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Ride Big Sky Country

Horseback Riding at Bar W Guest Ranch

Take advantage of our advanced and diverse equestrian program!

At the Bar W Guest Ranch, horses are central to the ranch experience and our riding program is the ranch’s main attraction. Our knowledgeable wranglers, the assorted terrain, and our large herd of good mountain horses make riding at the Bar W exceptional.

From our home at the base of Spencer Mountain, we offer outstanding horseback riding in the mountainous Montana terrain surrounding the ranch, not to mention the thousands of acres the ranch has access to at other locations. You’ll ride in places with names like Sunday Creek, Lake Koocanusa, and the Kootenai National Forest.

If you find yourself on the cattle drive in the wide-open prairie of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, you’ll feel like you stepped back in time. There may be no other place quite like it; you’ll find there really are ‘purple mountains majesty’ waiting for you. The Bar W truly is an equestrian’s dream, where time will run a little slower, things will seem a little simpler, and every day will feel like Saturday.

Riding Guidelines at the Bar W

Horses come in varying sizes, as do riders. Each horse can reasonably carry a limited weight without becoming injured or sore. Your athletic ability and riding experience, as well as the speed, length, and terrain of the ride, will influence the stress you place on a horse as you ride. It also affects your ability to ride safely.

Riders need to be in good physical shape relative to their age. Riders also need to realize that some of our rides may be too challenging. Please trust our professionalism and experience to help you make that decision. Older riders will need to consider that although they were great riders or equestrians at a younger age, time takes its toll, and they may need to manage their expectations and limitations.

Monday morning every guest wanting to ride during the week must participate in our Horse Orientation and Assessment. After an instructional safety talk, the wranglers will get you mounted up and will assess your current riding level. Our riding program is broken down into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Guests will be able to sign up for rides or lessons appropriate for their current skill level. A more experienced rider can choose to ride with a less experienced friend or family member. You can choose to ride below your level, but you cannot choose to ride above your level without passing an assessment for that level. Safety is our number one priority, and riders pushing themselves beyond their skill level is often when accidents occur.

1. We expect you to determine whether you are fit and healthy enough to enjoy an active riding-centered vacation. All riders are required to be able to mount the horse on their own; if you require physical assistance to mount the horse, we may need to restrict the length and type of riding you can do.

2. *We have a weight limit of 230 pounds for all riders. Please consider your BMI and Weight / Height Index. This might impact the kind of rides you can participate in. Feel free to call and talk with us if you think this may affect your stay with us.

3. Honestly judging riding ability is extremely important. We have horses that are suitable and safe for beginners through very advanced guests. If a person overestimates their riding ability it becomes a safety issue not only for you, but for all the other riders, our staff, and our horses. When determining riding ability, we strongly recommend you err on the conservative side, and, at all times, be honest and realistic.

4. Our trail riding is done in hilly, and sometimes challenging and steep terrain. Some rides will be on narrow, wooded paths requiring single-file riding, other rides will travel down old logging roads with space to safely ride side-by-side when the wranglers allow.

5. We treat our horses like employees and part of our team. Horses are not machines. They are very sensitive animals with different temperaments and personalities. Just like people. The most satisfying accomplishment to us is to find that special horse that matches the rider’s personality and riding level.

6. We want guests to have a fun, safe and memorable riding vacation. We also want our guests to gain knowledge and learn more about riding and horsemanship during their visit.

7. We do trot and lope on some of our rides with riders that have passed the intermediate or advanced assessment levels. However, our rides are not about racing horses and only going fast. Our advanced rides are longer, in sometimes challenging terrain and at a variety of altitudes. We lope and trot, but we never gallop on rides.

*We can sometimes accommodate a rider weighing as much as 250 lbs., but that will depend upon how many people over 200 lbs. are booked that particular week. Depending on your height, weight, and athleticism, you may be able to do walking rides, but not be able to trot or lope on horseback. Your rides may also be shorter in duration, and you may be riding a draft horse. It may also limit the number of times you can ride in a day.

A Week of Horseback Adventure

A week-long, all inclusive stay at the Bar W Guest Ranch grants you access to our diverse horseback riding program. Saddle up each day for a variety of different trail rides and horseback activities for some of the most exciting, yet relaxing outings into the Montana mountains that you could imagine. Horseback riding in the mountains is normally more deliberate, with attention paid to traversing up and down in elevation, while keeping an eye open for wildlife. More experienced guests will have the chance to ride at a faster pace where terrain and group dynamics allow.

Ride your trusted mount over foothills, through vibrant forests and up into the mountains, across lush meadows dotted with wildflowers, and discover breathtaking viewpoints and back country lakes.

Trail ride options include:

After a scenic truck ride from the ranch to the quaint town of Eureka, MT, hoof it from the trailhead through the Kootenai National Forest. Pass iconic lakes and mountain views to reach the U.S. Canadian border where you’ll ride alongside Canada, no passport necessary. When you stop for lunch, take a break from the saddle, and enjoy the view overlooking the majestic Lake Koocanusa, a beautiful aqua blue-green lake with wide sandy beaches. Then hit the trail again before loading the horses up in the trailers and heading home.

Head into the Montana mountains surrounding the ranch for rides that will stick with you for a lifetime. The trail system on Spencer Mountain is extensive, allowing for truly unique and customizable rides. Trail rides on Spencer Mountain can be anything from an easy one-hour walking ride to a quick paced loping ride down a forest road with your fellow experienced guests. Or perhaps a long four-hour half day outing with lunch on the trail, and some of our more extraordinary views along the way, is more your style. Don’t feel like spending four-hours in the saddle to see some pretty sights? No problem, a few of our views can easily be reached on our more popular two-hour trail rides.

Hit the highway for a short trip to the trailhead at Kuhn’s for a half day ride that features meadows alive with birds and wildlife, small mountain lakes, and clifftop views of pristine wilderness for as far as the eye can see.

The ride at Sunday Creek is an opportunity for those guests seeking long hours in the saddle. Riding at Sunday Creek offers a little bit of everything; easy, overgrown logging roads, narrow, twisting trails, steep and challenging climbs, and some breathtaking scenery. This ride can be a bit daunting for the novice new to mountain riding and tackling difficult terrain, but for those experienced riders accustomed to long hours in the saddle Sunday Creek might just be what you’re looking for.


Not Staying at the Bar W? Come for a ride!

If you’re not staying at the ranch or you’re a local, don’t worry — you can still experience the thrill of horseback riding in Montana. Near Glacier National Park and sited only 3 miles from Whitefish, our ranch is easy to find and impossible to forget. We offer 2-hour trail rides to day guests based upon availability and trail conditions.

Warning: Day riders just get a sip of Montana wilderness by horseback, and you’re probably going to want more. We hand our weekly guests the bottle with no need to drink responsibly. This is one occasion where it’s encouraged to drink it all in.   


Horse Selection

Our experienced Head Wrangler hand-selects each horse from our herd for every rider based on age, weight, height, and riding ability. Honestly judging your riding ability is important. The Bar W has horses that are suitable for the novice rider all the way to horses that are only ridden by our experienced wranglers and very advanced guests. Overestimating your riding ability becomes a safety issue not only for you, but for all the other riders, our staff, and our horses.

Children must be 7 years old to ride alone on the trails, and for all-inclusive guests we have a weight limit of 225 lbs. We do ask that you consider if you are fit and healthy enough to enjoy an active and riding-centered vacation. Please give us a call and chat with us if you have any concerns or questions about what you can expect your riding experience to be like at the Bar W.

Wherever you’re at in your horseback riding journey, we strive to match you with an equine partner that suits you and gives you the confidence you need to take your riding experience to the next level. Please note you may be paired with different horses throughout the week.


Horseback Riding Lessons

True horsemanship can take a lifetime to master. There is always more to learn – even for the most seasoned of riders. For all inclusive guests, you’ll have every opportunity to grow your knowledge and skill.

We offer group lessons in our large outdoor arena three mornings a week, where our wranglers teach everything from the basics of learning to ride a horse to confidently, and safely loping on your horse. Learn how to better communicate with your horse and develop a true partnership.

Our experienced wranglers will take the time to make sure each guest receives one-on-one instruction that’s personalized to your riding level. Learn at your own pace.

  • Experience the satisfaction of improving an old skill or the thrill of learning a new one.
  • Private lessons can be arranged at an additional charge for weekly guests.

Limited lesson opportunities are also available for day guests, reservations are required.


Let’s Rodeo!

Throughout your week at the ranch, you’ll put together horseback riding skills worthy of a rodeo queen or king. Towards the end of the week you will have the chance to ride in the Bar W Guest Rodeo for some friendly competition, with your fan base of new friends and family cheering you on!

Try your hand at the basics of team penning, where you’ll get to experience cattle work from horseback. After that you’ll take a break from the saddle and learn how to throw a lasso from the ground using our steer roping dummies. When you think you’re ready, take your rope into the pen and test your skill by trying to rope one of the real steers.

As an all-inclusive guest, you will also get the chance to learn the ins and outs of barrel racing and pole bending, two of rodeo’s most well know timed competition events. Whether you goal is to just have fun or to win, there’s an event for every person on Rodeo Day. And when it gets hot, we cool everybody off with a water balloon toss!


Family Saddle Time

The Bar W has one of the most extensive kids’ programs of any dude ranch in Montana.

For the small fries, ages two to three years old, we offer special programing with appropriate ranch activities, and outdoor play time, so you can enjoy your time out on the trails. Babysitting services are available at $55/hour for children under 2 years.

The fun really begins in our Cowpoke Program, for those kiddos aged 4 to 6. Cowpokes will get to experience daily pony rides (sometimes on a real horse), join their family in competition on Rodeo Day, learn how to be responsible for the care and feeding of animals with daily chores in the Cowpoke Corner, group games, and western themed arts and crafts. cowpokes have their very own Kid’s Counselor, and while they’re around the horses they’ll get the thrill of hanging out with our Wranglers.

And for our Outlaws, children aged 7 to 12, the world opens up. Many of our Outlaws choose to do the same rides as their parents, while others choose to hang back with other kids for shorter rides, fun group activities, and maybe make a western themed craft to show off to their family.


Western Cattle Drive and Round Up

Experience a real western cattle drive during one of our most popular specialty weeks. You’ll get to experience the horsemanship and beautiful country inherent in our spring or fall round-up.

“Cowboying the Great Divide” fills quickly, as it provides a unique and authentic experience few guest ranches offer. Guests of our weeklong cattle drive package will spend long hours in the saddle riding rugged terrain, help bring in the herd, sort cattle, and get hands on experience vaccinating and branding. Then after a long day of hard, satisfying work, relax around the campfire for an evening of camaraderie swapping tall tales under the starry big sky. You’ll feel like a real ranch hand right down to the dirty jeans and broke-in boots. Even full-time cowboys and cowgirls can’t wait for this experience every year!


Wagon Rides

Bask in Big Sky Country splendor with a Bar W wagon ride that will transport you to a simpler time.

For guests staying at the ranch, enjoy a wagon ride during your stay. Our wagons are pulled by our draft horse teams and the sound of the horses’ massive hooves hitting the pavement in sync with each other, and the sheer strength of our gentle giants creates a truly unique experience.