Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch

July 2, 2009
Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch
Mary McCourt's daughter Sophia caught a fish in the pond.

I'm off to the ranch again! This is my third trip to Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, located in Quincy, California. I am thrilled that I am again able to bring my family to one of my favorite places for a weekend retreat.

My first visit, with my husband and six-year-old daughter, was in May 2008, and we had an absolutely wonderful time. My second trip was with friends in September 2008, and it included the editor of Ride! Magazine, Kathleen McFarren, who wrote about the visit in the November 2008 issue of the magazine. This time, I am writing the story of my family’s experience at the ranch, including my daughter’s first trail ride!

Our drive to the ranch

Greenhorn Ranch is nestled in the beautiful Sierra Mountains. Our route from Chico to Quincy—along Highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon—is among the most picturesque in the country. We have taken this drive countless times, and it never ceases to renew my love of nature. We traveled the winding highway through mountainous canyons that intermittently follow along the river. We also passed through tunnels carved in enormous rock, and along historic train tracks. The landscape also features breathtaking snow-capped mountain vistas, and frequent glimpses of wildlife such as eagles, hawks, reptiles, rabbits, and deer.

Our arrival

We arrived at the ranch late in the afternoon on the Friday before Father’s Day to sunny skies and perfect weather. We headed to the beautiful main lodge to check in, and we were greeted by Kathy. Trish Wilburn, who owns the ranch with her husband Ralph, soon appeared to welcome us, also. The staff at Greenhorn Creek has a way of immediately making people feel at home.

Visitors can stay in the main lodge. This was where Cary Grant liked to stay back in the 1960s when he'd visit Greenhorn Creek.

There are also private guest cabins. Our cabin was spacious, clean, quiet, and comfortable. Our porch provided a beautiful view of the mountains, horses grazing in the meadows, pine trees, sprawling lawns, ponds, and a small creek.

Dinner and festivities
As we settled in, we geared ourselves up for the traditional Friday night all-you-can-eat barbecue, bonfire, and music. We had been looking forward to this tasty feast: barbecued chicken and ribs, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, and garlic bread.

After dinner, Ralph and Trish got out their guitars, and were quickly joined by other folks. My husband, Rick, who plays fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, remembered to bring along his instruments. He fit right in with the lively group. During the show, the staff presented us with the ingredients for s’mores, giving us the chance to sit back, roast, eat, and repeat.

Guests can also pop over to the saloon to grab an ice cold beer. The saloon has a dance floor and an arcade room. In cooler weather, you may also find some guests socializing in one of the two lounge areas in the main lodge; both have big, comfy couches and books.

There are no televisions in the rooms or cabins. So if you need a television fix, the saloon lounge is the place to be, with both a television and a library of movies to choose from.
Locals and drop-ins are welcome to join in the festivities, enjoying dinner and the events of the evening for a reasonable fee.

Day two

Breakfast. Breakfast in the "chuckhouse" the next morning featured more delicious homestyle cooking. Meals at the ranch are all served fresh in chuckhouse style, which is similar to a buffet. Here’s what we had to choose from for breakfast: cereal, fresh fruit, toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, freshly baked pastries, and cakes. The breakfast cook, named Mare, makes the best biscuits and gravy I have ever had!

The ride
Fueled up for a long ride, we headed out to the stables. The ranch has over 80 head of horses, with a horse for every level of rider. Most rides are two hours long, and depending on your ability and preference, you can go for a walking ride, walking trot, or loping ride. But you have to pass the wrangler’s lope test to be able to go on the more advanced loping rides. There are endless places to ride, all with different views and terrain.

Wrangler Jenn and Wrangler Cannon matched us with our horses. For Sophia, they chose a nice, older, gentleman gelding named Amigo. The wranglers made sure Sophia knew how to stop, go, and turn her horse before we set off. Watching the wranglers work with her and seeing their confidence in her ability to handle this horse eased my nerves and helped me quickly relax.

In order to accommodate Sophia’s ability, we opted for a walking ride. We climbed up and down hills and mountains. At some points, we were right on ridges with breathtaking views of mountains. We passed through quiet, serene, wooded settings, where we saw deer and other wildlife. When I ride these trails, I feel like I have gone back in time to a place where life was simpler, a time in which any distance traveled could only be done on horseback.

We returned two-and-a-half hours later, just in time for lunch. Riding in the mountain air, even at a walk, can work up quite an appetite! We had an amazing time, and Sophia did great on her first trail ride.

They served another delicious bounty to satisfy our appetites: French dips, a spring mix salad, freshly baked treats, and cold refreshments. We had met some interesting people on our ride and after lunch, our conversations became friendly and familiar. Before we knew it, we were fishing with our new friends in one of the stocked ponds and having a grand time. Vanessa, who was there from Reno for her birthday, got along wonderfully with Sophia. Each of my experiences at Greenhorn Ranch has introduced me to new and interesting people, some local, and some from around the globe. There are world maps posted in the saloon, where guests stick a pin in the state or country they call home.

The afternoon
Thanks to the fishing skills of Vanessa and Rick, we soon had three rainbow trout to contribute to the evening banquet. CJ, the entertainment director, gave us all a lesson in cleaning fish, and then delivered the fish to the kitchen for the cooks to prepare. Feeling accomplished, we opted out of the afternoon ride and decided to lounge and swim. Rick took Sophia swimming in the pool, and I took the opportunity to hide out and find a comfy couch in the lounge to enjoy some reading.

Dinner that night was in the chuckhouse. The main courses included marinated flank steak and salmon, along with our deliciously prepared trout. There was also plenty of rice, salad, and rolls to choose from. I should also mention that after every meal there is a delicious homemade dessert. The chuckhouse is open throughout the day for snacking.

Later that night
After dinner, all the kids, and some of the adults, migrated to the volleyball net and had a good, rousing game. There was a campfire, music, and knock-knock jokes (compliments of Sophia) soon to follow. Sophia made friends with some kids that had arrived that day, and as a result, we soon started chatting with their parents. Their names were Sara and Tom Knowles, and it turned out that they lived in Durham, California, which is not to far from where we live. They were there with their four children, parents, and siblings for the whole week—a combined Father’s Day celebration for their family.

Day three

Kiddie corral. On Sunday, Sophia informed us that although she had loved riding the previous day, she would prefer to spend the day with her new friends, the Knowles children, who were not quite old enough for the trail rides. Not to worry—Kiddie Corral came to the rescue!
The ranch has a fantastic childcare program. Chalice, the Kiddie Corral gal, along with her adorable dog named Colby Jack Cheese, kept the kids amused while we were gone on our ride. They made crafts and played outside.
After dropping the kids off, Rick, Sara Knowles, and I set off, with Wrangler Cannon as our guide. I was able to ride one of the mustangs that the ranch had gotten off BLM land. They had gentled it and then trained it to be a wonderful ranch horse. What a great, sturdy, surefooted guy Paleface was! We had a peaceful, scenic ride with lots of good conversation. When we got back, I doubt the kids were glad to see us; they were having too much fun!

Saying goodbye
We were back in time for lunch, and to unfortunately start saying our goodbyes. Lunch on Sunday was a flavorful, homemade soup, assorted sandwiches, and salad. We began making the rounds and saying goodbye to everyone: Lisa, the witty and wonderful Ranch Manager, Mare the chuckhouse cook, Ralph and Trish, the wranglers, Kathy, and all the guests we met during our stay.

Your visit

I highly recommend Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch. It is a fantastic place to spend a vacation. Please visit the ranch's website at