand, positioned down low) the entire time. I’d ridden mostly English style in the past, and when I’d ridden Western, I’d used two hands for reins. Despite taking a Western lesson, I tried and failed the test twice. Ditto for several other experienced riders in our group. So for those who envision galloping off into the sunset a la John Wayne, be advised it might not happen.

Despite being regulated to the Walk/Trot, I still really had fun in the saddle. My sisters and I particularly enjoyed the narrative from the guides. One wrangler, who we made a point of riding with, delighted us along the way by pointing out all the variations of trees and plants and wild animal markings on trees (deep gashes by bears!) At one point, she even dismounted to let us handle the gigantic, two-foot-long pinecones that litter the forest floor.

Owned by Trish and Ralph Wilburn for the past 11 years, Greenhorn Guest Ranch has been around since the ‘60s.  Trish says, “We met here. We married here. Ralph built all the buildings here. We’ve got all the blood, sweat and tears you could have in this place. It’s a spot where city people can get out of their routine and put worries behind them.”  

And, indeed, they do.