The Horseshoe Canyon Ranch Adventure Package adds wild excitement to the dude ranch experience for kids and adults of all skill levels interested in rock climbing, zip lines and canyon-sized swings. I had the pleasure of giving it a whirl in late August and felt like a kid on the most awesome playground I have ever seen.
The fun takes place in northwest Arkansas on land nestled in the Ozark Mountains amid some of the most beautiful country that Arkansas has to offer. Horses, goats and Longhorn cattle can be seen wandering about the 350 acres of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Log cabins and a lodge blend into the environment. Forested hillsides that also contain sandstone cliffs are separated by a long, scenic valley and open pastures. The place is ripe for adventure indeed.
Horseshoe Canyon is a western dude ranch offering trail rides, hiking, canoeing on the Buffalo National River, rock climbing, skeet shooting, archery, wagon rides, elk viewing, cookouts and more. Additionally, there is a petting zoo, fishing pond, disc golf, swimming pool, hot tub, and games in the lodge and barn. Its all-inclusive rates cover lodging, great meals, and activities for all ages with discounts for groups.
Activities are typically only available to ranch guests. But its new Adventure Package is offered separately. “It’s one of the few things we a la carte,” Owner Barry Johnson explained.
All three adventures in the package – Via Ferrata, The Big Swing, Iron Horse Zip line – offer a challenge, whether physical or mental, and all can be done by kids and adults alike.
Relatively new to the U.S. and the ranch is the Via Ferrata, which means “iron way.” A form of rock climbing, you ascend and traverse the sandstone bluffs using a fixed cable and iron rungs bolted into the rock. The use of these allows otherwise difficult routes to be accessible to people with a wide range of climbing abilities.
It’s likely not a familiar term because vie ferrate are more popular in Europe. While their origins date back to the 19th century, they are strongly associated for their use in Italy to help transport troops and equipment during WWI.
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch has two on its property. The ranch’s latest via ferrata, the one I did, includes a cave portion, and a wire bridge crossing from one cliff face to another above The Big Swing.
“It incorporates so much of the outdoor experience,” Johnson said.
I’ve done a bit of rock climbing and rappelling, but it’s not something I could go and do on my own. So strapping on a harness and clipping into the via ferrata system was right up my alley. I climbed along the side of the cliff until I rounded a section that opened up to a panoramic view of the landscape, and scrambled through the dim-lit cave. I’d love to cross that bridge at the same time someone was taking a turn on The Big Swing. That would be wild.
The via ferrata is definitely a great introduction to the sport of climbing, which is popular at the ranch with well over 300 routes to choose from. Horseshoe Canyon is known in the world-wide climbing community for having some of the finest sandstone sport climbing anywhere. It has been featured in multiple outdoor magazines as one of the best climbing areas east of the Rockies. There are beginner routes and certified ranch guides to show newbies how to climb safely.
But seasoned climbing veterans find challenging routes too. In fact, Patagonia pros will be at the ranch’s 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell (www.twofourhell.com), a 24-hour endurance rock climbing competition, taking place Sept. 27-30. About 130 teams participate. “It’s the only competition of its kind in the country,” Johnson explains.
The Big Swing
Make that The Really Big Swing, a.k.a. “The Screamer or Scream Extractor.”
High up on an indented cliff, wire cables are bolted into opposing rock faces. Riders, wearing rock climbing harnesses, are attached to that cable via the harness and another cable. Climbing guides use a rope and pulley machine to pull the rider back and up. The anticipation is one thing, but it was the moment after the release that really got me, when I realized I was about to fall. Then suddenly I was swinging way out past the cliff faces above the valley spread out below.
“The Screamer. It lives up to its name,” Johnson said. I can attest to that having filled the ranch valley with my own piercing cry. I flailed my legs wildly when I swung out to the highest point and hit that moment of weightlessness that comes in between rising and falling back down.
I was scared to do it. And I would be scared to do it again. But I most definitely would do it again. The adrenaline rush, the view, the great feeling of overcoming anxiety – all worth it.
Iron Horse Zip line
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch has had zip lines on its property for the past 12 years, but nothing like its new Iron Horse. This monster of a zip stretches 2,300 feet long (half a mile) across the picturesque valley of Horseshoe Canyon, and takes riders on speeds up to 50 mph.
“It’s the longest in the state and in the top five in the country,” Johnson explained. “It’s certainly the most scenic.”
Ending with the Iron Horse is perfect because, at least for me, it was a relaxing thrill to soar over the ranch and soak in the view as if I were a bird in flight. It took all of the experiences of that morning and summed them up like the perfect ending to a great movie.
Adventurous souls can do all three elements or two-element combinations at prices for adults and children. The cost for the entire package is $115 for adults and $92 for children. Groups receive a 20 percent discount and up to 30 at a time can be accommodated. The ranch offers a special on the price at http://www.arkansas.com/deals-coupons/deals/detail/8932/.
The rock climbing, swing, and zip lines are sidebars of the business, which is foremost a western dude ranch. Johnson said he doesn’t want to sound cliché but that it is true when he says the ranch experience changes people.
“Staying at the ranch is like joining up with another family,” Johnson explained. “Everyone makes long lasting relationships and memories. That’s probably the most rewarding thing we do.”
AOL Travel rated Horseshoe Canyon Ranch one of the top ten dude ranches in the U.S. The ranch is near the Buffalo National River, which became the nation’s first national river in 1972. It is located 7.5 miles west of Jasper, off Ark. 74. Jasper is approximately 20 miles south of Harrison and 68 miles north of Russellville on Ark. 7 in northwest Arkansas.
Visit www.gohcr.com for more ranch information. To see videos of the adventure experience, visit the Arkansas Tourism page on YouTube.