• Photo: Remy Scalza

For anyone who dreams of living on a ranch, paradise is a 45-minute drive from downtown Edmonton.

Tucked away into Sherwood Park, Alta., Birch Bay Ranch offers visitors a chance to get out of their busy city lives and experience ranch life. While you won’t be doing any farm chores, this rustic retreat offers guests the outdoorsy experience they’re looking for.

Situated on South Cooking Lake, the grounds are a mix of forest and open meadows where the horses can run free. The rolling prairies offer aspen poplar forests and a great number of birch trees, for which the ranch is appropriately named.

Horses are a focus of the ranch. “They’re a big draw for the summer camp,” says Deanna Barker, Birch Bay’s communications and fund development vacant and office manager. “We’ve got 23 acres we own, and we lease over 80 acres of crown land right next door to us, which is where we graze our horses.”

Barker says the summer camp is a Christian retreat that offers kids “a chance to be outside, try new things and experience positive life change.” Running in July and August, the camp gives junior ranchers the chance to interact with horses on trail rides and riding lessons, run a high ropes course that includes climbing walls and zip-lines, learn archery and live in rustic accommodations.

Come holiday season, Birch Bay gets into the holly jolly spirit with sleigh rides and Christmas banquets. “We do a full turkey dinner banquet in our main lodge, which has a huge fireplace, and we decorate it all up for Christmas,” Barker says.