The Dude Ranchers’ Association recommends the best horseback riding vacations in North America. At one of these carefully selected dude and guest ranches groups will experience equestrian activities and all sorts of outdoor adventures on a short stay of three or four nights, or a full week immersed in a Western trail riding destination. Guests have everything provided for them on all-inclusive stays including lodging, dining and activities. With lodges and cabins preserved and restored from when they were built many decades ago, guests experience riding horses in a uniquely Western environment. It’s no wonder dude ranch vacations have been popular since the early 1900s!
At these ranches, guests have a horse personally selected for each person’s riding ability and personality. Because horseback riding is a daily or twice daily activity there is an opportunity to get to know the horse on hundreds, if not thousands of acres of trails in the mountains and plains of the slimly populated West. And after guests climb out of the saddle there are always plenty of options like relaxing by the pool, fly fishing on private lakes and streams, hiking to scenic vistas or rocking their cares away on the porch in a classic rocking chair.
For guests looking to cover some ground, the charming Crossed Sabres Ranch is one of the oldest dude ranches in the country located outside of Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. This is a family-run operation that specializes in custom horseback riding for individuals or groups of up to 30 people. Knowledgeable wranglers take guests out on well-trained and trustworthy horses whether they have no experience or years of experience on horses. Each horse is paired specifically for each guest to match not only personality but also riding ability. The ranch offers lessons for those looking to get individual instruction on riding in a comfortable arena environment. There are short morning and afternoon rides or all-day rides into the Shoshone National Forest’s 2.2 million acres for guests to enjoy the truly spectacular scenery.
High up in the Snowy Range of the Rocky Mountains the Medicine Bow Lodge Adventure Guest Ranch offers just what its name implies – adventure. With a very diverse riding program, each guest can determine what kind of adventure they would like to have. First-time riders will become more and more confident on each ride at their own pace with a personal wrangler. With this instruction and getting to know their trusty steed, the horses will earn the trust of newbie riders throughout the week. Guests who have experience can ride out on fast rides, loping and trotting their way through the mountains of Wyoming. The ranch offers all-day rides and even an overnight pack trip in the hills. Kids of all ages have something to do at the ranch as well. Kids 5 and under will be led around the ranch and taught about horse care and ages 6 and up can head out on the trail. Here families can literally ride off into the sunset on the appropriately named Sunset Ride.
On the border of Wyoming and Colorado the Focus Ranch is a working cattle ranch, inviting guests to embrace the authenticity of ranch life on their vacation. At this ranch, “cowboy” is both a noun and a verb. Riding here entails managing the health and grazing patterns of the heart and soul of the ranch – cattle. The ranch can adjust the length and speed of rides to accommodate a wide variety of riders, and the work that needs to be done varies throughout the summer. One of their most exciting endeavors for guests is to move the entire herd of 1,300 yearling cattle from one pasture to the next within three days! This happens several times throughout the season. Sometimes, guests enjoy it so much they might hire on to work at the Focus Ranch!
Badger Creek Ranch is located in an area rich in natural beauty and history. This area has been well traversed by the Ute Indians, Spanish Conquistadors, pioneers, miners and cowboys of the old West, but is now occupied by a relatively small number of people. Photographers enjoy secluded trails in the mountains and meadows of Colorado. As a working cattle ranch, the guests are also offered a chance to ride out with the cowboy crew to check fence, doctor and sort cattle. Before heading out, guests start their relationship with their horse with groundwork following the feel of natural horsemanship and continue in the saddle in a location that can only be described as a photographer’s dream.
The Nine Quarter Circle Ranch is not only a premier family destination with luxury log cabins, activities for all ages and very delicious meals but also an unforgettable horseback riding destination. The ranch boasts a herd of 120 Appaloosa horses that were born and will live their whole lives on the ranch. This is an uncommon feature of a dude ranch to know all the history of every one of their horses. Their select breeding program is a reflection of the Appaloosa breed, chosen for their stamina, sweet temperament and suitability to mountain riding. Every spring a new crop of foals are born on the ranch, and guests enjoy watching the brand-new foals jump and play around the ranch. These horses will eventually be trained and added to their remuda of trail riding horses.
Want to know more about a particular type of dude ranch? Take a look at the Dude Ranchers’ Association’s Working Cattle Ranches, Luxury Resort Ranches and Family Style Ranches.