In an age of digital overload, polarized politics, and the overwhelming rush of modern life, there are dude ranch vacations to recharge, rejuvenate, reconnect and embrace a more simple time. There’s a dude ranch waiting for you out there, and more than likely it’s close to a national park if you want the best of both worlds (ranch and park worlds, that is). Whether it’s the high mountain range or vast desert valleys, grab your boots and hat and spend the morning in the saddle, the afternoon with a drink by the pool, and a quiet evening of reflection in front of a raging fire. You’ll be tired, but it’s a good tired, by the time the sun sets behind the wild hills.
These are all-inclusive vacations, from small outfits to large spreads, with plenty to do: hiking, fishing, swimming, white-water rafting, rodeos, western dances, and even campfire sing-a-longs. And of course, there’s boots and saddles, riding the range and lariats. And for the kids, it’s a chance to become a cowpoke, explore the ranches, play games, and make new friends. It’s the perfect cure for the modern world. While finding the right ranch might sound onerous, it doesn’t have to be if you rely on the Dude Ranchers’ Association’s members. Formed in 1926, the DRA ensures that guests are treated right, with lodging and service at the highest standards. The DRA’s six foundations for members are, “Horses, Hats, Hospitality - Heritage, Honesty and Heart.” It’s the perfect getaway, and as comfortable as a well-worn pair of pointy boots.
New Mexico at the Geronimo Trail Ranch
You could head south to the Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch in Winston, New Mexico, in the Black Range Mountains. The sun provides the electricity and cell service is an hour’s drive away. It’s untouched country with high meadows, archaeological sites, and you’ll see it all from the backs of gentle horses. You’ll eat well after a day in the saddle with ranch-style cooking and outdoor barbecues, and the skies are not cloudy all day. With only four guest cabins, it’s intimate and you’ll become part of the family and ranch-life.
Arizona's Tanque Verde Ranch
One state to the west, in Arizona, spend time at one of America’s oldest ranches, the Tanque Verde Ranch near Tucson. Located in the Rincon Mountains, it has a rich history of Native American and Spanish civilizations. Settled in 1868, the ranch has been offering an oasis for families since 1957. There are more than 150 horses to choose from, but it’s not all work in the saddle, as guests can enjoy the tennis courts and a swimming pool after a relaxing ride. And Saguaro National Park is right next door. At day’s end, dust off your chaps, kick back and watch an Arizona sunset stretch across the sky.
California's Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch
Out in Quincy, California, the Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch will treat you right. Just an hour from the Reno airport, it’s a Western paradise, with the nearby Feather River and high peaks are yours to explore. Along with the requisite horseback riding, you can swim, hike, mountain bike, and just take a break in this tranquil setting. It’s pure magic.
Colorado's Rainbow Trout Ranch
In southern Colorado, the Rainbow Trout Ranch has trophy fly-fishing, legendary trail riding, and down-home hospitality. Spend the day in the saddle, land a lunker, or just take in the beauty. Nestled at 9,000 feet along the Conejos River, guests can ride the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad as well.
Wyoming's Lazy L&B Ranch
As the weather warms to the north, check out the Lazy L&B Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. Known for its cowboy culture and snowy peaks, relax in these well-furnished log cabins with their Western flair, and private baths. There’s an outdoor sitting area to just gaze at the Wind River and Absaroka mountain ranges, and you can swim in the heated pool after a trail ride, or just dive into the river. You’ll work up a thirst and hunger for the hearty meals. This is a family operation, and you’ll feel so welcome, it’ll be difficult to head back to the “real world.”
Wyoming's Crossed Sabres Ranch
Over the mountains to the north, the Crossed Sabres Ranch in Cody has been hosting visitors since 1898. Just eight miles from Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance, Crossed Sabres is smack dab in the middle of some of the wildest, most pristine mountains in the world. Along the North Fork of the Shoshone River the fishing is superb for the wily Yellowstone cutthroat trout. And you’ll have the chance to watch moose, elk, and deer graze the creeks and hillsides, and even see an occasional bear along the ridges. There’s a large, comfortable lodge, 19 cabins, and even a saloon where you can practice your best John Wayne imitation. It’s a great place for families, as the kids hold reins instead of electronic devices. Head to Cody for the nightly rodeo after a day of white water rafting, or a long trail ride, and you may just fantasize about riding a bucking bronc.
Wyoming's The Hideout Lodge
Across the Bighorn Mountains, in Shell, Wyoming, the Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch is an upscale, working cattle ranch, where adventure is on the schedule. It’s a 650,000-acre adventure paradise. Learn horsemanship from the experts, and become the rider you’ve always wanted to be. Bond with your mount as you head up the trail to the high country for a view from the top of the peaks. You can take a turn working the stock, and then take a turn with trapshooting, archery, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, biking, and even 4x4 tours. Limited to just 25 guests per week, there are visitors from around the world looking for just such an authentic experience. Its high-end culinary offerings will entice and astound you.
Montana's Bar W Ranch
In Montana take a trip to the Bar W Ranch in Whitefish. Snow-capped peaks surround you, and you’ll gallop across lush, green meadows. You’ll have 3,000 acres to ride and hike, not far from Glacier National Park. Stay in these comfortable lodges with all of the modern amenities, and an elegant western flair. It’ll take you back to this country’s roots and the beauty of nature is all around you. So bring your boots (smooth-soled, of course, to get in and out of stirrups), and let loose your inner cowboy or cowgirl at one of America’s premiere dude ranches. It’ll change your perspective, and maybe even your life.