Spending a week at an old-fashioned dude ranch may not sound like the most glamorous vacation, but a new class of guest ranches has upped the luxury factor. Dude ranches date back to the 1880s when western homesteaders would invite friends and families from back east to visit their cattle ranches. Ranch vacations usually focused on horseback riding, and guests often took part in herding cattle or working the horses. Today, while horseback riding is still the heart and soul of most ranches, visitors can also participate in an array of activities (think yoga, biking, and even spas) and sleep in some seriously posh digs.
For many families, the all-inclusive guest ranch model offers the benefits of an outdoorsy vacation without any of the hassles. Dude ranches usually charge a flat weekly fee per person that includes lodging (often in cabins or tents), food, and most of the on-site activities. But just because the dude ranch has its roots in the imagined nostalgia for the "wild" American West, that doesn’t mean urbanites have to go without when they want to unplug. We’ve rounded up five gorgeous properties that prove that trail rides, fire pits, and s’mores can go hand in hand with feathertop bedding, massages, and delicious wine.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa: Colorado
A short 1.5-hour drive from Denver, just past Winter Park, Devil’s Thumb is a year-round ranch that offers western-chic accommodations (offered in a main lodge or in private cabins) on 6,000 acres at the base of the Continental Divide. The stone-and-time lodge boasts fire pits, a gorgeous pool, and easy access to a huge network of hiking or cross-country skiing trails. This is luxurious, classic ranch living at its best; both on-site restaurants deliver consistently good food and wine and the spa uses all-natural ingredients inspired by the alpine environment. Even children can get in on the pampering with "wranglers-to-be" spa packages for kids 14 and under.
The Ranch at Rock Creek: Montana
Billed as the world’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch, the Ranch at Rock Creek combines adventure with upscale amenities more reminiscent of New York than a state with a total population of a million people. Originally a working ranch homesteaded in the early 1900s, the ranch opened in 2010 with 6,600 acres, a 9-room lodge, cabins, and luxurious ‘glamping’ tents boasting living rooms, antique furniture, and soft bedding. Larger groups can also stay in a historic barn or one of 7 private homes on site. And while the horseback riding is stellar, the guest ranch offers something for everyone with a ropes course, bowling ally, fly fishing, mountain biking, stagecoach rides, a pool, and even archery.
Hideout Lodge and Guest Ranch: Wyoming
Located east of Yellowstone National Park, the Hideout Lodge is one of Wyoming’s nicest working cattle, riding, and fly-fishing ranches. Only 25 guests per week are allowed at the ranch, which means that the property boasts a one-to-one guest to staff ratio and visitors always have easy access to the ranch’s 95 horses. The personalized attention is supplemented by top-botch food, western-style log cabins and access to a plethora of trails and outdoor activities.
C Lazy U Ranch: Colorado
In operation since 1919, the C Lazy U guest ranch is one of the longest-running dude ranches around, but it’s also one of the nicest. Forget the tired cabins of many ranches, C Lazy U offers 43 accommodations in all sizes with plenty of creature comforts like fireplaces, nightly turn-down service, and plush robes. The Lazy You Spa sits along a creek and boasts treatments tents with deep copper soaking tubs, views of the surrounding peaks, and plenty of treatment options. Two of the massage tents are even suspended over the river with glass floors so you can watch the water below during a massage. Try to find that in San Francisco.
Siwash Lake Ranch: British Columbia
Located in the interior of British Columbia, Siwash Lake Ranch provides lodge accommodations and luxurious safari-inspired tents on 80,000 acres of Canadian wilderness. Special attention is paid to providing lessons to riders of any level, but beyond the property’s well-cared for horses, there’s also fly-fishing, swimming, and guided eco-adventures. And don’t expect sub-par grub; Siwash serves up "pasture-to-plate" cuisine that has guests raving. Throw in a top-notch spa and you’ve got a recipe for luxury.