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Best Places To Visit Dude Ranches

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Whether you’re a city slicker or a die-hard outdoor enthusiast, there’s a dude ranch out there for you. The trick is figuring out what kind of experience you’re looking for. Do you want hands-on experience on a working cattle ranch? Multi-generational activities for the entire family? Horseback riding followed by a gourmet meal? 

Lozier’s Box “R” Ranch is a true western working ranch 60 miles south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park. It’s so hands-on that you’re assigned your own horse and tack to help drive 175 to 250 head of cattle over 26,000 acres of land. You can help with roundups, brandings, and breaking in new horses, as well as patching fences and other ranch chores. Activities depend on the season. There are ‘cowboy camps’ several times a year, cattle drives in spring, summer horseback riding vacations, and fall roundups. As for the food, expect cowboy-size, meat-heavy meals.

What better way to learn the fundamentals of running a ranch than to work alongside the owners? Burnt Well Guest Ranch is a family-run, 15,000-acre cattle and sheep ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. Guests are invited to help out in every aspect of ranch life, whether it’s herding, shearing sheep, bottle-feeding lambs, repairing fences, or landscaping. For the full experience, go for the multi-day cattle ride, complete with overnight camping and campfire cookouts.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is located  on  the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Area, a well-preserved temperate rain forest. Practically everything in this lodge combines comfort with a nature-based twist, whether it’s grilling lessons in a 3,000-square-foot cookhouse or sleeping in a tent that’s equipped with heated floors and antique furniture. You won’t be roping cattle here, but there are plenty of outdoor traditions like wild-life spotting, horseback riding, and kayaking.

For a working estancia experience without having to rough it, El-Charabon, in the hills of Rocha, Uruguay, is a cattle and sheep ranch near the spectacular Atlantic coast. About 140 miles from Montevideo, this is an especially scenic ranch where you can be as involved as you’d like – from working alongside gauchos to having a laid-back day horseback riding on the sand dunes.

Family-friendly

Latigo Ranch, located about 130 miles west of Denver, Colorado, is surrounded by 75 miles of mountains and valleys in the Rockies. While in winter it operates more like a ski lodge, come summertime the family-owned-and-operated ranch becomes a camp for families. Its summer programming is exceptionally kid friendly, with dozens of supervised activities such as nature walks, fishing, hayrides, arts and crafts, and pony rides. For both adults and kids, there’s everything from rifle shooting to roping, archery, whitewater rafting and hiking.

But unlike traditional summer camp, the food is nothing to complain about: Communal dining and cookouts include plenty of kid-approved meals and gourmet options for parents.

Although the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Northern California isn’t technically a dude ranch (the sanctuary rescues mustangs), it’s one of the best places to see real wild horses running free and to get involved in trail rides and cattle drives. They offer multi-day rides between May and October on horses suitable for all levels of experience, but the ride itself can be challenging depending on the weather conditions. To get a real education, try a ‘work ride,’ which also includes trail and range maintenance. The sanctuary itself is rich in Indian and pioneer history, with remnants of homesteads, Indian camps, and petroglyphs.

Argentina has a long tradition of cattle ranching and many of the historic estates have now been turned into estancias for those who want to immerse themselves in gaucho culture. Los Potreros in Cordoba hits all the marks for a great experience: family friendly, spectacular scenery, home-cooked organic food, and off-the-beaten path riding. Horse enthusiasts especially, appreciate the fact that the 6,500-acre farm in the Sierras Chicas mountains breeds both Aberdeen Angus cattle and Paso Peruano horses. There are short rides and daylong tours, or you can go on overnight treks in which you stay in tents or village houses.

Foodie focused

Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, is an upscale resort ranch best known for its food and wine. Executive Chef Jacob Leatherman serves upscale western-style dishes, and the wine cellar boasts a whopping 3,000 bottles. If you want to venture out into nature, there are not only the typical outdoor experiences like horse-back riding, hiking, and fly-fishing, but also more specialized activities such as photo safaris, moonlit horse rides, and wine-making lessons.

How about a dude ranch in the middle of California wine country? Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County’s wine region, is more of an all-around resort with horseback riding, golf and fishing. But head there in fall for harvest season, and you can also get a real foodie experience-everything from casual barbecues too. Winemaker’s dinner, barrel tasting, and winery tours. Alisal offers a few different programs designed for couples and women, but my favorite has to be BBQ Bootcamp. This four-day programme teaches you all about Santa Maria-style barbecue, from grilling techniques to a spice-blending seminar where you’ll blend your own seasoning.

Luxury

Of course, there are plenty of dude ranches in Colorado, but only one is a member of the upscale Relais & Chateaux. The Home Ranch in Steamboat Springs has all the amenities of a five-star property, but you still have the chance to disconnect and really get immersed in the great outdoors within the scenic Elk River Valley. There are no TVs or phones in the cabins (but there is wi-fi for those who like to have the option of staying connected). It’s a ranch, but it has some of the best horseback riding through the Montana wilderness. If you want the real cowboy experience, the resort’s Saddle Club offers activities like wrangling and cattle roping.

About 27 miles from Buenos Aires is one of the largest estancias in all of Argentina and one of the most visually arresting. La Concepcion is actually a French-style mansion sitting on 200 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds (it even has a neo-Gothic chapel on site), but it’s also a working dairy and cattle farm. Along with more highbrow activities like polo and carriage rides, you can participate in agro-tours and horseback riding along the Salt River.

year-round destination, you can go for activities like horseback riding, fly-fishing and cross-country skiing, but the real attraction here is the gourmet, seasonal cuisine that’s included in the rate. One of the best times to visit Colorado is in the shoulder season, after the summer rush and before winter, so head there in mid- to late September, when the aspen trees turn gold and the crowds have dissipated.

Located on 540 acres near the Routt National Forest in Colorado, Vista Verde is a small (only 10 guests at a time), upscale ranch where the highlight is horseback riding and skiing, but it also caters to those who want more than outdoor activities. We’re talking wine tasting, hands-on cooking classes, nature hikes and photography tours, not to mention three-course, wine-paired dinners by candle-light.

The folks at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, pretty much coined the term ‘glamping’ which combines the fun of camping and ranch life with the more luxurious comforts of home. This isn’t a working ranch, but it has some of the best horseback riding through the Montana wilderness. And if you want the real cowboy experience, the resort’s Saddle Club offers activities like wrangling and cattle roping.

About 27 miles from Buenos Aires is one of the largest estancias in all of Argentina and one of the most visually arresting. La Concepcion is actually a French-style mansion sitting on 200 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds (it even has a neo-Gothic chapel on site), but it’s also a working dairy and cattle farm. Along with more highbrow activities like polo and carriage rides, you can participate in agro-tours and horseback riding along the Salt River.

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