Program Cost: $1900
Guests interested in getting even further from the beaten path might be interested in a stay at the Bitterroot Cow Camp.
Nestled in a picturesque meadow in the shadow of Castle Rock, the Cow Camp consists of a rustic cabin and corral and has been home to many generations of cowboys who watched over the herd in the summer months.
Small groups (4-6) ride straight for the camp from the home ranch on the first day of their stay. The next three days begin with a strong cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast before an authentic day of ranch work amid dramatic, sweeping vistas. Whether that means searching for predator kills, finding and doctoring sick calves, or moving the herd from one section to the next, the demands of the day determine the itinerary. The nature of the job and the rugged terrain make for a slower paced ride.
Evenings revolve around one of mankind’s oldest traditions, the campfire. Here, you will enjoy traditional, chuckwagon-style fare and a glass of wine before retiring to a simple yet comfortable canvas wall tent. Spectacular sunsets cast a brilliant glow on Castle Rock and then yield to the sparkling night sky. Miles from artificial lights or sounds; you will be immersed in 2.5 million acres of untrammeled wilderness. Out here, you will gain a whole new appreciation for the term “working remotely”.
Groups less interested in cow work can also be accommodated. At 9,100 feet above sea level, the camp sits on the edge of some of the richest summer elk range in the world and is also home to a myriad of other animals from marmots to moose. The nearby East Fork Basin and the many creeks that feed it offer unparalleled fly- fishing. The sights, smells, and sounds of the high alpine meadows, dramatic mountain passes, and babbling brooks will make any trip unforgettable. The small group size allows a lot of flexibility; so don’t hesitate to ask if we can provide something a little different for your party.
Wednesday: Guests arrive at the main ranch and ride to the Cow Camp on the morning of their first day. Expect to depart for the camp by 10:15 am, but you’ll want to arrive well before then for breakfast (served 7:30- 9:00) and a cup of coffee. Upon arrival, you’ll meet your guides (Ross and Gabby) and load your luggage into a pickup truck that will meet you at the camp.
The first ride largely depends on the level of riders and the location of the cattle. Some people prefer a shorter ride the first day as they adjust to the altitude and get their “sea legs”. The most direct route is along a well-shaded alpine ridge, across a riparian basin, and straight into the camp near the head of Wayne’s Creek. Parties interested in a longer jaunt will wind through a desert landscape along the path of a seasonal creek before climbing up and over a steep ridge and into a lush microclimate called Wayne’s Hole. After lunch, you’ll traverse a large aspen grove on a retired logging road and drop down to the backside of the camp.
When you reach the camp, guests will pick out a tent and collect their belongings from the truck while your guides tend to the horses and set out refreshments. You’ll have some downtime to relax or explore before dinner. The vast majority of our cooking is done over an open cook fire, which guests are welcome to be part of. There is no fixed meal schedule but dinner is usually an hour or two before sunset. The entrees are pre-prepared by the professional chef at the ranch and range from cowboy chili to chicken cacciatore. After we eat, the cook fire becomes a campfire, where you can roast marshmallows, have a drink, enjoy lively conversation, or just look at the stars.
The horses have freedom to roam and graze all over the camp; so don’t be alarmed if you hear something nickering outside of your tent in the night.
Thursday: Your guides get up at sunrise to bring in the horses and start the cook fire for coffee. You are more than welcome to sleep in. That being said it’s hard to sleep too late once the sun is blazing and a dozen horses are thundering past your tent. The days are long, and breakfast is big. Bacon, eggs, and a starch. After breakfast, you’ll prepare your own packed lunch while the guides tack the horses.
The second ride departs the camp to the north across a large watershed that was once the subject of a multiyear Federal hydrologic study. At the top of the watershed you’ll take in a sweeping view of the Wind River Range and be able to clearly see Gannett Peak (Wyoming’s tallest mountain) 30 miles to the Southwest. From there we will follow a separate drainage through a dramatic draw in the shadow of Castle Rock to the East Fork Basin. The basin is a large, open, riparian area known for its world-class fly-fishing and dramatic, verdant landscape. After lunch along the East Fork, you will climb away from the river and return to the camp along the higher, northern perimeter of Alkali Basin. The trail cuts through a number of aspen groves and placid beaver ponds and is rife with wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see moose grazing on willow boughs or wolves shaking off their midday naps.
Keep in mind that the rides serve a utilitarian purpose as well. Your group will be looking for signs of predation on the cattle as well as checking to make sure the cows are healthy and in the correct pastures. We don’t manufacture “work” just for the spectacle, but you will more than likely have the opportunity to help with actual ranch work.
After the ride you can hike, read, learn to rope, hang out with the horses, or just sit and enjoy the scenery. Cell service is limited but accessible if necessary, which makes the camp an ideal place to unplug for a few days.
Friday: The third ride is more of a scenic jaunt than a day of work. You’ll ride out of camp directly towards Castle Rock and climb a long ridgeline that separates the drainages of the East Fork Basin and Bear Creek Basin. This view brilliantly shows the amphitheater-like formations of the Absaroka Mountains that bookend the two basins. You’ll follow a game trail along the spine of a ridge to the crystal clear waters of Bear Creek. After lunch, you’ll climb out of the basin back towards the camp. This trail crosses several large meadows interrupted by thick stands of Lodge Pole Pine and along a creek with several dramatic waterfalls. The combination of unique remoteness, varied landscapes, and immense, sweeping vistas makes the Bear Basin ride the highlight of many guests’ experiences.
Saturday: The last ride departs from the opposite end of the camp as the previous days’ trips. You’ll follow the path of Alkali Creek through several large aspen groves. The cattle like to graze in the shady meadows fed by the creek, and it’s a good opportunity to make sure the cows and calves are happy and healthy. You’ll stop for lunch in the largest aspen stand in the area. Depending on the time of year, this lunch spot is often a favorite haunt for moose and antelope. In the afternoon, you’ll climb the face of a large ridge with an expansive view of the Wind River Valley. The last leg of the ride zigzags across the bottom of Alkali Basin and is within view of a popular denning area for the East Fork wolf pack. After four long days in the saddle, a big dinner, and a glass of wine, you’ll look forwards to a burrowing in to your sleeping bag for a restful night of sleep.
Sunday: For the sake of streamlining travel arrangements, a truck will pick you and your luggage up from the camp after breakfast on the last day. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride back along the old forest service road, but it’s a beautiful trip through what will be some recognizable country. The truck usually reaches the main ranch by 10:30 am.