A family guest-ranch vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

January 1st, 2012 by Trina Packard

Goosewing Ranch Main LodgeThis summer, my family took a summer trip to Goosewing Ranch near Jackson Hole, WY. The ranch’s location is close to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, yet is very remote, situated in the Bridger Teton National Forest and bordering the Gros Ventre Wilderness.

Getting to Jackson Hole was surprisingly easy. I checked into flights into several different airports. I felt this was a once in a lifetime trip, so although I looked for the best deals (as times are tight these days), I didn’t want to take away from the overall experience.

I found that although flying into Salt Lake City and renting a car was an option, all of the major carriers do fly into Jackson, so we went that route, as it seemed much more convenient. The ranch quoted us $150 for a round trip shuttle, which was much better than spending over $500 to rent a car for the week.

We flew in on Saturday around dinner time, took the Alltrans shuttle into Jackson, and stayed the night at the Lodge at Jackson Hole, and I would definitely recommend this option for other families.

We explored town on Sunday morning; Jackson has some great museums and shops, antler arches, and the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. The Boot Barn has cowboy boots and hats, essential items that we picked up before heading to the ranch.

Goosewing came to pick us up from our hotel in the afternoon around 3pm. The drive out to the ranch took just over one hour. Bison crossed from one meadow to another, heedless of our vehicle and ourselves. Their massive, shaggy heads and sharp horns kept us from the temptation to step out, but we were able to look back at the Tetons behind us.

The sites at the ranch were immediately inviting: the horses grazing in the pasture, the beautiful swimming pool area and pond, the lodge with its huge deck, and the adorable cabins. What an adventure the week would be.

The staff was introduced at dinner, and afterwards Tyler, the head wrangler, gave a talk about the safety and care of the horses and how to saddle them, since the first horseback ride would be in the morning.

On Monday, as we headed to the main lodge for breakfast, raindrops still clung to the wildflowers. As the sun began lifting the moisture from the hillsides, the mist blurred the vast landscape’s edges for a few minutes, making it seem even grander that it already was.

After breakfast, wrangler Kristen provided a riding lesson in the arena on Goliath, one of Goosewing’s horses. From there we took the trail toward Cowboy Cabin, an old log cabin that was used by real cowboys driving cattle through the area.

The history of the Goosewing is dated in centuries. The first Indians came without horses around three centuries ago, while the first French trappers wandered through with horses about two centuries ago. And this genuine line shack cowboy cabin has probably been used for a century.

On Tuesday, Goosewing’s fly fishing guide Kevin gave fly fishing instruction on the stocked trout pond on property. The location of Goosewing Ranch provides easy access to the Gros Ventre River, which runs through the property, as well as Crystal Creek, Fish Creek, and Soda Lake. These turned out to be great fishing spots for the amateur (me) or the fly fishing enthusiast (my husband), fiddling with his flies and determined to land a few Cutthroat trout, native to the area.

Horseback rides were also offered today, and the trail took us up Goosewing Creek and around to Soda Lake. The trail back to the barn through the sage brush was ideal for loping on the horses, and we crossed the Gros Ventre River on horseback, with the water coming all the way up to the stirrups. We felt like real Wyoming cowboys and cowgirls, yeah! And even more at night: after dinner around the grill on the deck, western dances kept everybody entertained for hours.

On Wednesday, some of us gave our horses a break and took the ranch’s Polaris Ranger out to check out the area. The road went all the way to the top of Gunsight Pass. From there, the perspective on the Gros Ventre valley was stunning and revealed the twisted path carved by the river. Inside this moose and elk territory, we felt we were part of a privileged few allowed to step back in time and explore nature the way our ancestors found it. This is what the Goosewing is about; people who leave nature pretty much the way they found it and take their rightful place among the creatures.

In the afternoon, we went into Jackson Hole to go whitewater rafting on the Snake River. Afterwards, the local rodeo provided the opportunity to see real cowboys- roping, racing, and bull riding. Wyoming weather took some getting used to; as soon as the sun set, we needed an extra layer to put on.

After a few days on horses, by Thursday the wranglers were ready to take us on a full day ride, up Teepee Creek, which allowed for the most splendid views of the valley as well as some steep climbs. Horseback riding in the Gros Ventre mountain range offered a variety of terrain and amazing views that seemed to go on forever.

Luckily we remembered to wear sunscreen because the high altitude caused the sun to be very intense. The air was dry too, so chap stick was a must have on the trail.

The activities at the ranch were sure to entertain the kids, while allowing the adults to feel like kids again too. Throughout the week, we tried our hand at target shooting, roping, and archery. The evenings had us on our feet line dancing or simply enjoying a camp fire outside the lodge. There was always something going on, but the atmosphere was very relaxed and the staff very personable.

On Friday, Goosewing’s own knowledgeable, professional guide took us to Yellowstone National Park. Getting an early start allowed for seeing lots of sites like Old Faithful, Lewis Falls, and West Thumb Geyser Basin. Our guide Duane knew all the best places to go, so no time was wasted trying figure out which spots to hit or skip. The drive to Yellowstone is through Grand Teton National Park, a great way to start the day.

Arriving back at the ranch, dinner was a cowboy cookout by the Gros Ventre River- barbecue brisket, roasted potatoes, creamed corn, baked beans, corn bread, cherry pie, and s’mores. A surprise guest showed up to entertain everyone by the camp fire and tell stories about real mountain men who first explored the Rocky Mountain area.

At dusk, we stood near the fire and watched a cow moose step out of the willows along the bank, nibbling on the branches as she went. The Milky Way was gleaming bright above our heads…

On Saturday, for the final day of horseback riding, the wranglers chose another full day horseback ride, this time to Bacon Ridge. A buckrail fence led my eye across the foothills and disappeared into the horizon. Craggy red cliffs emerged from the lifting haze, in sharp contrast to the violent blue of the Teton’s shadow.

The scenery was stunning as always, there were several areas where the horses were able to gallop, and more creek and river crossings on the way back to the barn.

Goosewing’s lodge host had compiled a slide show of photos from throughout the week -at the ranch, on the horseback rides, by the fishing pond, on the Polaris Ranger ride- to show after dinner, which we and the other families thoroughly enjoyed. I laid in my bed that night with the window open, listening to the river, imagining all the days and nights it flowed with no one around to hear or see it.

On Sunday, after breakfast it was time to say goodbye to the ranch, the horses in the pasture, our new cowboy and cowgirl friends, the casual dinners on the deck, cocktail hour by the pool, and the incredible sunsets over the Tetons. We headed to Jackson Hole in time to catch our flight.

On the way home, horseback rides and hikes were compared with elaborate stories about all the animals that had been sighted- elk, antelope, moose, deer, geese, herons, cranes, and swans were all confirmed. There was disagreement on whether a pair of trumpeter swans flew over, or if their necks were too short for that unique specie.

We love Goosewing Ranch, Yellowstone, and the entire Jackson Hole area.

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