The Ranches of North Idaho

The Old West lives on in secluded corners of northern Idaho. And visitors can still taste the western ways at a pair of ranches where guests are welcome -- Western Pleasure and the Diamond T.

For Roley and Janice Schoonover, what started in 1990 with a spur-of-the-moment trail ride has turned into a full-fledged guest ranch. Janice had overheard a woman inquiring about horseback rides and offered to take her riding. That ride around the family ranch on Upper Gold Creek Road sparked the idea to build Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.

"We've always been looking for a business of our own," Janice said, so three years later they decided to offer horseback riders a place to stay. They built their first guest cabin in 1993, followed by two more. This spring, they opened a new lodge with six guest rooms, a large living area, rec room and a loft area. The lodge includes living quarters for the Schoonovers and enables them to prepare meals for guests.

Their third-generation cattle ranch started in 1940, when Janice's grandpa, Riley Wood, bought acreage in the remote area of Upper Gold Creek. Her parents, Jim and Virginia Wood, bought the ranch in 1957. Two decades later, they bought a second ranch closer to town, and started moving the main cattle operations down to their new property at Highway 95 in the Selle area. They kept the "upper ranch" for summer pasture, but used it for little else until Janice and Roley launched Western Pleasure.

The Schoonovers have plenty of stories to tell and lots of ground to cover on horseback rides -- or sleigh rides in the winter -- in the valleys and ridges of the 960-acre ranch and adjacent national forest. "They get into the history, so we like to share that with them," Janice said.

The favorite riding spot is "Big Hill," where riders get a fantastic view of Schweitzer, the Selkirks and Lake Pend Oreille. One ride goes through an old railroad logging camp that was set up in the days when Humbird Mill cut over most of the land. The Schoonovers believe the apple orchard at the old camp grew from apple cores tossed out by loggers. Another ride goes to Grouse Falls, where guest may stay overnight in teepees.

Their two children, Danielle, 7, and Isaac, 5, share in the fun and responsibilities of the ranch. Janice says she and Roley both like people and enjoy sharing "the most beautiful place on earth," even though it's hard work. "We can't see ourselves doing anything else," Janice said. Reach Western Pleasure at 208/263-9066.

Across the county near the Clark Fork River, another couple has carved out their dream at the Diamond T Guest Ranch. Owners Myra and Byron Lewis added a new meaning to their working ranch when they built six guest cabins in 1985. They cater to summer and fall guests who want to enjoy the outdoors, whether it's huckleberry picking or hunting in the nearby national forests.

The couple retired from teaching and administrative positions with the school district in '94 and '95. Now they work full-time at the ranch, but they don't want to be full-time entertainment directors. They encourage guests to explore on their own, and they challenge people to see how many days they can spend without TV (cabins do not include TVs). Guests can fish in the Clark Fork River, just 200 yards away, or they can visit the farm animals.

"We're trying to get away from entertaining people. Our main thrust is to get them out hiking, biking and fishing -- just relaxing where it's quiet," Byron said.

However, this summer they plan to offer luncheon rides on their pontoon boat on Lake Pend Oreille so guests can view wildlife and enjoy the scenery.

Located not far off Highway 200, a designated scenic biway, Diamond T frequestly hosts bicyclists, some touring from as far away as Alaska. A visitor who sticks out in their memories was a 70-year-old woman bicycling from Canada to Missoula, Mont., by herself.

"We've met so many nice, interesting people," Myra said.

As much as they enjoy operating their guest ranch, the Lewises would still like to fully retire. The ranch is up for sale, and when it sells, Myra and Byron can pursue another dream. Contact them at 208/266-1186.

-- Billie Jean Plaster

Back to Contents Page - 1996 Summer Sandpoint Magazine