The Dude Ranchers’ Association’s Best Outdoor Meals

From Arbuckle and bear sign (cattle-range lingo for coffee and doughnuts) over an open flame to pizza ovens and prickly pear margaritas on patios under the stars, these are the top dude ranches with the best outdoor meals and dining experiences for late summer and early autumn. Nature’s bounty is at its finest this time of year. Breakfast rides with fresh confections, four-course lunch atop a mesa and evening cuisine fireside, the DRA has some of the most intimate and exquisite land in the West with access to local food and secret dishes. Fork’s up! 

Home Ranch, Clark, Colorado

Gardens and Greenhouses Galore

Nestled in the Elk River Valley is Home Ranch, definitively one of the most idyllic settings for an outdoor brick oven rolling out over a dozen varieties of stone-fired pizzas. The Home Ranch, a Relais & Chateaux property, 30 minutes from Steamboat Springs, focuses on cuisine year-round; however, their weekly offering in summer and fall of crispy pizzas loaded from the ranch’s gardens and greenhouse is as fresh and farm to fork as one can get. The sound of horses dining on their hay in the background and views of Home Ranch’s stunning barn and cabins are worthy of a Travel + Leisure cover.

The afterclaps (unexpected event after the event is supposed to be over) are the wranglers driving the herd out for the day as you finish your cocktail and dessert. The ranch’s massive greenhouse is also open for tours throughout the evening with resident gardeners and the head Master Gardener.

best outdoor meals

Endulge in flatbread pizza cooked in a brick oven with homegrown ingredients at The Home Ranch in Colorado.

Latigo Ranch, Kremmling, Colorado

Breakfast Bliss

This ranch takes food as serious as their scenery. Surrounded by 50,000 acres of the Medicine Bow—Routt National Forest, the George family has the lay of the land to devise splendid surprises come mealtime. It’s a family business for the George’s with the owner’s son and wife running the kitchen. A crowd pleaser begins when guests are escorted to the main lodge in Latigo’s covered wagon to sally forth into a picturesque aspen glade where the kitchen crew has grilled steaks, fish, and veggies to go along with a full buffet of classic dude ranch side dishes—corn on the cob, baked beans (acclaimed by some guests to be the best in the world), sweet potato biscuits, and more. Dessert, as always, is greatly anticipated. There’s a choice between rhubarb pie and peanut butter pie, consumed while eagerly awaiting the announcement of prizes from the team penning earlier that afternoon.

There’s still the weekend! On Saturday breakfast is served at a point overlooking an impossibly expansive view of the mountains. When guests arrive via horseback, they’ll find pancakes grilled by the ranch’s owner, Randy, along with eggs, bacon, sausage, all freshly cooked and served by Hannah George along with fruit, juices, coffee, tea, and homemade banana bread. Perched on the rocks with a 360˚ view of absolute wild beauty, it’s the perfect end to a spectacular week and one of the best breakfast rides in the West. 

best outdoor meals

Ribeye steak, one of many delicious meals to enjoy at Latigo Ranch in Colorado.

White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, Arizona

Patio Utopia with Prickly Pear Margs  

With the baking hot summer that has swept through the country in 2018, autumn will bring much relief and the opportune time to try Russell True’s latest baby, White Stallion Ranch’s outdoor pizza oven and Tandoor—a cylindrical clay oven where heat is made by charcoal or wood to create radiant cooking methods.  

Dinner is served alfresco throughout the week featuring foods such as classic BBQ, brisket, pork tenderloin, steak, ribs, chuck roast and locally-sourced vegetables. 

Steamship leg of pork, corn on the grill, produce skewers, wild rice, this is just a sampling of the gorgeously presented ranch food underneath the Tucson stars.

Guests enjoy some of the best dude ranch evening entertainment in the world while finishing their wine, local craft brew or one of the ranch’s legendary margaritas, the prickly pear. Crème Brule, blueberry pie, and pineapple upside down cake have become the ranch’s legacy desserts. Each outside evening, there is a local cowboy strumming the guitar. To keep things going past dusk, lights are strung throughout the outdoor eating area and entertainment space with lighted cactus as an extra quirk. 

best outdoor meals

A warm and welcoming outdoor dining area at the White Stallion Ranch in Arizona. 

Covered Wagon Ranch, Gateway, Montana

Chef’s Special

Located a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park, Covered Wagon Ranch takes advantage of its location and access to quieter parts of the Park. The ranch encourages guests to take a lunch ride almost daily! Sure, lunch is always available in the main lodge, but riders know best—take the chef’s special and giddy up. With nearly a dozen trails the ranch rides weaving in and out of Yellowstone, there’s a really good chance you can wind up having the chef’s special, with a moose (it happened to us!). Each night the chef surveys his crowd and crafts a special sandwich that is available for pick-up before the daily ride. Guests always have the choice of nearly 20 items, but there’s a reason for the chef’s special.

After a gently ascending two-hour ride into the Yellowstone, our family found a quiet meadow to let the horses rest and for us to enjoy the special sandwich. Not five minutes after dismount did a giant bull moose stand up from his resting spot in the meadow and curiously circle around the meadow to get a good view of us as we kept a safe distance. Our kids knew what was up, the moose wanted the chef’s special! Three generations eating the best sandwiches while enjoying secret spots in Yellowstone with a moose overseeing the feast. Apparently, your chance of spotting a moose drastically increases if you order up the special. 

best outdoor meals

Trail rides lead to beautiful destinations at the Covered Wagon Ranch in Montana. 

Sidebar: Snacking, Sweets and Soaking

Tombstone Monument Ranch in its historic namesake town of Arizona offers a slow ride labeled  “Beer and Cheetos” for obvious reasons. This is the ultimate afternoon snack. Take a flat, scenic ride to the ranch’s Beer and Cheetos site where there is shade and bathrooms. Enjoy a cold, refreshing beer delightfully accompanied by some empty calorie, salty and delicious snack foods. Followed by a slow, scenic ride back to the ranch in time for social hour. Note, this is an adult-only ride.

Wait, what about tequila connoisseurs? No problem, the “Tequila and Cheese” ride takes guests along the same route, but instead offers up a little more sophistication with a unique selection of wines and assorted cheeses, crackers and bread. Again, this is an adult-only ride. 

best outdoor meals

A great selection of food is always avaliable at Tombstone Monument Ranch in Arizona. 

Friday is the outdoor meal extravaganza with Long Hollow Ranch in central Oregon. Early autumn offers the essential time for a morning ride to be followed by a picnic lunch along the way. It gets a little more enticing; the ranch then puts on a fun demonstration with cattle before dinner. After-dinner dessert is then served at the hot tub or fire pit, depending on weather conditions. Desserts and cocktails vary, but the scenery is always guaranteed. best outdoor meals

Snow capped mountains make for some gorgeous scenery at Long Hollow Ranch in Oregon.

If you want to keep with the hot springs theme, Bar Lazy J in Grand County, Colorado offers a half-day hot springs ride on Fridays. Guests eat lunch at one of the ranch’s favorite scenic spots—the top of Byers Canyon—before working the group into the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. There, a trailer and your previously packed bag will be waiting along with a free pass into the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort to soak in the 22 naturally heated pools. Once frequented by the Ute Indians, the skin-benefiting minerals present in the water are intense and awesome. The ranch takes the horses home while guests soak and send a van for pick up later.

best outdoor meals

Ride through some beautiful scenery to the hotsprings at Bar Lazy J Ranch in Colorado. 

 

Read more about dude ranches with fabulous food here!

 

 

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From Arbuckle and bear sign over an open flame to pizza ovens and prickly pear margaritas on patios under the stars, these are the top dude ranches with the best outdoor meals and dining experiences for late summer and early autumn. Nature’s bounty is at its finest this time of year. Breakfast rides with fresh confections, four-course lunch atop a mesa and evening cuisine fireside, the DRA has some of the most intimate and exquisite land in the West with access to local food and secret dishes.

The Great American Family Holiday – on a Dude Ranch

Sylvan Dale Ranch Great American Family Holiday Clint the donkey gets a hug at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.

Ride ‘em cowboy! Sure there can be plenty of time in the saddle when you take the kids on a dude ranch vacation. But these days, there’s plenty else to do. In fact, ranch goers acknowledge, they often spend less time riding than they expected because of so many other activities and so much land to explore. That’s especially true for multi-generational groups who find guest ranches ideal for family reunions. They are all-inclusive so there is no bickering—and no surprises—with the final bill. No one has to get groceries, cook or clean up. And there are activities for all ages. How about mountain biking? Organized kids’ activities often include everything from riding to soccer, sack races, art projects and talent shows. Programs like at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Colorado, means the adults get some time to catch up and parents don’t have to worry about their children’s whereabouts. The closeness of the cabins, dining room and other facilities makes it easy for parents to keep an eye on them, and means the property is more convenient to navigate for older guests. You might not have realized dude ranches today offer so many options:

A visit to a National Park – Many dude ranches are located near some of the country’s most popular national parks. White Stallion Ranch borders Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, while Rimrock Ranch is only miles outside the East entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Medicine Bow Lodge & Guest Ranch is located in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming; while many guests at Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana head to Glacier National Park for a day.

Bar W Dude Ranch Vacation

Picnic at the Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana

A hike in the wilderness. Most dude ranches are off the tourist grid on lots of land, ideal for exploring on foot. The Diamond D Ranch, nestled in the Frank Church Wilderness Area of Idaho, offers excursions into the wild and fishing in the Salmon River Mountains, among many other activities.

Diamond D Ranch Fishing

Indulge in a massage Many ranches now offer spa treatments, like White Stallion Ranch  in Tucson, AZ and Vista Verde Ranch just outside of Steamboat, CO.

Take a yoga class. Many ranches that offer spa services also provide yoga classes and training. Before a long day in the saddle, guests can have a relaxing limbering-up session with certified trainers.

Try some new wines. Gourmet cuisine and wine paring are gaining popularity at dude ranches. At Smith Fork Ranch, favorites from their private cellar and wineries they especially like are among the choices, including some Colorado wines.

Go tubing or white water rafting. Three Bars Guest Ranch in the Canadian Rockies offers weekly white water rafting tours on the unspoiled  Mary’s River.  Put in only a 10 minute drive from the ranch.

Give shooting sports a try at Red Horse Mountain Ranch in Idaho, there is instruction in a safely controlled environment. There are 5 stations, each providing their own unique targets.

Ride a Zip Line The Bar Lazy J Ranch has one of Colorado’s longest and fastest zip lines and is the only one that crosses the Colorado River. The zip line starts on a steep bluff overlooking the Colorado River dropping 82 feet in elevation as it crosses the river, through the trees and across a pasture to the landing platform. You will be zipping along at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. This activity is for guests ages 13 and up.

Go fishing Rainbow Trout Ranch near several historic Spanish land grants in Antonito, Colo.,encourages guests to go trout fishing; Try your hand at fly fishing at 4UR Ranch in Mineral County, Colo.

Do si do with the wranglers or sing your favorite western songs around the campfire at ranches including – Mountain Sky Guest Ranch sits on over 10,000 operational acres of unspoiled wilderness in the heart of Yellowstone Country in Emigrant, Mont Got your cowboy hat?

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