Meadow made a beeline for the bed; the cabin was cool and dark, and she was ready for a nap. This was our third day of exploring trails at the Flying U Ranch, Canada’s oldest guest ranch, and Meadow and Maia, my two- and four-year-old Malamutes, were both happily tired after trotting alongside me and Louis, my trusty steed. In the space of three days, we had covered about 50 miles.
The Flying U is my favorite place on the planet. A dog lover who hates the thought of vacationing without my girls, I was ecstatic to learn about a dude ranch that not only lets you ride unguided on its 43,000 acres, but welcomes dogs as well.
The ranch is located in the Cariboo area of British Columbia, a drive of six hours from Seattle or five hours from Vancouver. Guests and their dogs stay in rustic cabins with comfy hand-hewn log beds, wood-burning stoves and electricity. Everyone shares a central shower/toilet house and sauna. The ranch includes a general store, saloon, a small movie theater and Saturday-night dances to live music. Guests are assigned horses suited to their riding ability for the duration of their stay, and may ride on their own or with other guests daily between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Meals are included, served at 8 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. in the common dining hall, and guests may request a sack lunch to maximize their time on the trail.
For dog lovers, a special attraction is the ability to vacation with their dogs in a part of British Columbia known for its extraordinary beauty. The Flying U sits at 3,500' elevation, and is covered in aspen and pine trees, with several large, open meadows and small lakes. You can ride winding trails through the woods, or gallop through the fields. Part of the charm is exploring, wondering if you’re lost, and then realizing that if you just give your horse his head, you’ll be back at the ranch by the 4 o’clock curfew. The horses, accustomed to having dogs around, are incredibly gentle. When Meadow stopped in the middle of the trail, Louis gently nudged her butt with his nose, and Maia and Louis frequently touched noses to get better acquainted. Meadow and Maia learned to move to the side of the trail when the horses started trotting or galloping, and delighted in running alongside. And yes, like most dogs, they consider horse dung a special amenity.
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To date, I’ve been to the ranch six times, and have always met wonderful people there. This year I visited both in April and in late September, when the aspen were changing color. In September I rode with a group that included two dogs— Lula Belle, a Poodle, and Tillie, a mini Aussie. Lula Belle’s human, Lisa Garbrick, said she’s been bringing Lula to the ranch for five years. Lula enjoys rolling in the equine and bovine by-products, and Lisa lets her have her fun. When Lula’s done, Lisa simply throws her in nearby Green Lake to wash her off. Lisa mentioned that, to avoid exposing Lula to snickers from the ranch hands, she doesn’t give Lula a typical Poodle cut before coming to the ranch. Lula gains their respect, however, by running alongside the horses all day, day after day, and still having the energy to swim and play in the evenings. (Dogs that aren’t in such good shape are welcome to stay in their cabin while their human is out riding.)
The Fremlins have always welcomed dogs to the ranch. In fact, their philosophy is, “if the dog can vouch for you, you can stay.” The only—very mild—complaint I’ve ever heard voiced was about dogs on the beds; in the interest of good manners, guests should provide a cover if their dogs are so inclined (as mine are . . . eventually). The first night, my girls sleep outside, listening to the coyotes howling and keeping a keen eye on the nearby horses. By the second night, they ask to come in around midnight to sleep on the bed—they’ve put in a few miles by this point, and a soft sleeping area feels good. By the third and fourth nights, there’s virtually no room for me in the bed from the time it gets dark! We all sleep soundly at the ranch, lulled by the sounds of the wilderness. And did I mention how beautiful the night sky is in that big, open country?