A place where a different kind of horsepower rules
By Genevieve Marie Schmitt
On the surface, Bull Run Guest Ranch in Cascade, Montana, looks like any other guest ranch in the west. Three rustic-looking cabins perched on a hill invite guests to relax, hang their hat, and gaze out at the breathtaking view of the valley. The picturesque Missouri River nearby offers excellent fly-fishing, and there are horses in the barn on which to saddle up. Look more closely, like inside the large pole barn situated across the way from the horse’s barn, and you’ll find a different kind of horsepower ready to be ridden around the ranch. Behind the big garage door is a fleet of Kawasaki all-terrain vehicles and dirtbikes fueled up and ready to hit the dirt. “People come from far away as Florida to ride on our trails and see our ranch,” says Joe Tripp, owner of Bull Run Guest Ranch.
ATV and dirtbike riding rule this ranch and, according to Tripp, no other guest ranch offers this type of fun. “As far as I know, we’re America’s only off-road motorcycle and ATV guest ranch.”
The sprawling 15,000-acre property that Tripp owns with his wife, Leslie, offers some of the most varied riding terrain in the country—wide open prairies, moderate to steep hills, and Ponderosa Pine and Aspen-draped forests. It’s all teeming with wildlife, the perfect combination of ingredients for days and days of fantastic trail riding. It’s likely riders will never cover the same ground twice. There are more than 100 miles of trails that have been mapped by Tripp and his staff offering a variety of skill levels. “We require that guests are guided on their first day out. That gives us the opportunity to not only show them how our trail system works, but also assess their ability and make recommendations on areas of the ranch we think they’ll be safe and comfortable and have a good time.”
The spectacular piece of land has been in Leslie’s family since the 1940s when her great grandfather owned it. He raised sheep and cattle on it for many years. The land has been passed down through the generations with Joe and Leslie now managing it. They lease the grazing rights to a rancher who currently runs 500 head of cattle. Nine years ago, the couple decided to diversify their ranch business by providing access to their land for hunting. “That spawned an almost year-round business with all sorts of recreation. Now motorized recreation is the main focus in the summer,” says Tripp.
Bull Run is ideally situated just 30 miles southwest of Great Falls, where the rolling prairie and river valley meet the Big Belt Mountains. This area, particularly the three miles of Missouri river frontage that border the west side of the ranch, has some historical significance that Tripp enjoys sharing with his guests. Lewis and Clark and the Corp of Discovery are believed to have camped nearby as evidenced by a landmark noted in Lewis’ journal.
Tripp, a native Montanan, is not your typical western guest ranch owner. He’d rather experience the great outdoors from the seat of a four-wheeler than from the saddle of a four-legged animal. “I never even sat on a horse until my wife, Leslie, and I got married and we started Bull Run Guest Ranch. I was really a dude when it came to sitting on horses.”
Tripp, 40, grew up working in motorcycle dealerships and has ridden motorcycles all his life. “When the opportunity came up to ride motorcycles and ATVs on the ranch and we recognized the potential for that, it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get me off the horses and back on the ATVs and bikes,” he laughs.
Ironically, this ranch has a history of off-road activities. Leslie’s brother and father, who were part of a local trail bike riding club growing up, would poke around the cow trails on their bikes. In addition, there are miles and miles of off-road truck trails that the former owners would use to get around the large piece of property. It wasn’t until five years ago that Tripp decided to formalize the trail system and invite guests to experience his beautiful backyard. He says Bull Run Guest Ranch is an ideal place to spend vacation time with the family because of the variety of activities available. “We find families come here who are looking for the guest ranch type of experience but don’t want to exclude their ATVs or trail bikes. Also, maybe not everyone in the family rides. We are the perfect place for a family where there are some members who want to go on a horseback ride and some who want to go on an ATV ride.”
Tripp spent six years developing this trail system in accordance with guidelines set forth by the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). So, guests who ride off road here are experiencing some of the best laid out trails in the country. “This trail system on the ranch is definitely a shining example of a well-planned, well-designed trail system,” says Russ Ehnes, executive director of NOHVCC. “Not only is it easy on the land, it’s easy on the wildlife and it’s a blast to ride.”
Guests who ride off-road at Bull Run get an added bonus, something they would not be able to experience on a public trail system. “A large part of our ranch, about 5,000 acres of it, we allow what we call cow trailing. This is something you can’t do on public land because you need to stay on designated routes,” explains Tripp, “but on private land, like our property with our management plan, the cattle have made some fantastic trails for novices and intermediates to single-track trail ride on.”
ATVs and dirtbikes also afford riders a wonderful opportunity to view wildlife. Despite what most people might think, motorized recreation and wild animals can co-exist. Off-road riders on the ranch can get up close to see the deer, elk and other animals in their home setting. Southern California resident Jan Plessner recently experienced the ranch on a four-wheeler. “It’s really exciting to roll up and turn off the machine and just observe these animals in their natural environment.”
Guests are welcome to bring their own quads or rent one of the late model Kawasaki Prairie ATVs owned by the ranch. There are a variety of sizes available to match one’s skill level.
Of course, motorized horsepower is not a replacement for the four-legged kind; it’s simply an alternative at the ranch. “I like riding horses a lot, but I also like riding an ATV,” says 13-year-old Dani Rae Eisenzimer, who recently spent time at Bull Run with her family. “I can ride a horse for a little while, but then I get saddle sore. On an ATV, I don’t really get saddle sore so I can go farther.”
For guests who prefer moving at a slower pace, Bull Run does offer the more traditional way of experiencing a guest ranch with a dozen horses available to ride. Kathy Desy, who runs the horseback riding program, sees a lot of families split between the two horse powers. “It just seems like a lot of men like to ride on the ATVs, and the women spend time on horseback.”
The Tripps make it so easy for those who’ve never been on an ATV to try it for the first time. Tripp is a trained ATV safety instructor and offers riding instruction to newbies. An ATV is really quite simple and fun to ride. It has push-button starting, automatic transmission, and a plush suspension. Once you ride one and discover it can travel over just about anything (that’s why it’s called “all terrain”) you’ll wonder why you haven’t straddled an ATV saddle sooner.
Besides the horsepower fun, there is blue-ribbon fly-fishing in the neighboring Missouri River. The ranch borders three miles of undeveloped river frontage. The Tripps can make arrangements for you to be guided by a local outfitter, or you can simply cast a line in the sparkling blue water on your own.
Situated at the end of a seven-mile gravel road, guests who indulge in a moonlit stroll around the ranch may never encounter another person outside the place. Life is low key at Bull Run. The Tripps allow guests to pretty much have the run of the place while they’re here. Leslie, a mother of three grade-school children, points out, “We’re a working cattle ranch with a family atmosphere.”
She finds those who come to a ranch like Bull Run prefer to set their own schedules. Because of this, Bull Run’s activity menu is a la carte, meaning you pay for only what you do. If you wish to have three meals served, you can purchase a meal package. Otherwise, guests are welcome to buy and fix their own meals in the kitchenette-equipped cabins, or grill up the grub outside and eat under the pavilion. Cascade is a small town with one grocery store and few restaurants. Rustic bar and grill type eateries is about all you’ll find. Why not splurge for the meal package and indulge in the Tripp’s homestyle fixins’.
Accommodations range from three cabins that come with a kitchen and other modern amenities like air conditioning and heat (no phone or television, though), to a rustic log cabin with no electricity or plumbing. There is also a creekside cottage that has plumbing and electricity, but is still considered pretty rustic, and an old west style bunkhouse, with limited amenities, that sleeps four. RV camping is also available at the ranch. Near the cabins there is an inviting outdoor six-person hot tub where guests can soak away the cares of the day. The summer ranch season extends from May 15 to September 15.
In the fall, hunters take over the place and Tripp and fellow guides direct those in search of white tail deer, mule deer, elk, antelope and black bear around the large acreage. Photographers can hunt big horn sheep and mountain lions as well. Bull Run operates a membership only hunting program that’s so popular people are waiting in line to grab the next available spot.
Bull Run is expansive, with wide-open vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see. Breathtaking sunrises and sunsets are par for the course nearly every day at the ranch. One highlight not to be missed: hopping on a quad and motoring up to the top of one of the hills behind the main part of the ranch and watching the sun set behind the Big Belt Mountains while the Missouri River below changes shades of blue ultimately casting a reflection of the orange-streaked clouds on its dark surface. Some guests find this overwhelming display of nature’s beauty is reason enough for their visit. Their favorite pastime might be to simply curl up on a patio chair with an interesting book, glancing up every few minutes to take it all in.
Joe and Leslie modestly admit they’re aware they have a good thing going at the ranch. “I really do love what we do,” grins Joe. “It’s a big responsibility managing the ranch, not only the recreation programs, but also the cattle lease and all those other things, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The couple’s enjoyment comes from welcoming guests and showing off their place. “It’s a real kick to have people looking around saying, ‘Wow. This is awesome,’” recants Leslie. She humbly replies back to them, “Yea. It’s a nice backyard.”
THE COST OF FUN
Accommodations: Prices range from a rustic log cabin with no electricity and plumbing for $50 a night or $300 a week, to a modern ranch cabin with a kitchenette for $110 a night or $600 a week. Call or visit the Web site for a complete list of accommodations including RV rates. There are also meal packages available.
2003 Kawasaki Prairie ATVs are available for $75 for a half day or $125 for a full day. If you bring your own quad, the daily trail fee is $15. Trail ride rates, which include an ATV, a guide, and instruction, is $50 for the first hour and $30 each additional hour.
2003 Kawasaki KLX 400s or 125s are available for $75 to $150 a day depending on the bike.
The hourly rate is $25 for the first hour; $20 each additional hour. A destination day ride, which includes lunch, is $150.
Contact Information: 800.966.9269, bullrunguestranch.com or
Nearest airport: Great Falls, Montana (30 miles away)
- Great Falls Covention and Visitors Bureau
Web site: http://greatfallscvb.visitmt.com/
Lewis and Clark Once Stayed Here
Three miles of undeveloped Missouri River frontage runs through Bull Run Guest Ranch. Guests of the ranch can experience a piece history by visiting an area near the river believed to have been occupied by the Corps of Discovery. This is noted by the presence of a large rock formation that Meriwether Lewis wrote about in his journal. “…this rock I call the tower.” Across the river is Tower Rock, the name it is called today. It is a volcanic rock formation that rises up from the mountain cliffs and borders the west side of the Missouri River as it enters the Big Belt Canyon. The Corps of Discovery reached this area in July of 1805. It marked the end of the expedition’s journey through the familiarity of the plains and the beginning of their journey through the unknown terrain of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. Great Falls will commemorate the Corps of Discovery’s portage around the “great falls of the Missouri” with a 34-day event in June of 2005.
- Glacier National Park
Web site: nps.gov/glac/home.htm
Distance from Cascade: 235 miles
- Yellowstone National Park
Web site: nps.gov/yell/home.htm
Distance from Cascade: 240 miles
- Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Great Falls
Web site: fs.fed.us/r1/lewisclark/recreation/lcic/lcic.shtml
Distance from Cascade: 30 miles
- Montana State Capitol, Helena
Web site: montanacapitol.com
Distance from Cascade: 65 miles
- Montana Historical Society Museum, Helena
Web site: http://www.his.state.mt.us/
Distance from Cascade: 65 miles