For Kameesha Kiefer, Skyline Guest Ranch, located in beautiful Cooke City, Mont., has always been home. Her parents, Luke and Lara Morris, are now the third generation to own this outfitting service near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Kameesha’s whole family, including her husband, parents and three brothers run the daily operations of this western paradise. As a young girl, Kameesha spent her summers tagging along with her dad and grandpa on trail rides and learning how to catch trout. Now she is the one leading families on horses through the Beartooth Wilderness and beautiful Yellowstone National Park as a trail guide.
Kameesha has always loved the idea of working as a wrangler on her family’s guest ranch. While growing up, she was able to develop and strengthen her hands-on skills with many of the tasks required to lead guests into the vast forests of Montana and Wyoming.
As far as formal training, Kameesha has a degree in Environmental Science and Legal Studies, is first-aid and CPR certified, and has taken courses to be a Montana and Yellowstone National Park guide. However, most of her daily work tasks have been learned through on-the-job training.
What Being a Trail Guide Involves
Every day is a little different at Skyline, but Kameesha loves that about her job. A typical day during the riding season (May through September) starts at 6:30 a.m. with saddling and morning chores. Everyone works together to get the horses ready to head out on the trails for the day.
Living and working at a bed & breakfast means you can always count on an amazing breakfast before spending the day in the saddle. Sack lunches are packed for the guests and wranglers, and then it’s time to head out on the trail.
Some trail guide trips involve trailering the horses 7 miles down the road to Yellowstone National Park; others leave straight from the ranch and head into the Beartooth Mountains. Kameesha and the other wranglers take turns on the type of rides they take the guests on. These could be shorter, one- to two-hour trail rides, full-day rides, or even an overnight camp in the mountains.
Kameesha typically likes to take her guests on a two- to three-hour ride to a creek or lake and then help them learn how to fish for cut-throat trout. After fishing, exploring and eating the sack lunches, everyone hits the trail to head back to the ranch.
On the way back, they may see beautiful wildflowers, gorgeous mountains or even some wildlife. Back at the ranch, it’s time to unsaddle, clean trailers, muck out the barn, feed the horses and enjoy dinner. The next day, it will be time to do it all over again with different people on a different trail. Being a trail guide is full of unique experiences!
When Kameesha isn’t on the back of a horse leading a group, she has a lot of other responsibilities. She communicates with future guests and helps them plan their trips, and she spends a lot of time on the phone as well as writing emails in order to answer questions. In the off season, one of her tasks is updating Skyline’s website and maintaining a presence on social media.
Being a trail guide can be physically demanding and requires long hours.
“I get tired, but I don’t get tired of doing it,” says Kameesha. “The breathtaking views, peace of the backcountry, and constant interactions with new people never get old!”
Her favorite part of her job as a trail guide is sharing her mountain home and lifestyle with others. Many people who come to Montana and Wyoming aren’t used to leaving the pavement, and most of Skyline’s guests have little to no experience with horses.
Kameesha loves that she can help them not only go for a trail ride, but ride to remote places that not many people have the opportunity to see in Yellowstone. She says one of the most rewarding experiences is being able to help someone catch their first trout on a fly rod.
Forging a Career
Kameesha offers advice that can be learned at any age for future guides: Be willing to learn and listen to others. Being a trail guide is hard work; you must be ready to do whatever task is needed at that moment on the ranch.
A great trail guide should be kind and friendly and enjoy talking to guests. People respond well to guides that are confident in what they are doing, but also able to communicate and share experiences. “When hiring our guides, work ethic and friendliness are just as important as horse experience,” Kameesha says.
For more information, visit Skyline Guest Ranch’s website to see more images of Kameesha and the other wranglers at work.