The pinnacle of my pre-adolescent travel career was a weeklong visit to a rustic dude ranch in Wyoming’s high country. Years later, most of the details are fuzzy, but two distinct memories remain: riding horseback along a bubbling, sun-dappled creekside and perching at the edge of the stables on a warm afternoon, watching the ranch hands go about their business.
I realize today how fortunate I am to have those childhood memories. My dude ranch experience was unquestionably the vacation of my childhood; a similar vacation may well be the most memorable getaway of your adult life.
After setting out a rough budget and researching options that fall more or less within it, use these pre-vacation savings tricks to get the ball rolling. Since popular ranches and resorts take high-season reservations a year or more out and book up quickly, you’ll want to reserve your spot as soon as you’ve saved enough to make the booking deposit – typically 25% to 50% of the total lodging rate. Consider paying by cash or check; some properties pass credit card processing fees of up to 3% on to customers, potentially adding hundreds to the final bill.
Can you see yourself at any of these top-rated U.S. guest ranches?
Top Dude Ranches in the USA: Best Luxury Vacations
These dude ranches and ranch-style resorts are best described as “luxurious.” You can still rough it in these locales if you wish, but it’s by no means expected or required.
Since pricing is subject to change by property, season, and demand, nightly or weekly rates aren’t included below. However, guests should expect to pay at least $400 per person, per night, at any time of year, and significantly more during the high season, which typically stretches from June through September. Mind minimum stay requirements too; four nights is typical during the off-season, and many resorts require six- or seven-night stays during the high season.
1. Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming
Sprawling across tens of thousands of acres and a seemingly endless variety of landscapes in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Wyoming, the Brush Creek Ranch Luxury Collection encompasses three stunning properties:
- Brush Creek Ranch Lodge & Spa. This 30,000-acre spread is not your typical working ranch. Luxurious finishes and uncommon privacy unite the 33 individual units, which range from cozy two-person cabin and lodge rooms to four-person cabin suites. Although horseback riding is not the main attraction here, the property’s 55 miles of single- and double-track trails will keep even the most committed riders busy. Choose from guided rides, cattle drives, barrel racing lessons, pole bending, and classic equestrian-style riding. Non-horseback activities include yoga hikes, fly and float fishing, and ATV excursions. Most activities are included in the nightly per-person rate, but some – such as overnight glamping excursions – may require an additional fee.
- French Creek Sportsmen’s Club. The French Creek Sportsmen’s Club is an exclusive enclave that gives new meaning to the term “sportsman’s paradise.” The place has room for just 12 guests in four creekside cabins oriented around a clubhouse with a stocked bar, big-screen TV, and spacious outdoor fire pit, making it a perfect retreat for a luxurious destination bachelor party. But most guests devote their time here to exploring the 15,000 acres of expertly managed wilderness and 22 linear miles of fishing territory on three creeks. On land, choose from driven bird hunts, big game hunts, and waterfowl hunts, or try your hand at a variety of non-game shooting sports.
- Magee Homestead. Magee Homestead is Brush Creek’s answer to an all-inclusive, adults-only destination resort – one that’s more than worthy to stand up against the planet’s top tropical honeymoon destinations. World-class dining and spa treatments are par for the course here, but what sets Magee apart are opportunities to rub shoulders with elite culinary talents such as winemakers Alex Gambal and Jesse Katz at multi-day, guest-only events.
Summer 2019 marks the debut of The Farm at Brush Creek Ranch, an ambitious homage to farm-to-table cuisine and artisanal refreshments. Its centerpiece restaurant, The Cheyenne Club, features Wagyu beef raised on site, a rare delicacy that alone may be worth the trip. Other Farm components include a craft brewery, craft distillery, bakery, creamery, a vast greenhouse that makes the most of the region’s harsh climate, and a 94-yard wine cellar featuring some of the world’s rarest vintages.
2. The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
As the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide five-star guest ranch, The Ranch at Rock Creek may be first among equals at the top of the luxury dude ranch list.
Despite its comparatively meager 6,600 acres, the Ranch at Rock Creek boasts an endless assortment of traditional rustic ranch activities, including guided horseback rides, fly fishing excursions, hikes, shooting sports, wildlife viewing tours, and rodeos. It has plenty of non-traditional offerings too, including yoga, ropes course, geocaching, and mountain biking.
Virtually none of these on-resort activities carry any out-of-pocket cost, thanks to the property’s expansive all-inclusive policy. You’ll only pay extra for treatments at the Granite Spa and select off-ranch excursions, such as helicopter tours, guided ATV rides, whitewater rafting, and kid-friendly sapphire mining adventures. Unlimited drinks, dining, on-resort entertainment, and airport transfers are included in the nightly charge; the 20% ranch fee covers state tax, staff gratuities, and extras such as Wi-Fi and in-room refreshments.
3. Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, Colorado
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa bills itself as “The Colorado Experience” – which, if you’re familiar with Colorado, you’ll know is quite the boast.
There’s certainly enough here to make an unforgettable vacation. Choose from a la carte on- and off-ranch activities – many of which are included in the Ranch Relax & Play Getaway package – such as:
- Three-season zip line tours
- A variety of horseback riding options, from quick out-and-back family rides to all-day adventures
- A slew of winter activities, such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking
- Fly fishing
- Stand up paddleboarding
- Mountain biking
Roughly 90 minutes from downtown Denver on a good day and an even two hours from bustling Denver International Airport, Devil’s Thumb isn’t tough to reach, weather permitting. If you have a couple of extra days, check out our guide to fun and cheap things to do in Denver and add a dash of cosmopolitan flair to your Colorado Rockies ranch vacation.
4. Triple Creek Ranch, Montana
Part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hospitality network, Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch is an all-inclusive ranch resort tucked away in the thickly forested Bitterroot Mountains. The main lodge and its environs feature a tennis court, heated pool, dry sauna, fitness center, and disc golf course. Golf carts appear outside farther-flung cabins once the snow melts, offering easy access around paved portions of the property.
Triple Creek Ranch’s all-inclusive package is generous, even by luxury ranch standards. You’ll only pay extra for off-ranch activities outfitted by third parties (think destination fly fishing and high-country excursions), premium beverages, laundry, and airport transfers. Everything else – including potentially pricey activities such as Alpine skiing, guided nature safaris, on-ranch fly fishing, sapphire panning, and guided mountain or snow-biking excursions – is included in your nightly rate.
5. Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico
Vermejo Park Ranch is the largest and most luxurious of the four eco-friendly Ted Turner Reserves. The media mogul’s crown jewel sprawls across 550,000 private acres in the mountains of northern New Mexico, stretching from grassy bottomlands to alpine highlands that only briefly lose their snowcaps in summer.
With 19 fishable lakes and 30 miles of crystal-clear streams comprising the better portion of the Rio Grande’s headwaters, Vermejo is an angler’s paradise. It’s not bad for experienced hikers, either; if you’re an avid summiteer, come in June for the annual “4 Peaks in 5 Days” tour, a grueling guided hike covering some of the southern Rockies’ most beautiful terrain. For a gentler wilderness experience, opt for a signature nature photography tour. “Babes and Blooms,” for instance, is an unforgettable menagerie of tender wildflowers and newborn big game, all captured in their natural elements.
6. Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, California
The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort sits on 10,000 prime acres in southern California’s gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, about three hours west of Los Angeles, traffic permitting. It’s undoubtedly the most temperate luxury ranch destination on this list; you can play the resort’s two championship golf courses, including one exclusively for guests and club members, year-round. Alisal is also one of the most genteel; for male guests, dinner is a no-jeans, jackets-on affair.
The quality of the food more than makes up for the inconvenient location. Even among gourmet ranch experiences, Alisal stands out for its thoughtfulness and attention to detail, and the periodic BBQ Bootcamp package is a treat for serious outdoor cooks. Another only-in-California perk: complimentary guest tastings at nearby wineries.
7. The Home Ranch, Colorado
Back to the alpine zone we go – or, technically, just below it in a stunning high-country valley near Steamboat Springs. Blending the luxury of Relais & Chateaux affiliation with the familiarity of a family-friendly dude ranch, The Home Ranch is a great place to leave the kids in good hands and enjoy some couples time.
The comprehensive children’s program includes horseback riding, pond and fly fishing, mountain biking, and nature hikes. For the adults, on-ranch activities include hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, yoga, and pool swimming. Off-ranch activities not covered by the all-inclusive nightly rate include road cycling, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.
Also worth noting: Despite harsh high country weather, much of The Home Ranch’s fare is grown or sourced on site or nearby, thanks to the ranch’s startlingly productive farm and close, decades-long relationships with local producers.
8. Dunton Hot Springs & Dunton River Camp, Colorado
At Dunton Hot Springs, the eponymous water feature, now tamed in an old-school bathhouse-type spa, is the main attraction. Unlike most of the luxury ranches on this list, Dunton Hot Springs wasn’t built from the ground up. Rather, it’s a meticulously restored old ghost town; there’s silver, gold, and other precious metals galore in these hills, and charm flows as readily as the springs.
At Dunton River Camp, the serene sounds of a bubbling creek meld with a calming forest-and-field backdrop and stunning peak views. With just eight luxury tents on 500 secluded acres stocked with resort-grade creature comforts, Dunton River Camp is your classic glamping destination – a quiet slice of nature that’s just the right amount of natural.
Even among high Rockies ranches, Dunton stands out as a true four-season destination. The staggering summer activity menu is just the start; a full slate of cold-season activities, from Nordic skiing and snowshoeing to world-class downhill skiing and riding at nearby Telluride, beckon winter visitors.
One drawback: Many activities included in comparable guest ranches’ base rates are priced a la carte here, meaning busy visitors can rack up quite the activity tab. Some outings, such as guided mountain hikes at $170 per person for a half-day and $200 per person for a full day, seem downright overpriced.
9. Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado
Three hours north of Dunton on a series of white-knuckle mountain roads, Smith Fork Ranch delivers an altogether different brand of luxury – all-inclusive, family-friendly rusticity that emphasizes environmental stewardship and sustainability over pulse-pounding adventure.
Not that there isn’t plenty to get the blood pumping here. Guests enjoy standard on-ranch activities such as fly fishing, sporting clays, archery, and horseback riding, all included in the base rate. Signature off-ranch activities, which typically cost extra, include paddleboarding and whitewater rafting on the legendary Gunnison River, forays into Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, and tours of nearby wineries and orchards (the Western Slope is an underappreciated fruit-producing region).
10. The Resort at Paws Up, Montana
If its marketing team is to be believed, The Resort at Paws Up invented glamping. True or not, one night here should dispel any lingering doubt about its upscale camping bona fides. This 37,000-acre resort’s stunning montane environs are surpassed only by its attention to detail after luxurious detail – attention all the more impressive for the 275-guest resort’s unusual spaciousness. Each camp, for instance, has a dedicated camping butler – essentially, its own concierge – and camp chef.
Paws Up has wood-walled accommodations too, and they’re impressive. If you can’t decide between a luxe tent and a luxe house, opt for the “ultimate week-long vacation at Paws Up”: four nights in a home and three nights in a tent. Just be prepared to pay out of pocket for activities considered core at most all-inclusive guest ranches, such as horseback riding and on-ranch fly fishing.
Top Dude Ranches in the USA: Best Affordable Stays
Although they all have modern conveniences such as running water and guest telephones, these dude ranches are a bit rougher around the edges than their luxury counterparts. Pricing reflects their relative modesty; during the off-season, some of these properties offer nightly rates well under $200 per person, subject to minimum stay requirements and supplemental pricing for items such as alcoholic beverages or signature activities.
11. Tanque Verde Ranch, Arizona
Sprawling across more than 60,000 acres just beyond Tucson’s eastern city limit, Tanque Verde Ranch may be the most accessible dude ranch destination on this list. Despite the encroaching urbanity, Tanque Verde somehow manages to maintain the semi-rustic vibe that’s kept families coming back for decades, at a price point that fastidious families can afford.
Its parched surroundings and lack of TVs aren’t all that differentiate Tanque Verde from more luxe high-country guest ranches. Even compared with upscale family resorts, this place has an inclusive, accessible vibe that speaks to guests looking to revel in Arizona’s famed Sonoran hospitality and maybe make new friends in the process.
Don’t worry; if things begin to feel too familiar, the entrance to the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park is literally across the street. Talk about an escape.
12. C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado
Don’t let the head-scratcher of a name fool you. C Lazy U Ranch is an old-school guest ranch with a well-deserved reputation for family-friendly fun.
If five-star luxury is your thing, C Lazy U isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for an expertly curated dude ranch experience featuring a full slate of traditional activities, fantastic Western-style fare, and an excellent kids’ program that offers invaluable peace of mind when you’re out on the trail, this place should be on your shortlist.
Not that C Lazy U hasn’t kept up with the times. Suspended over a mountain stream, the Lazy You spa blends the sort of first-rate service city slickers expect with only-in-Colorado novelty treatments such as the Cowboy Soak, an after-dark copper tub bath complete with champagne and strawberries.
13. Red Rock Ranch, Wyoming
Nestled in the impossibly picturesque Gros Ventre Valley less than an hour northeast of Jackson Hole, Red Rock Ranch ticks all the rustic dude ranch boxes. Sweeping vistas? Check. Miles of single-track trails? Check. Grizzled ranch hands? Check. Classic, locally sourced Western fare that tastes way better than it should after a long day on the trail? A robust kids’ program? Check and check.
What Red Rock doesn’t have is many frills. Here, “luxury” is a cushioned seat, cold beverage, and juicy steak – and only after you’ve worked the day for it. The modern pool is the only communal amenity that would look out of place in the Old West; even the ranch’s self-proclaimed “highlight of the week,” a square dance, is old-school.
14. A Bar A Ranch, Wyoming
In continuous operation since 1922, A Bar A Ranch is another old-school guest ranch where rustic charm is the point, not something to be paid lip service.
A Bar A covers nearly 100,000 acres of pristine southern Wyoming wilderness, making it one of the country’s largest guest ranches; it’s about half of New York City’s land area, with much fewer occupants. It’s open June through September only, making no effort to phone in cold-season activities. And it’s one of a shrinking number of American guest ranches where experienced guests can ride horseback without guides – though this distinction is probably one unfortunate mishap from going the way of the telegraph.
A Bar A isn’t totally off the grid. Decidedly non-rustic amenities include a shooting sports program, heated pool, nine-hole golf course, and tennis courts. It’s also fairly unique among fellow old-school dude ranches for the quantity of commissioned sculptures on its grounds, courtesy of the late owner.
15. Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Montana
A quick drive from Yellowstone National Park’s north gate, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch boasts uncommonly beautiful surroundings, even by the high standards of the guest ranches on this list. Guided Yellowstone excursions are a major draw here. Though they’re not included in the base tariff, they’re cheaper than a return trip to this remote corner of the American West – that is, if you can tear yourself away from the ranch grounds.
Along with standard on-ranch fare such as horseback riding, fly fishing instruction, yoga, massage, and traditional Western fare brimming with locally sourced ingredients, Mountain Sky is notable for a guests-only, 18-hole golf course that happens to be the first Montana course certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International. If you must golf in the shadow of the Yellowstone caldera, you must manage your environmental impact.
16. The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, Wyoming
The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch sprawls across 150,000 acres of pristine northern Wyoming grassland, badlands, and forest. Thanks to its proximity to the Bighorn National Forest, its backyard is even larger – some 650,000 acres.
Despite all that space, The Hideout has capacity for just 25 riding guests, give or take. It’s far more intimate than most of the other ranches on this list, and with a multi-generational wrangler crew, there’s a distinct “extended family” vibe here. Generosity is part of the Hideout ethos; most activities are included in the base rate, with rodeo night excursions to nearby Cody the notable exception.
One drawback: The Hideout has no formal children’s program, a bummer for parents looking for space.
17. White Stallion Ranch, Arizona
White Stallion Ranch may offer the best value on this list – temporarily, at least, thanks to a management change and a rolling “experiment” to test new programs and activities. There’s definitely an effort to balance loyalty to tradition with appealing to younger visitors; White Stallion is more like an amenity-rich desert resort with horses than a guest ranch that happens to have a pool and fitness center.
For families with small kids, the petting zoo is a nice touch. And like Tanque Verde, White Stallion buts up against Saguaro National Park, offering even more natural space to spread out. You can also check out our guide to fun and cheap things to do in Tucson and add a couple days to your stay off-ranch.
18. Triangle X Ranch, Wyoming
Many dude ranches abut protected lands such as national parks or forests, but Triangle X Ranch is the only guest ranch located inside a national park, thanks to an age-old concession agreement with the National Park Service.
Beyond bragging rights, Triangle X’s unusual location affords guests unparalleled views of the immediately recognizable Teton range – a worthy backdrop for first-time riders and experienced wranglers alike. Not surprisingly, off-ranch activities are big here. Triangle X’s National Park Float Trips is an authorized NPS vendor, meaning it has nearly free reign on the pristine upper Snake River. The evening dinner float is not to be missed after a tough day on the trail.
These are some of the most luxurious guest ranches in the United States, along with some of the oldest and most venerated. You’ll have a hard time going wrong with any of the choices here.
And this list is by no means the last word on the U.S. dude ranch experience. The country’s western third boasts dozens and dozens of upscale and not-so-upscale guest ranches, some with working cattle operations and others fully given over to tourists. No two are quite alike; all have something to offer adventurous solo guests, couples, and families looking to break the daily routine for a while.
What’s your favorite dude ranch in the United States? What do you like about it?