This article is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more.
If you’re seeking definitive Americana in the USA, then cowboy up and dig into the country’s finest Dude Ranch stays.
The Dude Ranch concept originated in the USA in the 1880’s when working cattle farms began hosting “dudes” (AKA ‘city slickers’) keen for a taste of ranch life. Originally hosting for free, the Eaton Brothers from North Dakota were among the first to conceive of ranches as major tourism destinations, charging guests to cover food and lodging. Teddy Roosevelt is often credited with igniting widespread interest from there, following a deep love of cowboy lifestyle after writing about his own adventures at Eatons Brothers’ Custer Trail Ranch.
Today, Dude Ranches encapsulate the essence of the great outdoors, offering guests, — particularly families — all-inclusive experiences highlighted by incredible activities ranging from horseback riding, hiking and fishing, to rodeo and ranching skills like roping, hunting, and herding.
In a world filled with inescapable technology, a Dude Ranch brings the opportunity to truly disconnect and immerse yourself in a historic pastime. For the “dude”, it’s the extreme contrast that makes the air so fresh, the scenery so extraordinary, and the experience so special.
Dude Ranches differ immensely in accommodations and approach, which means there’s a perfect stay for travellers of all types. Check out some suggestions below.
For Riding: C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado
Located within 90 minutes drive of Denver, near Rocky Mountain National Park, C Lazy U promises a horse riding experience “above and beyond” anything equine enthusiasts can imagine. Their rigorous horse programs put all horses through training that consists of ground work, round pen work, desensitizing exercises, arena work, and trail work before being given to wranglers, who trail ride them before being ridden by guests.
Their 200-strong herd boasts advanced, beginner, kid-friendly horses, and everything in between. Guests who are interested in natural horsemanship can also partake in C Lazy U’s free horsemanship clinics, in addition to daily trail rides as part of their stay.
For Families: Flathead Lake Lodge, Montana
Owned and operated by three generations of the Averill family, Flathead Lake Lodge has been welcoming guests to their stunning property, on the shores of Flathead Lake, since 1945. Just over an hour’s drive north of Missoula – the gateway to Western Montana – Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western US.
Still centred around Les Averill’s original vision of creating an authentic and memorable family vacation, Flathead Lake Lodge combines the very best of Montana hospitality with an incredible selection of youth programs and kids activities. The Averill family claims that once you stay, you become part of their family, and that’s exactly how it felt following my stay.
For Fishing: Rawah Ranch, Colorado
Nestled in Northern Colorado’s Laramie Valley is Rawah Ranch, boasting private access to the Laramie River, which runs right by the main lodge. A scenic three-hour drive from Denver International Airport – or 90 minutes from Laramie, Wyoming – the “Gem City of the Plains” is admired for its deep western roots and vibrant cultural scene.
The Ranch offers all-inclusive ‘Angler’s Packages’ for both new and veteran anglers to enjoy a guided week spent on the banks of the Laramie, casting for rainbow, brown and brook trout, with all gear and licensing taken care of. Rawah guests also have access to stretches of the Poudre River and local lakes and creeks in the nearby Rawah Wilderness area.
For Epicurean Adventures: Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming
Located 20 miles from the remote town of Saratoga in south-central Wyoming – three and a half hours from Denver International Airport – Brush Creek Ranch spans over 30,000 private acres between the Sierra Madre mountain range and Medicine Bow National Forest.
The ranch is an immersive and educational food travel destination with an epicurean philosophy that focuses on nose to tail, root to stem and grain to glass. Guests can go behind the scenes and learn new skills at ‘The Farm’, the epicentre of the ranch’s sustainable food program boasting a bakery, greenhouse, creamery, distillery and spirit vault. Award-winning chefs from The Farm’s fine-dining restaurant run hands-on cooking classes, where guests can sample their creations alongside a wine from the 30,000-strong cellar.
For Kids Programs: Lost Valley Ranch, Colorado
Ninety minutes north-west of Colorado Springs, nestled within the Pike National Forest, Lost Valley Ranch is as secluded as it is scenic. The ranch offers younger guests the opportunity to become a bona fide cowboy or cowgirl, from learning to ride and groom their own horse, to outdoor adventures around the ranch, under the attentive care of hand-picked supervisors.
Lost Valley’s team of supervisors are trained to offer a safe and memorable ranch experience for children, including age-appropriate activities and games that reflect the cowboy’s principles of responsibility. With programs catering to 2 and under, 3-5, 6-12, and teens, Lost Valley Ranch will ensure your kids are always safe, and never bored.
For Romantic Getaways: The Green O, Montana
Plenty of Dude Ranches offer adults-only weeks but this hidden woodland retreat is permanently kids-free, making it the perfect choice for romantic getaways. Located in the Blackfoot River Valley of western Montana, Just 35 minutes from Missoula airport – on the site of The Resort at Paws Up (also an epic ranch) – The Green O boasts 12 architecturally significant accommodations that seamlessly blend luxury and serenity.
While it caters to typical ranch pursuits, the world-class dining experience attached is what everyone raves about. Helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Cunningham, an experiential eight-course chef’s tasting menu awaits each guest, every night, championing the best of Blackfoot River Valley produce.
For Hunting: Absaroka Ranch, Wyoming
On the south-eastern border of Yellowstone National Park, in the privately owned Dunoir Valley, at the headwaters of Wyoming’s Wind River, Absaroka Ranch offers small groups of guests absolute solitude, and access to a virtually hunter-free parcel of Wyoming.
Depending on the season, and location of the game, hunts are run from the ranch or the wilderness camp and include your own licensed, trained, and experienced guide. Three, five or six-day Elk or Deer hunts are available with a one-on-one guide/hunter ratio, with discount rates available for non-hunters. Absaroka Ranch promises plenty of wildlife and competitive prices.
For Privacy: NewTree Ranch, California
Common dining and group rides are all part of the ranch experience but NewTree Ranch understands it’s not for everyone. Their ranch offers one exclusive four-bed villa with an additional off-the-grid two-bedroom barn, perfect for families or small groups who want to connect with nature and one-another.
The 120-acre private oasis offers a plethora of activities, on top of a well-appointed tent, a Japanese tea garden, numerous farming and culinary experiences, private chefs and more. Located a few miles from Healdsburg in Sonoma’s stunning Dry Creek Valley, a 75-minute drive north of San Francisco, the property is also the perfect base for exploring wine country.
For Luxury: The Lodge at Blue Sky, Utah
You’ll find The Lodge at Blue Sky just a short drive from Salt Lake City, positioned at the pine-covered foothills of the Uinta Mountains with buildings made of local limestone and glass. The luxury-futuristic look may scream relaxation, but the activity schedule at this high-end ranch is anything but sluggish.
The 3,500-acre property offers everything from axe throwing, archery, and dog-sledding, to horseback riding, hiking, wildlife tracking, clay shooting, and ice fishing. There are even farm classes teaching sustainable practices and a guided cold plunge experience overseen by a Wim Hof-accredited expert.
For Working: Tombstone Monument Ranch, Arizona
Tombstone Monument Ranch & Cattle Company is a working cattle and guest ranch located outside Tombstone in southeastern Arizona, well-known for its Wild West history. The ranch – built in the image of a typical American old town – allows guests to stay in the Grand Hotel, Marshall’s Office or the Jail, with a ‘Working’ package.
Aspiring cowboys will experience real life on the ranch checking cattle and calves, riding and fixing fences, checking wells, cattle ponds and the dam. Ranch work lasts 2.5 to 6 hours daily and the activities are set by ranch schedule and need, with drinks in the Old Trappman Saloon customary after a long day in the saddle.
For Epic Cattle Drives: V6 Ranch, California
Located in the south of Monterey County – a four-hour drive from Los Angeles or San Francisco – the V6 is a 20,000-acre working cattle ranch, owned and operated by the Varian family since 1961.
The Varian’s offer a host of cowboy academies, pack trips and multiple-day cattle drives for dudes who are serious about riding, roping and herding. Cattle Drives are based out of their Mustang Camp (with glamping tents), where guests will spend up to six hours a day in the saddle gathering and moving cattle with patient, encouraging and good humored wranglers leading the way.
For Glamping: Conestoga Ranch, Utah
Voted the #1 glamping destination in the United States in 2022, Conestoga Ranch is a luxury camping resort overlooking the vivid blue waters of Bear Lake, which sees the boarder of Utah and Idaho run straigh through it. Once guests have made the 2 hour journey north from Salt Lake City they can stay in stylish, custom designed tents, with mod cons and ensuite bathrooms, or custom built, mobile wagons, all furnished with king-sized beds.
Conestoga’s on site restaurant takes care of all meals and the property is abundant with activities offering guests free bikes, a games tent, bbq facilities, yoga, a volleyball court and a roping range. To cap off a busy day, the ‘Campfire Valet Service’ will come and light your private fire pit and provide smores kits for a quintessential American snack.
For Target Practice: Wildcatter Ranch, Texas
Just a short drive west of Fort Worth, Wildcatter Ranch is located outside Graham in the beautiful North Texas Hill Country. Centred around a historic estate with 41 rooms the 1,500-acre ranch is pitched as more of a luxury option for those seeking the highlights of agricultural tourism.
Horseback riding across the estate is an essential activity, but the resident cowboys are just as keen to give you a holistic dude ranch experience, from clay shooting and lasso lessons, to tomahawk throwing and archery. In return, you’ll need to wake up early and feed the ranch’s herd of moody longhorns.
This article is sponsored by VisitTheUSA.com.au and is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more, and thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.