Dude Ranches are winning awards! From Forbes Magazine to Real Simple and accolades in nearly every accredited journalism outlet, the allure and experience of Dude Ranch Vacations is dominating vacation stories and bookings in 2018, but why? Is it the heat of the summer that literally drove folks to the mountains for escape into cool nights accented with breezy pine aromas and horses hooves mashing hay in the background? Or is it a generational shift to become more attached and aware of landscapes and the people that work them?
Operating one of the largest dude ranches in the nation, Alisal certainly delivers entertainment for varying ages and curiosities. This year, Men’s Journal named the ranch one of the ‘Best Luxury Dude Ranches’ in the nation for many a good reason. The 10,500-acre ranch in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is a family-owned working ranch about 30 miles northeast of Santa Barbara. The property has 73 cottages, all with working, wood burning fireplaces, and without phones or televisions.
Onsite vacationers can access 50-plus miles of riding trails, a 100-acre, spring-fed lake, two 18-hole championship golf courses, tennis courts, pool, spa, in addition to fine dining. Don’t forget it’s wine country and just minutes away are more than 75 renowned vineyards and wineries. “Or, stay rustic, and take the hay truck out to the lake for kayaking, boating and fishing,” explains Shelly Rivoli, founder, Travelswithbaby.com and Familytravel411.com.
However, it’s the multi-generational offerings that make this an award-winning ranch. Rivoli visited Alisal this past summer with her kids and mother-in-law in tow to ride, learn and shoot archery, and, of course, photograph her sister-in-law, Jill Rivoli, the ranch’s first female head wrangler. “The activities at the ranch made it easy for our three generations to stay entertained and happy, and to seamlessly move between time together as a big group and and time spent apart or in pairs,” explains Rivoli.
For Rivoli’s family, it’s the game room, horseshoe pit, personalized corn hole games created in front of each cottage, and swimming pool that are most popular for the kids. “For me, it’s the breakfast ride to the old adobe, with hot cakes, beverages, fresh fruit, all while sitting under the old Oak Trees and Sycamores.”
The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort – Solvang, CA
Preparation can be half the excitement of a vacation. From roping in new clothing for the journey to educating oneself on altitude acclimation, new landscapes provide the quintessential ‘true adventure’ many millennials are yearning for in a vacation.
When Real Simple journalist Cari Wira Dineen needed some serious apparel and packing advice for her Western Dude Ranch adventure and editorial piece, she called Courtney Frazier, an expert in terms of raising mindful children on a ranch while impeccably and appropriately dressed, working tirelessly for the Colorado Dude Ranch Association and Colorado Tourism Office, and more importantly, championing for conservation and thoughtful preservation through hands-on ranch education and experience.
Needless to say, Frazier needs a little R&R when possible to take off her own cowgirl hat and rhinestone jeans come dusk. Frazier describes to Real Simple the epitome of Western Dude Ranch culture and dress in the article while exploring the possibility of ranch activity for a guest.
“My family and I stayed at the Rainbow Trout Ranch for a week and it was hospitality-forward from the get-go. Personalized and customized riding and activity for our entire family, diverse sport in terms of hiking, riding, fishing, cool and breezy evenings at 9,000 feet and splash time for the kids while we ate grilled fajitas poolside.”
Rainbow Trout Ranch continually draws families from around the world to their remote paradise. Roaring evening and morning fires are welcomed by enormous wrap-around porches, views of pines for acres, and aromas from the biscuit-shooter and roller for those airy dough-goods, it’s hook, set and catch!
Rainbow Trout’s bean master, or cook, serves family-style, home cookin’, perfectly accentuated with evening entertainment once the corral has settled down for the evening. From classic Western line dancing to legendry cowboy guitar tunes by the fire, once the stars arrive, ranches such as Rainbow Trout understand the need and importance for multi-generational activity and enjoyment not centered around a bar, cantina or alcohol. Many returning guests even seek out Western wear throughout the year to bring to the evening activity.
PS. Rainbow Trout Ranch has the second largest wood lodge east of the Mississippi; for architecture and history buffs, it doesn’t get any better, photography for days!
Rainbow Trout Ranch – Antonito, CO
White Stallion Ranch, a longtime member of the DRA, was named one of ‘America’s Best Family Resorts’ by a USA Today Readers Choice poll. The award was based on readers’ votes for the resort determined by kids’ amenities and family programming. A panel of experts including USA Today editors, 10Best.com editors, expert contributors and media had nominated the ranch.
“We are so very proud to have this honor bestowed on the White Stallion Ranch,” said Russell True, co-owner of True Ranch Hospitality. “This ranch has been in my family for more than five decades. We pride ourselves in offering the best hospitality and exceptional service at a fair value for all our guests, including families. For example, kids under five stay at the ranch for free,” True added.
Ali Isroff, Chicago native, joined in on a family reunion at the ranch, including her three boys less than seven years of age. “White Stallion Ranch was awesome, it was a really great vacation for our family, super kid friendly and accommodating. My sister-in-law did a ton a research and felt that the ranch would offer something we all could enjoy—from 76 years old to 1 years old—and it didn’t disappoint!”
White Stallion Ranch is also one of the largest capacity dude ranches in the nation. Therefore, they are able to offer wild, wild, west entertainment once the stars come out and all the dishes have been cleared.
White Stallion Ranch – Tucson, AZ
Eatons’ Ranch is one of the most famous dude ranches in the nation, and for deserved reason, it’s been operating for over 135 years and is the true essence of the Old West. The five-generation working cattle ranch is nestled on the pine covered eastern slopes of the Bighorn Mountains. The 7,000-acre ranch offers massive expanses of Wyoming rolling hills and over a hundred activities within this terrain to keep anyone out cowpoking or meandering through valleys for days.
Nearby Sheridan provides the easiest access for most visitors with numerous daily flights and only an 18-mile transport to the ranch. It’s not only attractive for families, weddings and reunions, but also corporate groups. “My company hosts their annual conference at Eatons’ Ranch every fall,” notes Lani Oneil, director of national accounts, Frontier Asset Management. “We bring in clients from all over the US and the event is always a new and memorable experience for the, It definitely beats spending long days in hotel conference rooms followed by the usual steakhouse dinner.”
Eatons’ Ranch – Wolf, WY
Colorado doesn’t have the largest number of dude ranches of the States, but it certainly achieves the most palaver (discussion) for its consistent and numerous accolades.
C Lazy U, 90 minutes from Denver and easily accessible via the Amtrak Train from hipster downtown Union Station has won three awards from Travel + Leisure in 2018 for Top Hotel in the World (#74), Top 15 Continental US Resort Hotels (#6) and Top 10 Resort Hotel in the American West (#3) And, for the second year in a row, C Lazy U was ranked #2 Destination Resort in USA TODAY’s 2018 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Destination Resort. Paging through Sunset Magazine, you might notice that C Lazy U was the runner up “Hotels That Impress” in the Sunset 2018 Travel Awards.
C Lazy U Ranch – Granby, CO
And, to get a diverse round up (pun intended) of the ‘Best American Dude Ranch’ voted by readers of USA Today’s 10Best, the list has Cherokee Park Ranch with another #1 win. All but one of the ranches featured have been a longtime member of the DRA! (10best.com/awards/travel/best-dude-ranch)
Cherokee Park Ranch, one of Colorado’s first guest ranches, was a stagecoach stop between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming. Accommodations include suites in their 120-year-old lodge and six outlying cabins, each outfitted with porch swings to take in the sites and splendor of the remote location miles from any city.
Again, it’s the multigenerational activities, stunning new barn and kids activity space, and good old-fashioned dancing that keeps the families both returning and new ones seeking out this isolated vacation spot. For our family, it’s always the infamous line and country dancing nights.
Cherokee Park Ranch – Livermore, CO
Located in Steamboat Springs, is one of the only four-season dude ranches in the State. When it comes to awards, and assortment of sport for all seasons, and weather conditions, Vista Verde Ranch is noted annually in dozens of publications. Think biking on snow in December, fall fly-fishing for off-season spawns or cooking classes or wine tastings al fresco or by roaring fire, the ranch’s luxurious offerings and certainly an anomaly for the Old West, but certainly welcomed.
Vista Verde Ranch has a AAA Four Diamond Award and the ranch’s Chef Chol has been building the cellar wine list to rival that of some of the country’s greatest restaurants. Fodor’s announced that Vista Verde had been selected as a Fodor’s Choice recipient yet again. And, from Shape Magazine to the Gene Kilgore World’s Best Ranches Award to mentions in everything from National Geographic ADVENTURE Magazine to Los Angeles Times and oodles more, this ranch lassos attention from all genres of vacationer.
Vista Verde Ranch – Steamboat Springs, CO