Old West history is filled with legendary names, legendary places. And without a doubt, one of them is Hole-In-The Wall.
The rugged and remote section of north central Wyoming served as a major hideout for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other members of the Wild Bunch outlaw outfit. They built cabins and grazed rustled livestock in the prime pasture land there.
here was really only one way in—through a narrow opening in the 350′ high red sandstone walls that gave the area its name. The bad guys kept a guard there—that’s why most lawmen stayed away from Hole-In-The-Wall.
But modern day visitors don’t have to keep out.
The Willow Creek Ranch at the Hole-In-The-Wall is a beautiful, 57,000-acre cattle and horse ranch. The ranch still operates in much the same way as it did when it was founded in 1882 by sheep rancher Kenneth MacDonald. A visit to Willow Creek Ranch includes fascinating history, beautiful scenery, exciting horseback riding, great trout fishing, and much more that makes it one of Wyoming’s ultimate horseback vacations.
It is not a typical dude ranch experience; Willow Creek Ranch has no televisions, swimming pools, hot tubs or golf courses. But what they do have are miles and miles of authentic “Old West.” And that includes the accommodations.
The ranch cookhouse dates to 1890, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Butch and the boys stopped in for some cowboy coffee and hotcakes. When not camping out under the stars, guests can choose to stay at the ranch headquarters, cowboy bunkhouse, or a remote cabin on the prairie.
One of the original buildings on the ranch, the log bunkhouse has been refurbished with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a cozy den, a glass porch and the ranch kitchen where all meals are served family-style around a large wooden table.
Also at ranch headquarters, the McDonald Cabin, named in honor of the ranch founder, is a log cabin with a beautiful view of the red wall from the front porch. The cabin is propane-operated and has a modern bathroom. All meals are served next door at the cowboy bunkhouse.
Located eight miles from the ranch headquarters, the Buckingham Cabin transports you to the days of the homesteader. This log cabin accommodates up to five people and has propane lights, stove and refrigerator. The outdoor shower and first-rate outhouse ensure an uninterrupted view of the countryside!
The ranch’s specialty is a working cowboy vacation, but it will tailor visits to meet other needs. They can schedule anything from riding and camping in tents or tepees, trout fishing, driving cattle or branding after roundup, exploring, photography trips, painting or just sitting and reading.
Several times each summer, the Willow Creek Ranch takes groups on an Outlaw Trail Ride. Riders spend five days riding the trails the outlaws used when they roamed this area and lived in the cabins at the Hole-In-The-Wall. Riders camp with an authentic chuckwagon each night on the trail. Along the way, they explore many historic sites such as Old Fort Houck, a stagecoach stop on the Sioux Indian Trail, and the site of the outlaw shootout at Smith Hill. Riders traverse through a magnificent canyon as they approach the actual hideout.
One full day is spent exploring the Hole-In-The-Wall area.
And it is an amazing area. The pastures are still green, and the towering rocks a blazing red. The outlaw cabins are gone, but a few foundation stones remain. Riders can have lunch beneath the old cottonwoods and soak their feet in Buffalo Creek, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid undoubtedly cooled their heels after out-running the posse.
In the evening, the sun paints the red cliffs redder, and then streaks them with purples and blues. Strolling through the pastures, you may see a coyote eyeing a flock of sheep or a bald eagle soaring lazily on an air current.
Nearby, a half-mile trail winds upward to the top of the red wall. A slab of white rock, shaped like an arrow, marks the narrow trail over which the outlaws drove their rustled livestock. It’s a steep hike over loose rocks but worth it. Looking down across the grassy green valley, visitors see firsthand why the outlaws chose this fertile, protected place.
At various times during the summer the Willow Creek Ranch gathers and trails their cattle to far away pastures to give the grasses a rest. Guests participate and spend some days rounding up and moving the cattle, sometimes camping out along the way.
In addition to the Western horseback small adventure Willow Creek has to offer, the ranch boasts over 10 miles of excellent German brown trout waters along Buffalo Creek. This fly-fishing stream is rated by many as some of the best stream trout fishing in the West, producing up to 23-inch browns. In some places the fishing is in large pools and in other places it is in a stream that is only 3 feet wide. Some areas of the stream are in deep canyons while others are in a beautiful green valley within sight of the Hole-In-The-Wall. Willow Creek offers a “catch and release” program only with barbless hooks.
Willow Creek is located on the South Big Horn—Red Wall Back Country Scenic Byway, 60 miles north of Casper and 35 miles southwest of Kaycee, Wyoming. Elevation ranges from 5200′ to 8200′. Its geography varies from flat open range, to rolling hills, to canyon country, and on into the higher country of the Big Horns proper.
A vacation at Willow Creek Ranch varies in price depending on activities desired, but ranges from $1,100 to $1,700 per person per week. They can work on stays less than a week, so it’s best to call and discuss your vacation plans with them.
The ghosts of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch still ride the Outlaw Trail around Hole-In-The-Wall. Today’s visitors can do the same, enjoying the history and beauty and adventure of a legendary place.
Learn more about Willow Creek Horseback vacations at www.willowcreekranch.com