By AP Connolly
It was a good idea back in the 1880s and it’s an even better one today. Dude ranches provide a genuine Western experience to “dudes” of all stripes who have at least one thing in common: a yearning to briefly escape from city life into the saddle, on a real ranch out West in a yonder-scape of mountains and meadows, mesas and canyons, rolling prairies, and boundless space that can resuscitate the most knotted New Yorker.
Dude, of course, is slang for “city slicker.” The dude ranches’ collective history dates back to when families who moved out West subsequently invited friends to visit their hundreds of thousands of acres of land. Once the word spread, thanks to the expansion of the railroad, ranch owners realized they’d better start charging for room and board.
According to the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA), it’s one of the last vacations out there where you truly get to relax and unplug. By definition, a dude ranch is a family-friendly destination offering horseback riding. DRA member dude ranches though, are this and much more! In order for ranches to be members of the DRA, they have to go through a rigorous membership application process and have to meet the industry’s highest standards. Their emphasis has been squarely on horses. However, the newest trend is ranch resorts, where getting away no longer means roughing it. Instead, the focus may also include pure relaxation, whether it’s fly-fishing, spa treatments or riding.
Here are some of the Dude Ranchers’ Association member ranches; all are perfect for family-friendly getaways or travelers of any kind. For more options and information on the DRA and its’ members, visit them at duderanch.org.
At one time or another, everyone has dreamed of being a cowboy. Images of loping through mountain meadows studded by wildflowers, the smell and taste of coffee around the fire with friends old and new, and the sharing of a bountiful spread with family have danced through the imagination. Those images and dreams seem to be from a time long ago since replaced by the roar of traffic and the hustle and bustle of modern life. Longings for a past that few believe still exist at Cherokee Park Ranch.
“Voted America’s #1 Dude Ranch” by USA Today, Cherokee Park Ranch has been welcoming guests since 1886. The ranch is a family-owned, all-inclusive Colorado dude ranch vacation and horseback riding destination nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Livermore, Colorado. It’s the perfect setting for your next family vacation, guys- or gals-getaway, family reunion, grandparent’s retreat, or honeymoon.
There is something for everyone at this little slice of heaven: horseback riding, kids club, team penning, skeet shooting, river rafting, boat trips, art classes, hayrides, square dances, rodeos; the activities are bottomless!
For over a century, Cherokee Park Ranch has been making the western dreams of people across the globe a reality. They have the friendliest staff, the finest horses, the coziest accommodations, and best grub you’ll find all amidst the majesty of the beautiful Colorado Rockies. Embrace the dream. As they say, “Come as strangers, leave as family.” Cherokee Park Ranch will forever hold a special place in your heart.For more info: 970-493-6522 www.cherokeeparkranch.com
Whether you’re a solo traveler or looking for a bucket list destination for your family, Elkhorn Ranch in sunny Arizona provides a memorable outdoor adventure vacation. You’ll likely join the ranks of the many visitors who return year after year! You’ll also be inspired by fellow adventurers who stay on the trails horseback riding and walking well into their senior years.
Located near Tucson, Elkhorn Ranch is a winter season dude ranch, that operates from mid-November through April. Since 1945, the Miller Family has provided traditional western hospitality and exceptional horseback riding. All-inclusive rates are equally friendly to families, couples, or solo travelers, and there are discounted rates for 2 or 3+ week stays.
Horseback riding is the center of the guest’s experience. Over 100 head of ranch raised and trained horses and individually tailored small rides cater to the beginner as well as experienced riders. Riders adventure into the scenic wilderness of the Baboquivari Mountains and past majestic saguaro cacti to explore the Sonoran Desert where they may enjoy exhilarating loping rides. The ranch also features popular guided hikes to the surrounding area. A heated swimming pool, tennis court, horseshoes, shuffleboard, ping-pong, puzzles and games, and an extensive library provide for entertainment. Birdfeeders and waterers at each cabin attract diverse birds and desert critters.
Of course, much of the camaraderie evolves in the Long House around meals. Friendly open seating invites good conversations among guests, who often linger to make new friends. Meals are well-balanced, nutritiously prepared, and the variety appeals to most appetites. The kitchen accommodates dietary preferences and needs with advance notice and loves to provide celebration cakes for special occasions! A picnic lunch cooked over an open fire on the desert is a weekly treat, as well as a couple of all-day rides with sack lunches or camp cooking.
Couples, families, and solo travelers feel equally at home in Elkhorn’s 20 unique cabins. All cabins are equipped with private baths, electric heat and good reading lights along with outside furniture and bird feeders. The ranch crew provides daily housekeeping and a nightly turn-down.
Elkhorn Ranch’s passion is to make your vacation the best by sharing their unique piece of the Southwest with you.
For more info: 520-822-1040 www.elkhornranch.com
Escape, unwind, and reconnect on a horseback riding vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world! Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch is unique because of its small size (4 rooms!), personal attention, quality horseback riding focus, stunning scenery, incredible history, and delicious meals. Best of all, they can customize your experience!
Located in the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest in the mountains of southwest New Mexico, it will become natural to explore incredible deep canyons with crystal clear spring-fed streams, Ponderosa forests, open meadows, and a mountain overlook. Geronimo Trail Ranch prides itself on well-trained and well-cared for horses.
Once you arrive, it’s like a step back in time to experience the thousand-year-old pit houses and cliff dwellings of the Mimbres people who were in this area from 200-1150AD. Search for pottery sherds and artifacts and view pictographs painted on the rock walls by these early people! Yes, this is also the birthplace of Geronimo and the homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches.
Three delicious meals a day are prepared for you by a chef who will mark his 4th year in 2020. Don’t miss popular dishes, including pork tenderloin, ribeye steaks, pecan-crusted chicken, barbecue ribs, homemade mac & cheese, grilled fish, tacos, and other New Mexican Cuisine, fresh vegetables and salads, homemade bread, cheesy scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes and eggs benedict. There is also plenty of fresh fruit and delicious desserts! Of course, the staff can satisfy all dietary needs.
Soak in the day’s experiences around a campfire with s’mores, sing-a-longs, and fantastic stargazing! Other evening activities guests enjoy are watching a western movie, playing games, line dancing, or just kicking back and immersing yourself in the extraordinary peacefulness of the area.
For more info: 575-772-5157 www.geronimoranch.com
Make your way out West to experience Rankin Ranch which opens March 25th to September 25th and is located in the heart of California. It’s only 2.5 hours from Los Angeles and has been a working cattle ranch since the days of the Civil War. The Rankin family still raises White Face Hereford cattle just as their ancestors did 150 years ago. Guests travel from across the United States and around the world to visit this guest ranch, many making it an annual tradition. They enjoy the fact that it is a real working ranch, and are fascinated with its century-old history. Many guests enjoy the interactions with the generational Rankin family members as they all live on the ranch. Western hospitality is part of the package!
Naturally, the favorite activity has always been horseback riding. There are both adult and children rides (riding starts at age six), which explore the meadows, Walker’s Basin Creek, and mountain ridges overlooking the beautiful valley. Ranch wranglers will select the perfect horse for you and guide you through beautiful trails across the ranch.
The spring and fall are perfect for an adult getaway. Spring Break and the summer months bring fun for all ages and counselors are on duty from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and join the children again in the evening with planned activities for ages 4-11. They enjoy arts and crafts, hikes, and visits to the animal farm.
Other ranch activities include hiking, fishing (trout-stocked pond), swimming pool, and planned evening activities. The large recreation room is a perfect gathering place with a pool table, shuffleboard, ping pong, and games.
It is characterized as “a fun filled, down home kind of vacation complete with tradition, history and diversions for both young and old.”
For more info: 661-867-2511 www.rankinranch.com
A great Western vacation for all ages is what the Bar W Guest Ranch is all about. Located in Whitefish, you’ll be welcomed with genuine Western Montana hospitality the moment you arrive. Beautiful vistas and rolling ridges adorn the countryside of this cozy Montana dude ranch.
Located on Spencer Lake, there are 3,000-acres available for horseback riding and all kinds of outdoor activities. Most guests—young and old—tend to think they are miles away from civilization. On the contrary, you’re just down the road from one of Montana’s vibrant towns, Whitefish – recently named “Top Ten Cool Towns” by Frommer’s Budget Travel. Expect to find some of the finest in shopping, dining, theater, and nightlife.
Nestled at the base of Spencer Mountain, the ranch consists of a 6,200-square-foot lodge, glamping tents, cabin suites, indoor and outdoor horseback-riding arenas, stables, an entertainment area and a gazebo on the lake—all making the Bar W an idyllic piece of paradise.
The horseback-riding program is the ranch’s main attraction. An experienced staff, trained horses, and the mixed terrain provide guests an incredible horseback riding experience. The riding programs include unlimited acres to explore over foothills and across the open prairies of Montana - Big Sky country.
Of course, one does not live by exploring alone. Wait until you sit down to taste some of the best down-home cooking—Montana style! Meals are prepared with love and care and are served in hearty portions. Have a unique food requirement? They’ll always accommodate your request.
Here at Bar W Ranch, time runs a little slower, things seem a little simpler, and every day feels like Saturday.
For more info: 406-863-9099 www.thebarw.com
It’s time to connect with nature. The best way is to book a stay at Red Rock Ranch on the eastern slope of Jackson Hole. For four decades, nearly 65 percent of guests have returned every year. There’s a good reason.
One of the families that call Red Rock Ranch their destination of choice (since 1982) reunited all three generations this last year. “We used to encourage our kids to join us at Red Rock. Now our grandchildren are the ones planning the trips every year. The hospitality that the MacKenzie/Stimmel families created is simply unmatched. There’s nothing quite like Jackson Hole, and we think the best way to experience it is with our friends at Red Rock Ranch.”
Red Rock Ranch is known far and wide for its top-rated children’s program with its hands-on learning experience for ages 6 and up. Popular activities including trail-riding, gymkhana, cattle work, and horse ‘vaulting’ help children connect with nature and each other while disconnecting them from their devices. Kids-only cookouts, wholesome games and roasting s’mores on the fire are just a few of the fun activities during their stay. Even more profound are the lasting effects that families share about the Red Rock experience. There is a unique connection among family members.
There are also plenty of activities for the rest of the family. First-rate ranch horses will guide you through the Bridger-Teton National Forest, effortlessly adapting to your riding abilities. The obstacle course, team sorting, and a range of guided trail rides are a must for any horse enthusiasts. Avid fly-fishermen appreciate the exclusive access to 2.5 miles of Crytsal Creek or stocked ponds.
Red Rock Ranch offers ten cabins, all recently remodeled and filled with comfortable furnishings. There’s also a saloon for the evening adult gatherings.
Whether your stay is short or extended, one thing is certain. It’s impossible to leave Red Rock Ranch unchanged.
For more info: 307-733-6288 www.TheRedRockRanch.com
The Hideout Lodge and Guest Ranch is an all-inclusive, upscale, international riding, horsemanship and authentic working cattle guest ranch with boutique-style hospitality. Located in beautiful Shell, Wyoming—a small town East of Yellowstone National Park and the popular tourist town of Cody—the ranch offers an experience like no other. With a backyard of 650,000 acres in an area with tremendous diversity of scenery and altitudes ranging from 4,200 to 13,100 feet, you will seldom see the same trail twice. The Hideout has a 130+ horses and is limited to approximately 27 riders weekly.
The herd consists of Quarter Horses, Paints and a growing number of Mustangs—all offering a very personal, fun, and safe riding experience. Of course, there are other activities including fly-fishing, trapshooting, archery, scenic 4×4 driving tours, Cody Nite Rodeo (seasonal), hiking, a hot tub and a gorgeous lap pool. One of the best activities of The Hideout may be just relaxing and taking in the views. They really cannot be beat.
The team of professionals at the ranch are passionate and care about your vacation and well-being. They are committed and strive to offer the highest standards of culinary experience, quality lodging, attentive staff, and responsive horses. The European/American owners and staff are multi-cultural and view diversity as an asset. They welcome a growing number of international riders and travelers—many of whom return year after year. As they say, “we are all about horsemanship, riding and horses! Go for it and blaze new trails”.
For more info: 307-765-2080 www.thehideout.com
Set on 3,000 acres outside of Tucson, White Stallion Ranch is an all-inclusive, family-oriented dude ranch with resort-like perks such as a pool, spa, game room, and tennis court. Family-run for 50 years, the White Stallion looks more like a movie set, with the adjacent Saguaro National Park and enormous saguaro cacti, gardens, and genuine cowboys filling its grounds.
It won’t take long for you to reconnect with nature, family, friends, and serenity during a relaxing visit to the ranch. Take a ride through the unspoiled desert, rugged mountains, and cactus that have stood the test of time. The ranch is a unique working cattle ranch with spectacular views. It features 43 spacious rooms, a hacienda, and can accommodate meetings and conferences.
Choose from a wide selection of exciting outdoor adventures and state-of-the-art facilities for your recreation and relaxing at White Stallion Ranch. The activities offered go well beyond the riding program, with many amenities and activities to entertain the non-riding guests. Rock climbing, shooting, archery, hiking, arts and crafts classes, and fat tire e-biking are just a few. The ranch features an assortment of evening entertainment for guests, including bonfires, country dancing, astronomy lessons, critter shows, singing cowboys, history talks, fancy trick roping, gun spinning, and whip cracking. You may even want to extend your vacation to take advantage of all the activities!
At the award-winning White Stallion Ranch, family time is the cornerstone to enjoyment and a chance to expand a child’s world. This is the perfect place for your kids to discover a whole new sense of freedom. It’s time to create new family memories.
For more info: 520-297-0252 www.whitestallion.com
Eatons’ Ranch was founded in 1879 by Howard Eaton and located in Medora, North Dakota. Howard first went to North Dakota on a hunting trip and decided to settle along the Missouri River. Soon after, Howard was joined by his brothers, Willis and Alden.
Originally from Pittsburg, the Eaton brothers had many friends visit them from the East to hunt and share in the ranch work. The fascination with the West became evident as these visits went from weeks to months. Always generous and hospitable, the Eaton’s invited their friends to live the life of a cowboy. In 1904, the Eaton Brothers decided to move to its current location in Wolf, Wyoming.
Today, Eatons’ Ranch is a dude ranch and a working cattle ranch located on the pine-covered eastern slopes of the Bighorn Mountains. Just eighteen miles west of Sheridan, the ranch consists of beautiful open country with rolling hills, grassy meadows, and hidden valleys. Twisting processions of cottonwood and pine trees mark the course of tumbling streams that roll out of the mountains. The ranch may even grant guests special permission for unescorted rides on its 220 horses. This allows guests the remarkable freedom to fully explore this 7,000 acres of beautiful country. They also have all-day rides into the Bighorn National Forest as well as breakfast rides.
For over 139 years, it has offered guests a western experience and shared with them a way of life. They are proud to carry on the family tradition and preserve a ranching heritage that goes back five generations. It won’t take too long before you become a part of the Eaton family and its history.
For more info: 307-655-9285 www.eatonsranch.com
Escape to the mountains and a 660-acre premier guest ranch to share the time-honored experiences of backcountry horseback riding, fishing, and ranch life with generations of guests.
Greenhorn Ranch was established in 1962 in Quincy. Catering to both greenhorns (novices) and advanced riders, the ranch has it all. There are plenty of ponds stocked with rainbow and brown trout, rivers for fly- fishing, archery, skeet shooting, lawn games, campfires, yoga, mountain biking, and access to trail riding on more than 500,000 acres of public land. If you don’t know how to do it, the experienced ranch crew will show you.
The all-inclusive ranch featuring twice-daily trail rides also offers unique packages to suit differing interests, such as the fly-fishing-focused itinerary that features private fishing trips with Greenhorn’s Orvis-certified guide, whiskey tasting and more. Families enjoy the Family Getaway, which maps out your kid-friendly stay, so you don’t miss any of the ranch’s amenities and activities.
Chefs bring California cuisine to the table and cook up three delicious meals a day for guests—sometimes even on the trails. For a completely different experience, hop in the saddle or catch a ride on the chuck wagon for an upscale trailside dinner under a canopy of firs and pines.
The evenings at Greenhorn are meant for campfire s’mores, live music, and dancing at the ranch’s old-school saloon. Enjoy specialty cocktails or indulge in a wine or whiskey tasting. For a mellower evening, cozy up at the roaring fireplace in the communal lodge, the perfect space to meet new friends while enjoying an old fashioned.
Under new ownership, the ranch’s 12-room lodge and 16 private cabins recently underwent a redesign. The modern mountain décor features gorgeous photographs, textiles, and leather furniture, which complement the original building’s wood and stonework.
The team at Greenhorn Ranch pride themselves on crafting an authentic Sierra Nevada experience for its guests—one away from the crowds, with rustic charm and modern amenities.
For more info: 530-283-0930 www.greenhornranch.com
It’s the perfect Colorado dude ranch vacation for adults, families, singles, couples, groups and anyone else who wants a family ranch vacation. Rainbow Trout Ranch offers exceptional Colorado horseback riding, superb Colorado fly-fishing, awesome children’s programs and a fun teen ranch program. Also on the agenda: trapshooting, swimming, day trips to neighboring Taos, whitewater rafting, and the chance to ride America’s highest and longest narrow-gauge steam train.
The dude ranch brings timeless, simpler pleasures to life in a spectacular setting. Imagine you could simply turn back the hands of time and transport yourself back to an era of living spontaneously and at one with the land, all while exposing new frontiers with nary a care in the world; you can do exactly this at Rainbow Trout Ranch.
When you arrive at Rainbow Trout Ranch you will leave with the best everlasting memories. The week is packed with great Western-themed activities, delicious meals, friendly faces and a comfortable bed to lay your head. What’s makes this ranch extra special is their superb string of well over a hundred horses, the true soul of the ranch. They also breed, raise, and train Quarter Horses—so there are always foals for waiting to be enjoyed by guests. The first-class fishing will also contribute to making this your best vacation ever, along with the great group of counselors to keep the children busy. Evenings are filled with dancing, hayrides, sitting by the campfire, or listening to cowboy music.
Your vacation at Rainbow Trout Ranch can be as exciting or relaxing as you please. This is your vacation where you select the schedule with a guarantee you’ll leave with the fondest of memories to remember.
For more ifno: 719-376-2440 www.rainbowtroutranch.com
Only two hours south of Las Vegas, Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch is dedicated to providing you with the best dude ranch vacation you can find. They’re devoted to creating a unique, friendly atmosphere where you can get a glimpse into the Old West as you enjoy the beautiful Northwest Arizona desert.
You will ride in the beautiful Arizona mountain desert with their wranglers who have made dude ranches their home for years. For the beginner, they offer slow scenic rides among the cactus landscape. Unlike many other dude ranches, they offer the more experienced riders trotting and loping in the desert washes. The ranch borders over 360,000 acres of natural western desert beauty at the foot of the Mohave and Hualapai Mountains. You can be assured of breathtaking views, constant sunny days, and a fantastic family dude ranch vacation.
The ranch offers an all-inclusive package that includes three delicious meals per day, accommodations, two-horseback rides per full day, heated swimming pool, hot tub, hiking, archery, wagon rides, stagecoach rides, cowboy action shooting, and much more. Each room has a patio with rocking chairs, some with courtyards, large bathrooms, and Western-themed decor throughout. In the evenings, head out to Frontier Lodge for some family-friendly fun or head to the courtyard around the campfire and watch the wranglers demonstrate roping, or you can marvel at the stunning sunsets and star-filled skies.
Set up like a little Western town, this dude ranch will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, living the life of a true cowboy. Your hosts, JP and Tricia McCormick, provide a warm welcome to travelers from all over the world who come to experience the ranch where the Old West blends with the new. Bring your cowboy hat and boots and see what it is like to live the western way of life.
For more info: 928-727-8270 www.stgr.com