Luxury Guest Ranches for Living Like a Cowboy (or Cowgirl)
Today’s dude ranches are vacation resorts where you can enjoy plenty of creature comforts (think spa treatments, gourmet meals, luxurious accommodations) while still “roughing it” with western-style ranch activities such as horseback riding on the open range, fly fishing and even cattle drives. Each of the properties on GAYOT’s Best Dude Ranches in the U.S. is authentic, but that doesn’t mean they all follow the same Old West formula.
In locations including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Central California and even Georgia, these haycations unite hoedowns with yoga in the great outdoors. So pack your appetite, your sense of adventure and prepare to saddle up.
And lest you think the United States is the only country where you can enjoy the “wild west” experience, check out our guide to the Best Ranches Around the World — these retreats take ranching to new levels of luxury.
Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
Just a half-hour drive from Santa Barbara in the middle of wine country, Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort is not as remote as many other ranches on our list. But it offers plenty of wide-open range on which to roam: 10,000 acres of grazing fields, hills and canyons, and 50 miles of riding trails. This working cattle ranch dates back to the early 1800s and has been welcoming guests since 1946.
Alisal was once the home of Kentucky Derby winner Flying Ebony, and it keeps 100 horses for resort use. Private lessons are offered, as well as team sorting competitions at the weekly summer rodeos. When not in the saddle, guests can enjoy championship golf on two 18-hole courses, spa treatments, guided cycling excursions, tennis, fly fishing and wine tasting.
A Bar A Ranch
Surrounded by nearly 100,000 wilderness acres in southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains, the historic A Bar A Ranch welcomed its first guests in 1926. It boasts 26 miles of private rivers and streams for fly fishing, and additional activities include guided hikes, tennis and golf on a nine-hole course. There are hundreds of miles of riding trails, and guests of all levels keep the same steed for their entire stay. Custom overnight fishing and riding trips are a specialty.
In the dining lodge of this Wyoming guest ranch, the menu focuses on organic produce, naturally raised meat and food and wine pairings with vintages from the extensive cellar. Notable extras include a paved airstrip and a sculpture garden that pays tribute to Western living.
Bar W Guest Ranch
Tucked between two pine-clad ridges at the base of Spencer Mountain, the Bar W Guest Ranch offers full immersion in western living. Not only can guests take beginner cowpoke classes and horsemanship clinics, they can try advanced lessons in team penning and cattle sorting, and participate in a rodeo. Facilities include indoor and outdoor riding arenas, and there are hundreds of acres of open prairies to explore on horseback.
For a unique getaway, sign up for the four-day cattle drive on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Down-home cooking satisfies hearty appetites, and accommodations include lodge rooms, cabin suites and luxury glamping tents. Less than four miles from Whitefish, the dude ranch offers big pike fishing, archery, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and plenty of wildlife viewing — keep an eye out for mule deer, moose, mountain lion and bear.
A venerable vacation destination for families in the Pacific Northwest, the central Oregon high desert is home to the 1,800-acre Brasada Ranch. Cycling trails, an 18-hole golf course, Mt. Bachelor skiing, local brewery tours, white water rafting on the Deschutes and an average of more than 300 days of sunshine annually make this a dude ranch for all seasons.
Ranch House suites and freestanding cabins offer casual lodge style. Spa Brasada’s signature treatments feature locally sourced products, and dining experiences include the weekly Feast from the Fire: ranch-raised meats cooked over an open spit fire pit. The ranch has its own equestrian center, where riders of all ages and levels of expertise can enjoy private instruction, group clinics and solo trail rides.
The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch
Thirty-thousand acres of open meadows and aspen-dappled forests provide the majestic setting for The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, providing one of the most luxurious family vacations you’ll ever have. Surrounded by Rocky Mountain wilderness in the Platte River Valley, this luxe all-inclusive ranch caters to guests with rustic-chic accommodations, Orvis-endorsed fly fishing excursions, horsemanship programs and yoga sessions at the awe-inspiring Falcon Peak Overlook.
The original homestead was founded in 1884, and the property aims to pamper guests with minimal impact on the environment. Culinary experiences range from campfire meals at the Creekside Dinner Camp to fine dining in the Trailhead Great Room, serving ranch classics with a modern twist. Along with an indoor riding arena and more than 50 miles of trails, Brush Creek offers à la carte spa treatments and a Lil’ Wranglers club for kids.
Red Horse Mountain Ranch
At the 300,000-acre Red Horse Mountain Ranch near Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, guests can trail ride to wilderness viewpoints during the day and spend starry nights sitting around a campfire listening to cowboy poetry. From June through October, the ranch offers a selection of all-inclusive getaways themed for families, couples and wine lovers looking for a unique escape. Rates include a variety of riding programs for guests three and up; accommodation in private cabins or lodge suites, complete with log furniture and covered porches; and special meals like the weekly Wine Dinner for adults (meanwhile kids enjoy supervised activities). Non-equestrian activities range from pottery-making and yoga to lake fishing, archery and zip lining.
Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa
For those seeking a horseback riding getaway with a generous side of luxury, Sorrel River Ranch is the perfect choice. Along with a private equestrian center, this 240-acre desert property features a full-service spa, farm-to-table dining and boutique suites adorned with hand-crafted furnishings. Horseback riding experiences are available for all levels and include wrangler-led tours through the scenic highlands.
Guests can also sip and sup on wine and tapas on the river deck, skydive over the red rock landscape, raft the Colorado River or day-trip to the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. Dating back to the early 1900s, the ranch offers history buffs a glimpse of its beginnings in the original two-room farmhouse.
Southern Cross Guest Ranch
A paradise for horses and horse lovers just an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Southern Cross Guest Ranch is an all-inclusive year-round equestrian escape in Georgia’s Historic Heartland region. Combining Southern hospitality with old-fashioned ranch living, it is home to a 16-room bed-and-breakfast and more than 150 paint and quarter horses.
Hands-on riding classes are available for beginners, and those with more expertise can enjoy the freedom of “relaxed riding” programs. When not learning about tack and grooming, guests can visit the antebellum homes and antique shops in historic Madison.
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch
With its adobe architecture, 150+ horses and 60,000 acres of open desert and grassland, Tanque Verde in Tucson, Arizona, is an old-school cattle ranch dating back to 1868. It opened as a guest ranch in 1928, and today, it carries on tradition with activities such as horsemanship fundamentals, team penning competitions and specialty classes like the basics of barrel racing.
Old Homestead Breakfast Rides culminate with a hearty morning meal featuring signature blueberry pancakes, and trail rides in the fresh air give guests the chance to build up an appetite for ribs and homemade cornbread at the Cottonwood Grove Ranch Barbecue. Additional activities include guided hikes and fishing, and you can follow up an End of the Trail body massage with a prickly pear margarita at the Doghouse Saloon.
Surrounded by the grandeur of Rocky Mountain high country, Verde Guest Ranch is a luxury Colorado ranch vacation that goes beyond the basics. Specialized clinics focus on horsemanship theory and cattle work, and guests can even learn the secrets of a “horse whisperer.” Lodge rooms and log cabins are sophisticated, the latter featuring antiques, western art and hot tubs on private decks. Made-to-order “cowboy cuisine” features hearty breakfasts, al fresco lunches and gourmet dinners paired with fine wines.
Better yet, all-inclusive really does mean just that, with rates including wine tastings, photography workshops, cooking classes, fly fishing and winter activities like sleigh rides, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, depending on what season you visit. Kids’ programs are also offered year-round.