Experience the Real Old West at a Working Cattle Dude Ranch

Have you ever dreamt about riding across the plains or through the desert pushing cattle, hootin’ and a hollerin’ from the back of a horse? At a working cattle dude ranch, you will get to experience what the real west used to be and how “the real cowboys” used to live. You may just do some day work around the ranch, moving a herd of cattle from one pasture to another, or you may have the choice to go on an overnight cattle drive. You could camp out under the stars, if you so please, or sleep in a wall tent, tell stories around the campfire and eat meals cooked over an open fire. 

It sounds like a fantasy doesn’t it? At these 10 dude ranches listed below, as well as others listed on the Dude Ranchers’ Association website, you will find a true cowboy and western lifestyle experience. Check several things off your bucket list at one time with a working cattle dude ranch vacation! 

Working Cattle Dude Ranch Vacation

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

Vee Bar Guest Ranch - Laramie, WY

Hidden Hollow Hideaway Cattle and Guest Ranch – Montana

Looking for an unplugged and refreshing vacation with a little excitement added in? Hidden Hollow Hideaway might just be your perfect destination. Ride through luscious green meadows while moving cattle, all while taking in the breathtaking scenery of the Rocky Mountains which surround you. The folks at Hidden Hollow Hideaway will make sure you are equipped with the right horse and tack to make your experience is the best it can be! While here, you will be able to improve your riding and horsemanship skills, improve your confidence and help the cowboys and cowgirls of the ranch move the cattle to new pastures. You do not need to have previous riding experience before coming to the ranch, just a willing attitude!

V6 Ranch – California 

When most people think of California they think of sunny beaches, board walks and surfing. When you visit the V6 Ranch in Parkfield, California you will have a whole different outlook on California. On a cattle drive with the folks at V6 you will experience an adventure that will awaken your spirit and bring you back to the beauty of the untamed west. The V6 Ranch has four cattle drives scheduled each year that allow guests to go on an overnight trip. Their schedule for each trip is all laid out on their website and offers great detail. This is not an adventure you want to miss out on! You will help gather and move the ranch’s herd of cattle from many locations and will have the opportunity to work with real cowboys who can teach you working knowledge of gathering, moving and sorting cattle. While on a cattle drive you will also be able to increase and improve your horseback riding skills and techniques. If you are looking for a true cowboy and western adventure, look no further than the V6 Ranch. 

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

V6 Ranch - Parkfield, CA

Sweet Grass Ranch – Montana

The Sweet Grass Ranch in Montana is a fantastic destination to satisfy your “inner cowboy and cowgirl.” Although the ranch does not move cattle every week, they do have specific weeks during their season that they have cattle drives as well as other cowboy work available for guests to participate in. Make sure to talk to the folks at the ranch well in advance to make sure that your stay will include cattle work, and if you are looking for an overnight cattle drive they have an option for that to! The overnight cattle drive usually takes place at the last week of July into the first week of August. Guests are encouraged to verify specific dates for cattle work and the overnight cattle drive when booking their vacation. You don’t want to miss out on these great experiences! 

Vee Bar Guest Ranch – Wyoming

At the Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Wyoming cattle work is a highlight of the week! While horseback riding, fly fishing and the kids’ program are loads of fun, guests really look forward to getting to live the true cowboy lifestyle, even if it is just for a day. While working cattle at the Vee Bar you will get to help the wranglers move cattle from one pasture to another, learn how to help sort off certain cattle as well as doctor any sick cattle. All of the horseback riding and cattle work at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch is adaptable to all levels of experience. You do not have to be an expert rider before you arrive at the ranch; if you think about, cowboys had to be beginner riders before they could become experts! 

Burnt Well Guest Ranch – New Mexico 

An authentic “old west” style cattle drive is what you will find at the Burnt Well Guest Ranch in New Mexico. Here you will experience what it was like to live on prairie and in the desert while moving cattle and putting many miles in the saddle. This cattle drive is the duration of a week and happens once a year in the fall. The ranch will supply you with a bedroll, cot, cowboy teepee, horse and tack. All you need to bring is a go-getter attitude, a smile and probably some clothes! Stories, memories and bucket list items are created on this cattle drive and if it is something you have always wanted to do, do not miss your chance! If you are not up for a week-long cattle drive, Burnt Well also has cattle working opportunities included in their all-inclusive packages. Relax at the ranch and enjoy family time while getting to do the several activities available. Work with real cowboys and learn the ways of the west at the Burnt Well Guest Ranch! 

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

Burnt Well Guest Ranch - Roswell, NM

Red Reflet Guest Ranch – Wyoming

Where there is cow work to be done, guests are welcome to “cowboy” the herd at the Red Reflet Ranch! At this beautiful luxury working cattle dude ranch you will find pristine lodging, Le Cordon Bleu cuisine made from a farm to table program and numerous exhilarating activities to participate in. There are many cattle activities to enjoy, moving the herd with the wranglers, branding and gathering opportunities, checking in on newborn baby calves, sorting cattle and pairing them up as needed. Here, you will get to see what a true working cattle ranch is like and be able to help the on-site cowboys with their herd management duties. The cowboys are a wealth of knowledge and are so willing to teach guests who are willing to learn! 

Bull Hill Guest Ranch – Washington

Cowboys and cowgirls will have the opportunity to participate in authentic cattle drives at the Bull Hill Guest Ranch. The cattle drives can range from a half day to a full day in the saddle and they usually take place between the months of May and October. During these months’ guests will have the chance to move cattle to spring grass areas, upper pastures for the summer and in the early fall months they are driven back to the ranch. You do not have to be a cattle expert to go on one of these cattle drives at Bull Hill, but confidence is key! Beautiful scenery, great horses and lots of fun await you on a cattle drive! 

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bull Hill Guest Ranch - Kettle Falls, WA

Focus Ranch – Wyoming

At the Focus Ranch, located on the Wyoming and Colorado border, guests are invited to participate in the day-to-day operations of the ranch. Although the ranch does have other activities such as fly fishing, hiking and photography opportunities, the main focus of the ranch is horseback riding and cattle. Taking care of their horses and cattle is their main priority and the folks at the ranch truly enjoy getting to teach people and watch them learn the ways of the “real west.” There is an art to working cattle and at the Focus Ranch you will learn the ropes and get to put your skills to the test. This is the real deal! 

Bonanza Creek Guest Ranch – Montana

There are many reasons to visit Bonanza Creek Guest Ranch but great riding, trustworthy ranch horses and the thrill of moving cattle are on the top of most people’s lists! While at the ranch you will get to see beautiful mountain scenery, climb the high ridges, ride along Bonanza Creek, lope through open meadows and gather up a herd of cow/calf pairs to move from pasture to pasture. Bonanza Creek is a true working cattle ranch, the cattle along with their guests is their way of life. They value the guests who come in eager and excited to learn about the cattle ranch life and the ways of the cowboy. You will experience other activities as well as great lodging and home cooked meals. Become a Montana cowboy or cowgirl for a week at this wonderful ranch! 

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

Working Cattle Dude Ranch

 

Bonanza Creek Guest Ranch - Martinsdale, MT

Klondike Ranch – Wyoming

At the Klondike Ranch you will have the option of how much of a guest you want to be. What does that mean exactly? You can relax and let the crew at the ranch take care of you or you can dive into the hands-on work of a cattle ranch! By the time you leave the ranch you might just be the “handiest” person in your group. At Klondike you will get to enjoy great horseback rides and herd cattle, participate in the ranch hand chores if you please or even go on an overnight camp out at the ranch’s Mountain Cow Camp. You will feel like a true cowboy or cowgirl after spending a vacation at the Klondike Ranch and get to tell all of your friends, co-workers and family that you go the chance to work alongside real Wyoming cowboys!

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Have you ever dreamt about riding across the plains or through the desert pushing cattle, hootin’ and a hollerin’ from the back of a horse? At a working cattle dude ranch, you will get to experience what the real west used to be and how “the real cowboys” used to live.

Horseback Riding Vacations

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 1900’s! 

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’s 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. 

Here are some of the best riding ranches for your next vacation. 

 

Crossed Sabres Ranch, Cody, Wyoming

All Day Rides on 2.2 Million Acres

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 truly spectacular scenery. 

Horseback Riding

 

Medicine Bow Lodge, Saratoga, Wyoming

Overnight pack trip in the Medicine Bow National Forest

High up in the Snowy Range of the Rocky Mountains the Medicine Bow Lodge Adventure Guest Ranch offers just what their 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

Horseback Riding

 

Focus Ranch, Slater, Wyoming

Move 1,300 head of yearling cattle 

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! 

Horseback Riding

 

Badger Creek Ranch, Canon City, Colorado

Natural Horsemanship is a photographer’s dream

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 ground work following the feel of natural horsemanship and continue in the saddle in a location that can only be described as a photographer’s dream. 

Horseback Riding

 

Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Gallatin Gateway, Montana

Ranch bred, raised and trained Appaloosas

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. 

Horseback Riding

 

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 here

 

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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.

Kids and Cattle Drives on a Family Vacation

Take your family this summer to experience a ranch vacation and maybe a cattle drive (or 2).  On this vacation you will develop a deeper appreciation for cattle and cowboys.  Your question might be "Can I take my children on a cattle drive too?" The answer to that question is a very big yes, yes you can. Adults are not the only ones able to go on such adventures, your kids can too. The DRA accredited ranches below will get your kids and cattle drives together for a unique ranch vacation. Take a look at the different ages, riding abilities and type of activities to pick out the one that's right for your family's next vacation.

 

Ages 8 & Up

 

Intermediate Riders ages 8 & up are invited to the Bonanza Creek Ranch to hone in on their western horseback riding skills at this working cattle ranch. With the ability to canter outside an arena your kids can have a great time experiencing remote Montana ranching, team penning and a weekly cattle drive along with putting miles and miles of trail riding in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Bonanza Creek Ranch Kids and Cattle Drives

Bonanza Creek Ranch, Martinsdale, Montana

 

Ages 7 & Up

 

Twice weekly cattle working days for ages 7 & up are offered to the guests of Laramie River Ranch. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the designated cattle drive in the morning at this Colorado ranch followed by team penning in the afternoon and then pushing the steers back out to pasture. This will be a gentle way to introduce kids to riding and moving cattle. A separate kids program is also available for toddlers to teenagers with swimming, fishing and a naturalist program to explore the area ecosystem.

 

Laramie River Ranch Cattle Drive with Kids

Laramie River Ranch, Jelm Colorado

 

Ages 6 & Up

 

Longhorn Cattle Drives for ages 6 & up are offered on Saturdays at the Black Mountain Ranch as the highlight of the entire week. All are welcome on this walk ride adventure.  You family rides out into the Medicine Bow National Forest of Colorado in the morning to gather the cows in the high country and them bring them back to the ranch in time for lunch.  After lunch you all learn to rope and brand, then drive the cows back into a different high pasture in the afternoon. Throughout the week your family will also enjoy a full week of activities: skeet shooting, white water rafting, and an overnight pack trip into the mountains.

 

Black Mountain Cattle Drive with Kids

Black Mountain Ranch McCoy, Colorado

 

A Job for Everyone ages 6 & up at the Bull Hill Ranch in northeastern Washington. Here you and your family can enjoy a laid back atmosphere with few rules or hard schedules. Cattle drives are based off the cattle and time of year. In the spring, cattle drives are more frequent (4+ times a week), as you help push the cattle from the ranch, out to pasture on the Canadian border. Throughout the summer months, cattle drives happen about 3 times a week to keep the cattle on green pasture. Then, in September and October, you can participate in the fall round-up where they ride for cattle almost daily to get them home for the winter.  Here, there is a job for everyone, regardless of riding ability.  

 

Bull Hill Cattle Drive Kids

Bull Hill Guest Ranch, Kettle Falls, Washington    

 

 

 

 Can I take my children on a cattle drive?  Yes you can! Adults are not the only ones able to go on such adventures, your kids (ages 6 & up) can too.

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3 Cattle Drive Vacations Out West

For those looking for that working ranch experience of a cattle drive, there are certain weeks working cattle ranches invite guests to experience the original cowboy life. At these ranches guests have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the challenges and joys of caring for a herd of grass-fed, range cattle, monitoring their health and moving them to new grazing grounds as water and grass vitality dictates.

Each ranch is unique, with different breeds of cattle, size of the herd and the terrain. Because each one is so unique, when you experience one ranch you might end up on a journey to discover as many as your can. Please be aware that the length and location of these cattle moves will vary depending on grass, weather, and cattle health. It’s important to plan and book your vacation far in advance to be sure to reserve your space at these events. If you are late in planning for this year please still stop by the ranches for a vacation doing cattle work.

The cattle are there year-round and require lots of unique opportunities to be apart. You might enjoy a few days of cattle work, some fishing, hiking and trail riding. You might also consider another special event at ranches called branding. This is a big community event and it is an honor in the cowboy code to be invited. Whatever activities you get involved in at a working ranch will be an incredible vacation experience all your friends will be jealous to hear. Call the National Dude Ranchers’ Association with questions or any of the ranches below for more information.


Drive cattle through miles of alpine forests, crystal clear lakes and rolling foothills of Montana at the Sweet Grass Ranch

Sweet Grass Cattle Drive


Tent Camp along your route in the Plains of New Mexico with the Burnt Well Guest Ranch

Burnt Well Ranch Cattle Drive


Drive cattle to and from high in the Mountains of Washington State with the K Diamond K RanchK Diamond K Cattle Drive


 

What Type of Dude Ranch Fits you?

Are you planning a dude ranch vacation for the first time? When it comes to vacation options, there are lots of questions to ask yourself and those traveling with you. One of the ones you might not have considered before is, “What type of dude ranch fits me?” The Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA) represents more than 100 guest ranches in North America (two in Canada), ranging from rustic, no-frills working ranches to luxury resort-style ranches. From valleys complete with untouched Rocky Mountain backdrops to desert sunsets across the Southwest, you can find DRA-accredited ranches throughout the Western U.S., as well as in California, Arkansas and Canada.

Bonanza Creek Ranch Type of Dude Ranch - Family Style Traditional Dude Ranch

 

What Type of Dude Ranch Fits You?

 

1) How often do you pull out your Wranglers and Justin's?

a) Every chance I get

b) Mainly when country concerts and the rodeo comes to town

c) What are Wranglers and Justin's?

 

2) How adventurous are you?

a) I’m up for just about anything!

b) Middle of the road – let’s not get too crazy…

c) As long as it doesn’t involve going fast, jumping out of anything, jumping off of anything, swimming with something with large teeth…

 

3) What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘cowboy?’

a) Herding cattle and tending ranches

b) Cowboy boots, the Wild West and horseback riding

c) I’ve seen a few actors play cowboys in Western films but don’t know much about them

 

4) Which of the following activities sound the most fun to you?

a) Fishing, hunting and riding

b) Hiking, mountain biking and ATV riding

c) Pool time, spa and yoga

 

5) How do you feel about horses?

a) I’d ride them all day, everyday if I could

b) I’ve ridden a few times in the past – would love to do it more often

c) I love to look at them from afar

 

6) What’s your idea of a relaxing evening at home?

a) Catching up on yard work or other things around the house

b) Tackling the DIY project I found on Pinterest that I’ve been putting off

c) Sofa. TV. Enough said.

 

7) What is your idea of the perfect meal?

a) Steak and potatoes – don’t give me any of the fancy stuff

b) Doesn’t matter to me, as long as it’s tasty

c) A least three courses, please…and don’t forget the wine

 

8) What does “team penning” mean to you?

a) Bring it on – I’m the best

b) Sounds interesting – I’d be up for trying it

c) Does it have to do with penmanship?

 

9) What kind of group do you normally travel with?

a) Usually just me, or one other adult

b) The whole gang – kids, grandparents, etc.

c) Usually just me and the significant other, or a group of girlfriends/guys

 

10) Which of the following best describes your vacation style?

a) No frills

b) Comfortable

c) Luxury

 

If you answered mostly a’s: A working ranch might be right up your alley. These rustic, no-frills ranches will provide you with a traditional dude ranch experience, during which time you’ll work alongside ranch hands and owners doing daily ranch activities like cattle working and cattle drives.

If you answered mostly b’s: You’re in luck, because the majority of ranches accredited by the Dude Ranchers’ Association are traditional, family-style ranches. They specialize in offering a variety of activities for groups of all ages, abilities and interests, and many of them feature outstanding kids’ program.

If you answered mostly c’s: You like to travel in style, and you’re not ashamed to admit it. A luxury resort-style guest ranch is just the place for you: picture some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, gourmet food, award-winning spas and golf…and that’s just the beginning.

 

What Type of Dude Ranch Fits You? 

Are you planning a dude ranch vacation for the first time? When it comes to vacation options, there are lots of questions to ask yourself and those traveling with you. One of the ones you might not have considered before is, “What type of dude ranch fits me?” Fill out this questionnaire to find out.

 

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