Top 9 dude ranch escapes

Unplug your smartphone and reconnect to the backcountry at our favorite dude ranch spots

Western dude ranches

Unplug, take the reins, and get back to basics in Big Sky Country at one of the many inviting ranches.

Brown Cannon III/Intersection

Mountain Sky Lodge

Mountain Sky's lodge is fit for royalty--and you.

Brown Cannon III/Intersection

Triple J Ranch

Triple J Ranch in Augusta will make a cowboy out of anyone.

Donnie Sexton

Seven Lazy P Ranch

At Seven Lazy P Ranch, dudes can kick back in the lodge while true pioneers opt for a five-day pack trip.

Donnie Sexton

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Emigrant, MT. Sprawling across 8,000 pine-studded acres just north of Yellowstone, Mountain Sky began hosting dudes in 1929. But its glam status derives from current owner Arthur Blank, cofounder of the Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons. He made it his goal to push Mountain Sky into the upper echelon of guest ranches anywhere in the world. He succeeded. Moutain Sky is one of those rare places that looks better in real life than on its website. The timbered main lodge could be home to an Old West cattle baron; guest cabins manage to be cute, rustic, and luxurious all at once. In terms of food, think Montana meets 16th arrondissement, with huckleberry pancakes vying for stomach space. Outdoor activites run the gamut. Beginning horse people can take the easy ride to a cluster of pioneer homesteads, experts the tougher trail to Crater Lake. There's excellent fly-fishing, hiking, and poolside yoga. In summer, about 85 percent of guests bring kids, so the children's program lets kids and parents happily part ways during the day, then reunite at meal times.There's something else about Mountain Sky that is harder to put into words, except to say that you quickly feel at home here. This has a lot to do with the employees, who are uniquely gifted at encouragement. In the end, Mountain Sky is what heaven would be like, assuming heaven has world-class scenery, phenomenal horseback riding, and superb food. From $3,365/person/week through Aug 27; $350/night (3-night min.) Aug 28-Oct 23; mountainsky.com

Triple J Wilderness Ranch, Augusta, MT. Triple J is the kind of off-the-charts charmer where you won't feel like one of the gang unless you're sporting your Stetson and biggest belt buckle. The stunning qualities of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front are just timeless. I experienced a heart-stopping, hills-are-alive moment at the top of Wedding Point, with craggy peaks and Gibson Lake showing off before me. After a day of clip-clopping along the glacier lily-dotted trails on the back of Rebel, I felt a world away from my desk job. A day on the trails or casting for trout is best followed by a hearty meal in the main lodge. It's tasty, stick-to-your-bones fare: blueberry pancakes with Montana boysenberry syrup; fried chicken; roast beef and mashed potatoes; and bottomless fresh lemonade. Triple J has everything an aspiring cowboy could long for: campfires, cookouts, rawhide roping, even crooning cameos from local poet/singer Mike Morris. Or, vacationers who prefer to leave aspirations to their workday lives can simply sink into the swing with Maddie the mountain dog, and soak up the scenery. 4-to-6-day stays from $1,300/person through Oct 5; triplejranch.com

Seven Lazy P, Choteau, MT. We have, at times, despaired about the Ted Turners and David Lettermans of the world buying up Montana's pristine parcels. But one visit to Seven Lazy P, and you know with assurance that the old-school, family-run ranch is alive and well. Chuck and Sharon Blixrud have been here since the 1950's--poster parents for the mom-and-pop ranch. Seven Lazy P is refreshingly no-frills. Log cabins are comfortably simple, and guest numbers are limited to fewer than 20, so dinner at the lodge's communal table feels like a family affair.There's great riding, of course, but the North Fork of the Teton River is within easy walking distance. Best of all are the pioneer-style summer pack trips ($300/person/day; 5-day min.), where a small group heads out with wranglers and a cook for a backcountry trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. From $1,600/person/week through Sep 30; sevenlazyp.com

Pine Butte Guest Ranch, Choteau, MT. It's best to think of Pine Butte as a revolutionary hybird: part classic dude ranch, part progressive eco-lodge, part learning vacation, and part good cause. The requisite ranch elements are here: wranglers and horses, trail rides in dazzling mountain scenery, a cozy lodge and log cabins. At Pine Butte, hiking rivals riding, and a resident naturalist leads guided treks so your adventures could be, say, identifying tracks, stalking rare wild orchids, or foraging for mushrooms. Throw in evening wildlife watches and Pine Butte becomes a real-life Discovery Channel. Thankfully the ranch is walking the trail on the eco front, with wind and solar power, a recycling program, and food grown on-site or sourced from local farms. But don't think this means any sacrifice in luxury. The 10 cabins are flat-out plush, with handmade furniture, fine linens, and toasty space heaters. And the food? This is the first ranch we've been to with a dinner of fresh and spicy pad Thai, paired with a fine white wine. From $1,800/person/week through Sep 26; pinebutteguestranch.com

 

The Wild Horse Sanctuary, Shingletown, CA. This isn't your typical dude ranch--it's a wild mustang ranch! Hundreds of wild horses roam 5,000 protected acres in the foothills of Mt. Lassen, and summer overnight rides help support the ranch. Catch glimpses of the herds on an all-day trail ride up to camp at Vernal Lake, where cute cabins, a hot shower, and the cookhouse await. Starry nights by the campfire are made for storytelling and s'mores. 2-to-3-day rides from $435/person; wildhorsesanctuary.org

Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, Solvang, CA. Proof that you don't have to head to the Rockies to find a ranch with cowboy cred: This 10,500-acre Santa Barbara County spread will saddle you up for breakfast rides ($75), hay-wagon dinner rides, and even a rodeo if you're feeling brave. Still, this is the Santa Ynez Valley--if your muscles get too sore, take a breather and do some winery touring. From $495; 2-night min.; alisal.com

Eatons' Ranch, Wolf, WY. In the 1880's it was Howard Eaton who came up with the idea of luring Eastern-ers west to spend vacations pretending to be cowboys. So Eatons' is both a genuine historic landmark and a terrific place to spend a summer week. Cabins are simple but comfortable, the ranch setting is stunning, and Sheridan is one of the most appealing small towns in the West. From $210/person/night; 3-night min.; eatonsranch.com

Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, AZ. Tanque Verde opened as a working ranch smack-dab in the Rincon Mountains in 1868, but turn-of-the-century ranchers would puzzle over today's incarnation. Guests get a taste of Old West during trail rides, then hop out of the saddle for such modern comforts as hot stone massages, or blueberry pancake cookouts and happy hours with homemade prickly-pear margaritas. From $165/person/night May-Oct; tanqueverderanch.com

Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch, Near Tucson, AZ. History buffs, beware: You may never want to leave this ranch. The adobe hacienda survived an attack from Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution, and guests can touch a Mexican cannonball pried from the walls for the main buidling. Ranch chefs honor the place's historic roots with fusion fare, and beer is served all day. Don't want to ride horses? Try the Hacienda Rate (from $225/person/night; 2-night min.) for a high Sonoran weekend of hiking, biking, and bird-watching. From $300/person/night; 2-night min.; ranchodelaosa.com

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