We have found a fun, relaxing National Park, that is much different than any others that we have been to. Fortunately for us, it is located in Deer Lodge, MT, which is a little known town only about an hour from where we currently spend our summers. The National Park is called the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, and is approx. 60 miles from the capital city of Helena.
Each summer, the ranch has what they affectionately call ‘Ranch Days’, which is a weekend where the park offers lots of activities in addition to the many ranger programs that they already offer. We were able to go last weekend, and we all enjoyed our visit very much. During Ranch Days, it’s important to pick up a schedule of activities for the weekend as you won’t want to miss any of the special programs, like period music around the campfire, chuck wagon demonstrations, wagon rides, haying demonstrations using a beaverslide, and even an old fashioned cattle drive culminating in branding of the calves. There are different programs each day, with more stuff being offered on Sat.
We went last Sunday, so that our oldest son could go with us since he works Saturdays, and we still found, that even with fewer offerings, our day was still as full as we would like it to be! We took the wagon ride, got in on the last batch of the haying, and visited the chuck wagon where the kids sampled sourdough bread baked in a dutch oven. This was in addition to some of the parks usual activities like a blacksmith presentation, a tour of the ranch house, and wagon and livestock exhibits.
Because we knew that we would have a full day of activities, we printed out the Jr. Ranger booklets at home – only they are not called Jr. Ranger at this park, this is the only National Park where you can become a Jr. Rancher! The kids did as much of the books as they could beforehand, and then there was only nominal work to be done at the ranch, which gave us time to check out all the extras! This park has one of the best programs that we have come across – probably won’t earn brownie points for being super easy, but the kids actually learned some stuff here, and I loved the emphasis on honesty, hard work for honest pay, and giving it your best. This was also a great program as it offered 3 different levels – a Little Rancher programs for 5 and under, a Jr. Rancher program for 6 to 12, and a Senior Rancher program for 13 and above. The kids got to pick from badges or cool patches with a longhorn on them (you could pay $1 extra to receive both), and the older kids got metal pins with the same emblem only smaller.
Touring the ranch requires a bit of a walk, but the path is paved to the ranch house. There are some benefits to planning your visit around their Ranch Days, like the extra activities and exhibits many of which are geared toward the kids, there are also benefits to going another time, like more detailed/longer house tours, less traffic both in the parking lot and on the grounds, and the rangers are not so busy so are more available to answer questions. We have been to the ranch during both Ranch Days, and during the week when there were no activities available. Both are great times to visit this wonderful park located in a beautiful and serene valley in Montana. Deer Lodge seems to have many claims to fame, and offers many different museums, one of the most popular being the old state prison. If you are planning a visit to Montana, look into including a stop in Deer Lodge, and be sure to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site; especially if you have Jr. Rancher wanna-bes!