Brush up on your slipknot-makin,' fire-startin', and S'mores-eatin' skills and get in touch with your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Any way you slice it -- even if you call it a "guest ranch," a term many of these accommodations use, the vacation involves horseback riding, camping and hiking and enjoying the slow pace of life. At the end of the day, if there are horse and cattle, it's still a dude ranch. The origins of the dude ranch are not tied to a specific time, but it's believed to have evolved out of burgeoning interest in Western tourism during the 1920s. We've rounded up some our favorites, but for more, check out the one-stop resource Dude Ranchers' Association at www.duderanch.org. There are 109 members and the site is searchable by state, activities offered, and season.
Colorado Rocky Mountain Ride
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch
17942 Red Feather Lakes Rd
Red Feather Lakes CO, 80545
With the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop, ride through the Roosevelt National Forest, and the Red Feather Lakes, or hike, fish, raft white water, or just plain take a nap. The dining room at the Sundance Trail Guest Ranch contains just four tables, you don't need name tags, and you won't wait in lines; "the ranch is small but the playground is big," says the website. 'Nuff said. It's also geared equally toward people who have never ridden a horse before as well as old cowhands; families, too, would be at home here as there are separate activities for kids five and older, including gathering eggs from the hen house, picnics, outdoor games and treasure hunts, and "kids only" horseback riding. Take off your watch -- they ring a bell for dinner and other important activities. Sundance is pet-friendly -- just call them to discuss, and you can even bring your own horse.
The ranch is open year-round; the summer season starts May 22. The weekly schedule starts at $1,155 for adults (kids 5-15 cost $995); at its peak, in high season (June 19-August 27), the weekly fee is $1,545. Included in your rate is six-nights of lodging, meals, your own horse for the week, and all instruction, hiking, fishing, off-road trips in jeeps, trap and target shooting, access to pool, ping pong, campfires, the whole nine yards. Oh, and Sundance also advocates snoozing in hammocks -- hard to disagree there.
Living High on the Hog in the Hole
Lost Creek Ranch
P.O. Box 95
Old Ranch Road
Moose, WY 83012
The maximum capacity for the popular Lost Creek Ranch & Spa, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is sixty-four, which creates an intimate environment for learning the ropes of ranching and plenty of opportunities to relax. But this isn't roughing it by any means. Gourmet meals, a spa, and yoga are included along with typical ranch activities such as hiking, riding and touring the nearby parks; Lost Creek is located on the border of Grand Teton National Park and is about an hour south of Yellowstone National Park. It's not uncommon to come across bear and bison and encounter geysers -- this is the home of Old Faithful, after all. Keep in mind that this is the mountains, so spring runs through June and features mild days, cold nights with rain and occasional snow; July and August's weather is warm during the day and cool at night; afternoon thunderstorms are common. The place is so ensconced that you could literally hike for days without finding a single road -- sounds unreal, doesn't it? Internet access is also provided -- why would you want it, though -- and a "scenic Snake River float trip." Any additional trips, such as white water rafting, fishing, or wine, beer, purchased in the dining room and all spa services are extra.
Staying here isn't cheap -- a king suite, one bedroom, sleeping one to two people, will set you back about $5,840, but your accommodations, all meals, laundry service, airport transportation, and access to Pilates, yoga classes and hiking and riding instruction is all covered. The more elaborate arrangement, which sleeps up to four people, is the two-bedroom duplex, with two bathrooms, a living room, and fireplace, and runs $13,710, or $898 per person. However, the Ranch does run specials around Memorial Day weekend (currently slated to start June 2-9) and Labor Day (starting August 28 through end of season) where they'll drop the seven-night minimum and reduce the nightly rate to roughly $150. Call for more details.
Cariboo, Cowboys and Thai Massage
Echo Valley Ranch
P.O. Box 16
Jesmond, Clinton, B.C. V0K 1K0
Ten years ago, Norm Dove and his wife Nan, a native of Thailand, opened Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. This East-meets-West ranch and spa offers several package options, including the "Echo Valley ranch Experience," which nets you seven nights of deluxe accommodations, rated 4.5 stars by Canada Select Properties, gourmet meals prepared by a master chef, and use of all ranch facilities. Choose from a large, outdoor hot tub, sauna, indoor swimming pool, game rooms, horseback riding lessons, guided rides and hikes, fly-fishing lessons, and lessons on how to pan for gold. For June-September, the rates are CAN$2,422 (approximately $2,005) per week per person.
If you're just looking for a spa getaway, try Spa at Echo Valley Ranch Experience package, and you certainly wouldn't be wasting your time or your environment; the grounds are situated in the middle of Canadian wilderness, almost three hundred miles from Vancouver and big-city distractions. The spa package includes seven nights of deluxe accommodations in the Dove or Lookout Lodge. As for the spa, you can choose one of the Baan Thai treatments (three hours with two therapists), one spa package worth three hours, one 90-minute body wrap treatment, two signature Thai massages (each 90 minutes), an 80-minute hydrotherapy treatment, and a $250 spa credit. Are there enough hours in the day for this?
As with the other package you also have access to all ranch facilities, help with the ranch animals. The rate for June-September is CAN$3,041 ($2,517), per week per guest. If you can't spare that much time or money, there are three- and four-night packages available that offer you CAN$360 ($297) toward spa services (3-day) and CAN$480 ($397) toward spa treatments (4-day), deluxe accommodations, all meals and use of facilities. Prices June-September CAN$1,098 ($908) for 3 nights; CAN $1,464 ($1,211) for 4 nights). All packages are available for April, May and October as well but at reduced rates; all rates do not include sales tax or service charge. The ranch is mostly adult-oriented, with a minimum age of 13 except from July 24 through August 7 for their annual Kid's Week activities.
Mesas, Canyons and Horseback Riding in New Mexico
Hartley Guest Ranch
50 Guest Ranch Lane
Roy, NM 87743
In their e-mail greeting to prospective cowboys and cowgirls, Doris and Ray Hartley of the Hartley Guest Ranch write, "this is the real thing. You will not be disappointed." No spa here -- it's all about range life. Explore over 25,000 acres, 200 miles of trails among red-rock canyons and forests of the working cattle ranch, The Hartley Guest Ranch is located in northeastern New Mexico on the border of the Canadian River, and the elevation ranges from 4800 feet to 6000 feet. The ranch houses both thoroughbred and quarter horses and all riders will be given an orientation at the beginning of the week to determine ability and horse compatibility. Fishing, hiking and branding (May-July) are also possible, and you'll enjoy home-cooked meals served family style, or over an open fire.
Currently there are two packages available -- a three day $650 per person $550 for children 3-16, available only in April and May and includes three days and nights of lodging, meals, snacks and all ranch-related activities; airport transportation is not included. The five-day package is available April through September, costs per person $950 for adults and $850 for children 3-16, and includes everything in the 3-day package but also transportation to and from Albuquerque airport, (four hours away) with a stop in Santa Fe for lunch, as long as you can get to Albuquerque before noon on a Monday; they'll return you Saturday by 1pm. The ranch only sleeps twelve, so if you're looking for a hard-working, personal experience on an authentic working cattle ranch, this is the place.
Western Experience, Southern Hospitality
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch
At Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas, their six-day week includes meals, cave trips, log cabins, riding, rock climbing, cookouts, shooting, canoeing, campfires -- the whole nine yards. A petting zoo, arts and crafts, and the Little Buckaroo ranch are designed for children to learn a bit about the outdoors and ranch life. You can also cool off in the natural streams, springs and pools -- the locals call the pools "cowboy Jacuzzis." The Johnson family also advises not to miss an opportunity to canoe Buffalo National River -- the bluffs are staggeringly high and the water is clear enough to see the bottom. During the summer season the minimum stay at this 350-acre ranch in northwestern Arkansas is three days; a six-day stay is recommended in order to experience everything available. The summer season begins May 29 and runs through August 14. Adults: $990 weekly ($185 daily); children 8-16, $780 ($145 daily); children 3-7, $510 ($95 daily). Children two and under are free. The spring season (March 13-May 29) and fall season (August 14-October 30) are a bit less expensive: $865 adults ($160 daily); children 8-16 ($650). Discounts are also available for groups and reunions. The ranch week begins on Monday and ends the following Sunday at 10am.
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