Regardless of the hullabaloo surrounding the main characters in the film Brokeback Mountain, most people would agree that the film beautifully illustrates the allure of mountain wilderness, riding horses, sleeping under the stars and seeking refuge in nature. And indeed, summer is a busy time for working ranches. Experience your own little slice of the old west at dude ranches, also commonly referred to as "guest ranches," located mostly in the western United States. The experiences run the gamut from inexpensive and rugged to pricey and pampered. A good one-stop resource is the Dude Ranchers' Association (www.duderanch.org). Search over 100 members by state (or province -- Canada is included, too), activities offered, and season.
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch (tel. 800/357-4930; www.sundancetrail.com), located in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, is situated in the Rocky Mountains and equally geared toward ranching neophytes, experienced cowhands, and families. Possible activities include hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, target shooting, and of course, horseback riding. The ranch is open year-round. The summer season kicks off May 21, with a 25 percent off discount of $1,197 per adult (16 and up) and from May 28-June 17, they're offering a 20 percent discount of $1,296 for adults. High season (June 18-August 26) costs adults $1,595. There is no charge for children 4 and under; kids ages 5-15 are priced at $995. Sundance ain't all cowpokin', though -- you can opt for golfing at a nearby private course, or a relaxing experience at their new massage suite. The price covers six nights' accommodations, meals, your horse for the week, and all trail rides and instruction.
If it's difficult to sacrifice a week, or you're just mildly curious and don't want to commit a whole week to the endeavor, the ranch also offers three-night stays. The three night stays are riding-intensive and start on a Sunday and run through Wednesday, or start on a Wednesday and run through Saturday morning. They're priced at $800/adult and $600 child and while white water rafting and mountaineering classes are available, Dan Morin of the Sundance ranch says most guests who stay three nights "opt to spend the time on horseback." The price includes lodging, meals, all riding and instruction, and other ranch activities including campfires, riflery, tomahawk throwing and mountain climbing.
Lost Creek Ranch and Spa (tel. 307/733-3435; www.lostcreek.com), located between Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National forest in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, combines typical ranch activities with a relaxing, full-service spa, is open from June through September. Each cabin has at least one bedroom, each equipped with two Queen-sized beds. The half duplex, which has one bedroom and a bathroom, sleeps up to three people. During peak season, which spans June 11-September 3, it's priced at $6,015 for one to two people and $925 for one additional person. These are weekly rates that run Sunday to Sunday. The living room cabin, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a fireplace and living room, sleeps up to four and costs $14,120; the more people you travel with the cheaper it becomes. The weekly rates include all meals, accommodations, personal laundry service, airport transfers, tennis, hot tub and heated swimming pool, Pilates and yoga classes, horse program and instruction, hiking in Grand Teton, tour of Yellowstone National Park, entertainment, a Snake River float trip, and your Internet access.
During their low season -- and there's not much of it -- the rates change, along with the length of stay required. For example, June 1-11 and September 4-11 it's possible to stay for three nights (minimum) for $345 per person, per night in the half duplex and $400 for the living room cabin rates. Meals, horseback riding, hiking in Grand Teton National Park, scenic float trips down Snake River, laundry service, and other activities and entertainment.
Northern California's Coffee Creek Ranch (tel. 800/624-4480; www.coffeecreekranch.com) is located on 367 acres in Trinity Center, near the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area and along Coffee Creek. Go trout fishing in the creek, riding on the ranch's mountain trails, or sign up for lessons. Activities for children are available based on age group. They're open from Easter to Thanksgiving. Spring and fall weekly rates (before June 17 and after August 18) are priced at $1,045 for adults for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom accommodation, based on double occupancy. Children ages 3-12 are priced at $925, teens 13-17 are based at $1,025, and seniors 55 and up from $940.50. Summer rates (June 17-August 18) creep up but only by about thirty dollars. You can also opt for daily rates if you can't spare a week, but the ranch requires a minimum two-night stay. Summer's weeklong programs begin on a Saturday and end on a Friday. The ranch sleeps 50 people in secluded cabins on the grounds. The ranch is open from April 1-November 27.
In Marlboro Country, Montana, the Laughing Water Ranch (tel. 800/847-5095; www.lwranch.com) can accommodate you for three nights (call for details) or up to one week. Meals, riding, fishing, hiking, and other activities are all covered in the price. The ranch sleeps 38 and is open April 30-October 8. They're running a half-price for kids special right now on select weeks; call for details. Main season rates are $1,600 for adults, based on double occupancy and $1,600 per child, for weekly stays.
A unique feature at Laughing Water Ranch is the option for guests to become active participants in a cattle drive. The ranch offers the chance to sort, brand and move the cattle from their winter pasture to their summer range in May, or bring them back to the ranch in September, at the end of the summer. Some of these opportunities are available during what the ranch calls its "Lite" or low season (www.lwranch.com/ranchinfo/literates.html), in May and September. The "lite" rate includes meals, accommodations and horseback riding only. One of their specials is good for the first week, April 30-May 7; the price is $563 per person based on double occupancy for a seven-night stay. For the week of May 7-14, they are running a promotion that enables you to take part in the sorting clinic and roundup branding for no additional cost. There's no campout involved, either, so it's a perfect way for beginners to experience range life. This stay is priced at $775, so there's a definite advantage to going early. For the weeks of May 14-June 3 and September 3-October 1, there is an additional charge of $250 to take part in a cattle drive or roundup. It's worth noting that the main season is geared toward families; the low season does not include whitewater rafting, children's programs or other evening activities.
North of the border, Homeplace Ranch (tel. 877/931-3245; www.homeplaceranch.com) in Priddis, Alberta, Canada, is open all year round and boasts a homestead that dates back to 1912. Operating year-round, it's situated between Banff and Calgary (about 30 miles southwest of the latter), in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in an area replete with elk, coyotes, deer, and bears.
New activities this year include a trail clearing expedition, available any week in May, priced at $1,270 (CAD), where you'll remove dead trees and other winter detritus. Or opt for their trail riding/pack trip, available mid-May through September and priced from $1,691 CAD. You can stay four or seven days and then drive to Jasper to Horseback Adventures, for a four-day cabin pack trip through the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. Regular rates for 2006 packages are Saturday-Friday, Saturday-Tuesday, or Tuesday-Friday and go for four days (three nights), priced at $680 USD or seven days (six nights), priced at $1,175 USD. The price includes riding, meals, snacks, accommodations and activities. The lodge can accommodate up to fourteen people in private rooms with bathrooms and showers, with shared living and dining areas.
Have you taken the family to a dude ranch? Considering such a trip? Click over to our Outdoor and Adventure Message Boards to talk with fellow Frommer's travelers about your options.