Overall, my stay at the Coffee Creek Dude Ranch was a positive experience, but there were distinct pluses and minuses. Below is a summary of my experiences.
Location – the rugged Mt. Shasta-Trinity Wilderness area of northern California offers beautiful trails that wind through forests and along picturesque streams. This is a great area to realize your dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl for a week.
Accommodations – the rustic log cabins at Coffee Creek Ranch, some with multiple bedrooms, are simple, charming, and far enough apart to offer a sense of privacy. They have outdoor decks and are within earshot of the relaxing sounds of a nearby stream. There is also a daily maid service. The lodge, where most of the meals are served, has the same rustic charm and has an extended porch where guests tend to congregate for drinks and conversation.
Facilities – the swimming pool and hot tub are relatively large and well maintained. There is a shooting and archery range for the kids (adults are charged extra). Coffee creek is a pretty trout stream that runs through the property and can be fished without a license. And kids can also pan in the streams for, yes, real gold.
Food – while not gourmet fare, the hearty, home-cooked meals are tasty and offer a lot of variety. While quality cuts of meat are the mainstay, the chef is also good at finding creative solutions for vegetarians. The morning rides for pancakes cooked over an open campfire are a must. Go back for seconds fast before the squirrels beat you to it. Inexpensive but drinkable local wine from plastic cartons is served occasionally at meals. Bottled wine and beer are available separately for purchase.
Riding – the horses are well cared for, gentle and accustomed to trail riding –as with any horses though, there is always an element of unpredictability. The wranglers are good at matching the personality of the horses with the skill level of the riders. Itineraries vary and terrain ranges from dirt roads and infrequently traveled paved roads to steep mountain trails once used by gold miners.
Staff – very friendly staff that are especially good at working with kids. In addition to riding, there are creative daily activities for children organized according to age groups. There are also evening activities that include bingo, line dancing and a live band. The wranglers are professional, helpful and friendly.
Safety – during my stay, there were a number of accidents with guests. One woman had to be airlifted to a hospital after suffering from brain bleeding following a fall. Another suffered a complex wrist fracture requiring an operation after falling on her first ride. A small girl somehow avoided serious injury when her saddle came loose while the horse was at full gallop. My advice to the owner would be to place less emphasis on having guests sign page after page of legal disclaimers and take simple precautions such as ensuring there are riding helmets for adults as well as children. Another simple idea would be requiring each guest to take a “test ride” to provide an accurate assessment of riding ability from day one. Finally, the trail guides should be equipped with walkie-talkies for emergencies, as there is no mobile phone coverage.
Communication – there is a landline at the Coffee Creek lodge available for a charge, but no mobile phone coverage. This means that out on the trails there is no possibility of calling for help in the event of an accident. There is a very slow wireless Internet connection in the lodge that offers the chance to send and receive e-mails but not much more.
Wildfires – the Mt. Shasta-Trinity Wilderness area has been hit by dozens of wildfires in 2008. The Coffee Creek Ranch website maintains that these fires are not affecting the ranch, but add “that we are currently experiencing some smoke.” My stay was marked by three days of beautiful blue sky and, when the wind changed, three days of hazy smoke that obscured the mountains, induced coughing and left a fine layer of ash on everything. Check the web or park service about the wildfire situation before you go.
Management style – from the onset of my stay, tension was clearly visible between the staff and the ranch owner, who had an authoritarian style and was sometimes surly with the guests. Two staff members specifically asked me not to add gratuities to the final bill, but to tip them directly – otherwise they could not be sure of receiving anything. I was quite disturbed by this, especially as many of the staff are foreigners who come to the ranch to learn English and can be easily taken advantage of.
In summary, it’s a bit of a mixed picture. Coffee Creek Ranch has all the ingredients to offer a great dude ranch experience. What is needed is a change in the way the ranch is managed in order to realize this potential.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Coffee Creek Ranch was founded in 1900 surrounded by National Forest and the Trinity Alps wilderness area in Northern California. Its 367 acres lie along Coffee Creek, an excellent Fly Fishing stream for trout! We are located 72 miles Northwest of Redding, 8 miles above Trinity Lake. All Inclusive vacation for the whole family! ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Coffee Creek Ranch Hotel Trinity Center