I've traveled extensively throughout the West visiting various guest and dude ranches over the years, so I've come to know what to expect at just about any ranch I go to. Almost all of them offer very good packages, which include good food, accommodations, and interesting riding adventures.
But The Hideout at Flitner Ranch in Shell, Wyoming, really knocked my socks off. It starts when you pull into the ranch area. There are lush green lawns surrounded by ponds and streams tumbling over rocks, which look like hammered silver. The roads and walking trails are all paved in the lodge and cabin area, so there isn't any dust. There are enormous trees providing shade. It has a tranquil, park-like setting. You don't have the feeling of a hideout, but it is a place to escape.
When you pull up to the main lodge, you feel like you arrived at a national park lodge. The main floor contains the dinning room, offices, reading area, restrooms, a small gift shop and kitchen along with a small refreshment area that's available to you 24 hours a day. The basement contains the entertainment room-which has a fireplace, reading area, large-screen television, and guest computer-and a game room with pool table.
The upper floor sports a cocktail lounge and a nice reading area with a great view. All the main rooms have a nice, warm ambiance because of all the wood and Western décor. It's easy to slide into one of the nice overstuffed chairs with a good book or magazine while you wait for dinner or lunch to be served. It's a very relaxing atmosphere that is created by the building, décor and the owners' personal touch.
There are several new large log cabins, which are spread out around the main lodge building, and each one of them has two separate sleeping units in them with private baths. The units are very roomy and have a variety of sleeping arrangements. All are equipped with comfortable furniture and beds, along with satellite-dish TV and Western décor. You feel at home as soon as you set foot into one.
The dinner on the evening of your arrival sets the stage for the rest of the meals. The Hideout is one of the three ranches out of dozens I've visited that offers true gourmet dinning. Prior to dinner, all the guests meet up in the cocktail lounge for complimentary beer, wine, and cocktails with delicious hors d'oeuvres and canapés. It's hard not to eat too many appetizers! After everyone has had a chance to get to know each other, they all head down to dinner.
There's always a variety of fine wine flowing around the table at dinnertime; there's one that will go well with the entrée for the evening. There's an eclectic salad with delicious, freshly made dressings and plenty of homemade bread. Entrées vary from sesame-encrusted salmon to tender filet mignon, or maybe medallions of buffalo or elk with a special glaze. Or, you can opt for pork or chicken. Desserts are the coup de grace. Believe me, you don't want to miss any meals at this ranch.
Of course, the reason for being at any ranch is the riding and outdoor adventure along with the beautiful scenery. You won't be disappointed. The first morning, you'll have a riding/horse orientation, then you'll go on a short ride. After that, have the afternoon available for a short half-day ride. One of the options is to ride to Devil's Leap. Or you can ride in the Painted Hills. Both rides take you into some interesting geology with a lot of color. Keep you eyes peeled for anything that looks out of place, because you could find something from the dinosaur age. There are also some dinosaur dig sites in the area you can visit if you're so inclined. Always have a camera with plenty of film in your saddlebags, as there are many beautiful vistas.
The ranch has a nice string of its own horses and a very able wrangler staff that's always there for your assistance. One of the wranglers is also an excellent cowboy singer who can hold his own with the best of them. He entertains on one of the evenings after dinner in the cocktail lounge. The staff overall is excellent.