Thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt’s rollicking Western adventures—he was a ranch owner and deputy sheriff in North Dakota—ranch vacations first became popular in the early 20th century. Trains heading to the West from big, Eastern cities were filled with visitors keen for outdoor adventures and yearning for a chance to live out, briefly, the cowboy lifestyle. Things haven’t changed much since then.
Today’s working dude ranches offer you a way to experience American cowboy culture and connect with the land. On a ranch vacation, you can learn how to ride fence (and what that means), target shoot, and move cattle and other livestock with your hosting ranch family. Imagine waking up to the smell of rich, chocolaty, morning coffee. You notice the fresh air seeping in through your windows, stirring the lace curtains. A rooster crows. For long moments, you relish the cool linen sheets, the soft pillow, the hint of soreness in your limbs from the previous day’s adventures and the good feeling of just being alive. After a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast, you hit the trail on horseback to drive cattle towards a new grazing area, watching the dust rise in that Western-movie-sort-of-way. In the afternoon, you practice your lasso techniques and how to expertly thwack your ten-gallon hat on your thigh in order to shake off the dirt. In the evening, you savor a gourmet dinner eaten at a 10-foot-long table hewed from a single tree trunk.
If a ranch vacation for you is more about the horses than the cattle, consider staying at an equestrian camp. Not only will you learn how to ride a horse—at a canter, gallop and walk—but you’ll also master the art of simply being. After working with the animals all day, you’ll sit next to a crackling campfire at night, watching the sparks die in midair and counting the shooting stars overhead.
Does the “working” part of “working dude ranch” scare you off? Opt for a stay at a relaxing guest ranch where there’s easy access to an exhilarating zip line through fragrant evergreens or white-water rafting in nearby, frothing rivers. In the evenings, enjoy the sweet life of reading a good book and sipping smoky whiskey from a porch-side rocking chair, smelling the night roll in across the grassy fields.
In Montana’s Big Sky Country, for example, we can arrange for you to stay at The Ranch at Rock Creek. You can choose to fly-fish, hike, horseback ride, hop on a stagecoach, go on guided wildlife-watching tours, or practice your skills on the rifle and pistol ranges. Cap off a full day of adventures with a hearty meal that’s eaten outside in fresh, mountain breezes.
In Wyoming, at The Red Rock Ranch just outside of Jackson Hole, you can take advantage of more than two miles of private fly-fishing waters; horseback-riding lessons; mouth-watering BBQs; and a kids’ program that includes trail rides, caring for a “personal” horse, cookouts and fly-fishing clinics. In Idaho, at the Rocky Mountain Ranch, hike to nearby Sawtooth Lake, where you’ll climb through wildflower meadows and across brooks to the most pristine alpine lake you’ve ever seen. Find a patch of snow and indulge the urge for a summertime snowball fight. Or, after a photographer’s dream journey through Monument Valley, relax at Utah’s Sorrell River Ranch Resort and Spa in the heart of Moab’s red-rock wilderness. Sitting on the banks of the mighty Colorado River, you’ll wonder at the multitude of stars under an enormous, dark, nighttime sky.
However you’d like to interpret and live out America’s great cowboy traditions, we can set you up with a rollicking ranch adventure of your own, filled with good horses, herds of cattle, friendly faces and a strong dose of Western outdoors.