Flitner: A ranch for the family that plays together and ropes cattle in Shell, Wyoming.
If you find it hard sending your kids off to camp because you yearn to go with them, then you might want to book a family holiday at The Hideout At Flitner Ranch in Shell, Wyoming. Nestled at the base of the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, this family-owned and operated dude and cattle ranch was founded by Arthur Flitner in 1906.
A Wild West Camp
Handed down from generation to generation, his grandson, David and his wife Paula, opened the ranch in 1994 as a premier resort catering to folks wanting to experience being cowboys and cowgirls firsthand. Guests get to live out a western fantasy as Roy Rogers or Dale Evans – even if it's just for a week or two. Kind of like a camp with all the bells and whistles, Flitner Ranch is best suited to adventurous adults and kids over 10 years of age.
We soon learned that cowboys look after the cattle and that wranglers look after the horses. The first morning was spent at an Orientation, where the wranglers told us the rules of riding. They selected the appropriate horse and saddle geared to our experience and our body weight. The wranglers evaluated our skills and kindly corrected our mistakes. We found the wranglers always had great patience – especially with us, since most of our past riding was on a carousel. Kid's will enjoy "The Singing Wrangler" recording artist, Stewart Reed, who lead our horses through the foothills while serenading us from his saddle with cowboy hurtin' songs.
Cowboy's Play is Never Done
By the first afternoon, the wranglers were ready to take riders on a half-day scenic trail. There are 250,000 rolling acres, so every half-day scenic ride offers a different route. Favorite trails include Dinosaur Loop and if you dare, Devil's Leap.
Good riders can sign up for a cattle drive, herding the Angus cattle across pastures. Be forewarned: being a cowboy or cowgirl is serious business. You can be up in your saddle the whole day without getting off – even having to eat lunch while sitting atop your horse. The wranglers taught us helpful skills such as team penning and sorting. Certain times of the year you can witness or help out at a branding – it is done humanely and quickly, but is not an activity for the faint-hearted. At the end of the week, guests are invited to team up and compete in a "dudeo" (clown-like antics) on horseback.
There are lots of complimentary activities, especially during the summer months. In addition to riding you can do trapshooting, archery, fishing and the Big Horn Airboat Ride. Mountain bikes are available for rent. Nearby attractions include Yellowstone National Park, Thermopolis Hot Springs, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody Nite Rodeo and the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting with its Royal Canadian Air Force Airtanker C-119. "Tracks Thru Time" is offered by Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite Tours with Geo-Science Adventures owned by Cliff and Row Manuel, who discovered this prehistoric find while showing their geologist-nephew, Erik P. Kvale, the local sights. The Manuels will teach you to walk the tracksite just like a dinosaur.
Housing to Suit Families
Hideout manager, Canadian Julie Côté, and her Bernese mountain dog, Baloo, the unofficial mascot of The Hideout, welcome guests to the ranch from April to October. The Main Lodge, one of three housing choices at The Hideout, consists of 10 rooms in five cabins, one room in the lodge and four mini-suites, all with wrap-around porches, beautifully designed to view the breathtaking scenery. Rooms have coffee machines, phones, satellite TV and access to laundry facilities. All suites feature a full kitchen and washer/dryer. There are complimentary fresh fruits, soft drinks and beer available to the guests at all times.
The Upper Hideout is open from July to October. The six rooms in three cabins are a remote retreat at 8,200 feet above sea level. It is accessible to guests by vehicle or a five-hour horseback ride. In case of emergency, the Flitner family owns a helicopter that can bring you off the mountain in eight minutes.
The third Flitner hideaway is the year-round Snowshoe Lodge on Snowshoe Pass. This top-of-the-mountain, cozy getaway with three private cabins and one lodge room is only accessible by snowmobile in the winter –half the fun is getting up there. Snowmobiles are available to rent for the duration of your stay. In the summer, you can hike through the mountain's wilderness.
In the evening, all guests meet in the main lodge, where the new-found wranglers swap stories and view digital photographs of their daily adventures on a big screen. The Flitners join their guests each night for the three-course supper; don't be surprised if two black poodles named Bear and Tiger jump on your lap during dinner. (Do not feed them or you'll be in Mrs. Flitner's doghouse!) Any special dietary needs to accommodate diabetics or vegetarians are easily taken care of, and you can always ask for a sandwich instead of a steak. A great way to end your evening is in the outdoor hot tub – it does wonders for any aches and pains earned during a day's riding.
At the end of your holiday, each family is presented with a souvenir CD with hundreds of photos of the past week's fun. It's not really necessary to preserve the memories, because a holiday at The Hideout is addictive – most of the families we met had been to the ranch before and had plans for future visits.
Billings, Montana is 140 miles from the ranch, and it's easily reached by air with major carriers such as United, Delta, Northwest and Continental airlines. The Hideout is only 70 miles from Cody, Wyoming, which is served by connecting flights from Billings via United or Delta Airlines; free transportation is provided from both airports.
The Summer 2007 6N all-inclusive "Authentic Cowboy Adventure" package costs $2,225-$2,435/adult, double occupancy; children 11 & under get a 15% discount. Your western holiday can be booked by calling The Hideout At Flitner Ranch at 800/354-8637, 307/765-2080.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.