REVIEW: Oregon dude ranch, Wilson Ranches Retreat
By Helen Wright
- Location Fossil, Oregon
- Bed comfiness 7/10
- Pool No
- WIFI Free in the shared living area
- Parking Free for guests
- Best thing? Personal touch
- Worst thing? Slow wifi
- The all-important plug by the bed? No
Mid-way through our fantastic road trip around Oregon in our Cruise America RV and we fancied trying something different. We followed a recommendation to stay at the Wilson Ranches Retreat dude ranch Oregon, one of few retreats in Oregon that offer bed and breakfast with horseback riding. The guest house is set on a 9,000 acre working cattle and hay ranch, nestled in the beautiful Butte Creek Valley. We were on route to the John Day Fossil Beds and there didn’t seem to be that many Painted Hills Oregon camping options, so the dude ranch (in the town of Fossil) made for a great stopover. Less than an hour from the Painted Hills, the town of Fossil is tiny (with only one grocery store and one café on the high street) and Wilson Ranches is almost hidden by the lush green countryside that surrounds it. If you are looking for an Oregon dude ranch, unique places to stay in Oregon or just somewhere to unwind, this is the place.
What to expect at an Oregon Dude Ranch
Arriving at Wilson Ranch was quite a surprise. The retreat is only marked by a tiny sign on the side of highway 19 and we almost missed the turn off. Then, the access road is a few miles long through the lush Butte Creek Valley that is surrounded on both sides by green hills, dotted with cattle and horses. Eventually, we approached a small ranch house, complete with the star spangled banner blowing in the wind.
Checking into Wilson Ranches really feels like you are special guests in someone’s family home. No one was in the house when we went in, but a handwritten note had been left on the table to welcome us and direct us to our reserved room. As well as a popular Oregon dude ranch, Wilson’s is a working cattle ranch, so when we arrived the staff were out working on the farm.
The ranch is owned and operated by three generations of the Wilson family and headed up by Kara Wilson, the inspirational and ridiculously friendly ranch ‘mom’. Kara uses an electronic wheelchair but that doesn’t stop her managing the farm and the B&B, moving around freely. Being a real life cowgirl since childhood, Kara can usually be found saddling up to ride horses around the ranch and valley and keeping things moving smoothly on the farm with her husband and grown up kids.
Once checked in, guests are free to wander the ranch at leisure. There are well-maintained gardens with hammocks and chairs to relax in or you can watch the ranch hands at work, tending cattle and going about their work on the farm. During our stay, the team were branding cattle ready for the new season, which was exciting and fun to watch.
Horseback riding Oregon
Most guests at an Oregon dude ranch usually aim to ride the horses and enjoy a trail ride during their stay. I love horseback riding, especially in the Western saddle, but since I was six-months pregnant and Finn was only two, sadly we weren’t able to ride. Guided ranch rides are available ($55/£44pp for one hour & $90/£72pp for two-hour) for guests four and older and after chatting to those who did get a chance to experience a ride, the scenery and experience of horseback riding Oregon was wonderful. Boots and hats are free to borrow for your trek and you can book a ride without being a guest of the ranch.
We were sad to miss out (a reason to go back!) but Finn enjoyed meeting the horses and watching the other guests saddle up. He even got a chance to sit on one of the smaller horses ‘blueberry’ and he often mentions her now we are at home, so the ranch obviously made an impact. Not long before I can get him in the saddle! Even though we couldn’t keep up with our four-legged friends, we were able to roam the ranch on foot so we set off on a little self-guided hike to take in the surroundings ourselves, which made for a fun afternoon.
Quaint and traditional guest rooms
The guesthouse is decked out with traditional furnishings and cute, western touches like a boot rack, family photos and patchwork quilts. We stayed in the Homestead Room, which is the largest room in the ranch house and starts from $159 per night. This room is huge and has a king bed, two queen beds, a sofa area and working fireplace, and is ideal for a family. This room also has a private entrance on the side of the house and access to a private bathroom. Cribs are available if you let the retreat know in advance, but we set Finn up in one of the Queen beds and he was fine. The space felt enormous, especially after being in our RV for a week at this point, but as it was so homely, it still felt cosy. Simon and I even contemplated having a bed each to take advantage of the extra room! There is wifi at the B&B but it’s not particularly strong and we were only able to get decent coverage in the common areas (probably as our room was at basement level). Having said that, we welcomed the chance to be unplugged for a while so it wasn’t a problem.
There was cable TV in the room and a choice of coffee table books and magazines to enjoy. The sofa area was a bonus and we spent time relaxing here after a day out exploring the ranch. We had a peek next door at the Buckhorn Room – this was much smaller with two queen beds but also had a private cable TV and bathroom ($139 per night and the second photo below). As well as a guest kitchen and laundry room, large terrace and lounge area, the bed and breakfast also has a separate outdoor kitchen and BBQ area with picnic tables, set away from the house and with excellent views across the valley.
Retreats in Oregon have breakfast ‘family style’
One of the cutest things about this retreat in Oregon is that guests are invited to have breakfast together at 8am around a huge kitchen table. Our fellow guests were from around the world, including Norway, Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the USA. Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon, fruit, muffins and cake was served, with free flowing orange juice and coffee. It was great to talk to the other guests and find out what brought them to a dude ranch in Oregon and where they were headed next on their trips. It was a wide range people too – from a lawyer, to a photographer, a young family (who had a baby with them) and a couple on a gap year. Kara and some of the other ranch hands ate with us too and it was fascinating to learn more about the farm and its history. There was also a large living room to unwind, which reminded me of my grandmother’s house – with cosy armchairs, a rocking chair, ornaments, family photos and books. Finn claimed the rocking chair as his own…
Stay at an Oregon dude ranch for some quality family time
Staying at Wilson Ranches Retreat, you are mostly left to your own devices and this was really lovely as were able to spend precious time together as a family while enjoying the peace, quiet and beautiful surroundings. There was so much room for Finn (and Simon) to run around – since we live in London usually, it was like having the world’s most massive garden to play in! Buying supplies from the small supermarket in town (as well as pizza, pies, cake and handmade salsa from Sally’s Salsa, Bakery and Ice Cream Shop in Fossil – don’t miss!) we had a picnic on the grass and then tried to relax in the comfy hammocks but Finn had other ideas…
Oregon dude ranch – work / life balance
Breakfast is provided by the retreat but lunch and dinner is self-catering. As well as our daytime picnic, we took advantage of the gorgeous alfresco BBQ area and cooked some delicious locally-reared steak (again, from the sole supermarket in town) as we watched the sunset. I think Simon was starting to think of himself as a real life rancher by the time we left…
At home on the ranch
An Oregon dude ranch hadn’t really been on our radar before it was suggested by those in the know at Travel Oregon, but we really enjoyed our stay at Wilson Ranches Retreat. It’s a unique lodging, unlike anywhere I had ever stayed before and we had the most wonderful, relaxed time as a family. It was such a shame that I wasn’t able to ride as it would have been incredible to explore the ranch on horseback. However, with the other guests off on the trail, Simon, Finn and I enjoyed the whole place to ourselves for an afternoon and that was pretty special too. If you are looking for where to stay in Painted Hills Oregon or Painted Hills Oregon camping (you can park and sleep in your RV here and enjoy breakfast and all the other facilities for $75 per night), this Oregon ranch is a cool alternative and a true home away from home.
passportstamps.uk stayed as guests of Wilson Ranches Retreat but, like all our reviews and recommendations, this is an authentic and honest account of our experience.
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