Top 10 Dude Ranch Vacations

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Hunewill Ranch

Horseback riding, gorgeous scenery, downtime and tasty meals are all part of a dude ranch vacation. There are no TVs, phones or other distractions at most ranches, but ah heck, you won't miss them anyway. You'll be too busy having fun. Horseback riding, gorgeous scenery, downtime and tasty meals are all part of a dude ranch vacation. There are no TVs, phones or other distractions at most ranches, but ah heck, you won't miss them anyway. You'll be too busy having fun.

Ranches vary in style, size and amenities, but generally fall into one of three categories: dude ranches, which focus on riding; working cattle ranches, where guests work alongside ranch hands; and resort dude ranches, which offer an array of upscale amenities in addition to riding. Dude ranches can be found all over the U.S. and Canada; most are in the west. The Dude Ranchers Association lists more than 100 member ranches, but here are some of our favorites:

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Top 10 Dude Ranch Vacations

Founded in 1879, Eaton's Ranch claims to be the oldest dude ranch in the country — with a record like that, it must be doing something right. The 7,000-acre Wyoming ranch boasts miles of riding trails. The ranch accommodates 125 guests who stay in historic cabins in a wide range of sizes. Wranglers match each guest with one of the ranch's more than 200 horses, making sure the horse fits that rider's abilities. The most unique aspect of Eaton's Ranch is that it allows guests to ride out on their own (after a day or two to get used to the horse), rather than restricting riding to a trot or nose-to-tail trail riding. This offers riders an incredible sense of freedom and exploration.

Located in a quiet corner of Colorado's Western Slope, Crawford's Smith Fork Ranch is a small upscale ranch with a strong focus on organic, local cuisine. The ranch takes a farm-to-table approach. They have a huge garden, where they grow their own herbs and vegetables, and purchase meat and fruit from the local region, known as Colorado's Fruit Belt. The ranch has an on-site sommelier and a stellar wine cellar with some 250 selections. The luxury cabins at Smith Fork Ranch provide just the right mix of luxury, comfort and western flair.

Many dude ranches are located in mountains or valleys, but the White Stallion Ranch enjoys a rare setting on 3,000 acres of undisturbed Sonoran desert adjacent to the Saguaro National Park near Tucson. The riding program uses trails in the park, as well as throughout the ranch. Guests stay in Adobe casitas. There is no separate children's program, as the ranch emphasizes family together-time. White Stallion Ranch recently installed a solar system which generates 40 percent of the ranch's electricity.

The Echo Valley Ranch & Spa offers western luxury with a Thai twist. Located in the remote Cariboo Region of British Columbia some five hours from Vancouver, the upscale ranch caters to those seeking tranquility, horseback riding and a full-scale spa. The ranch itself is unexpected — tidy cabins stand next to exotic Thai structures in a pristine valley. Owners Norm and Nan Dove wanted to provide guests with a western experience and a luxurious spa. Nan, who hails from Thailand, created Baan Thai Spa to combine both worlds. In addition to western treatments, the spa specializes in Thai treatments. Echo Valley is an adult-oriented destination; minimum guest age is 13.

Located in the northwest corner of Arkansas, the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch enjoys a unique setting in the southern part of the country and a wealth of natural amenities. The ranch is surrounded by sandstone bluffs and has become a popular climbing destination offering some 300 climbing routes on the property. Other outdoor activities include zip lining and canoeing on the Buffalo River. The ranch offers all the basics of a western vacation, including riding programs, cookouts, and wagon rides. Horseshoe Canyon is more affordable than some ranches, making it attractive for families. Rates start at $189 a person per night, while most ranches average around $300 a person per night.

This California ranch is located just east of Yosemite National Park in the green Bridgeport Valley. Horseback riding is a featured activity, and trails run through some 26,000 acres of lush meadows. Guests stay in cottages at Hunewill Guest Ranch, and home-style meals are served in the Victorian ranch house. The ranch is home to some 1,200 head of cattle, and several cattle drive events take place throughout the year. Other highlighted activities include world-class trout fishing, barbecues and family dance night.

The Lazy E-L is not a dude ranch, but rather a working cattle ranch. Guests, who stay in one of three historic cabins, are provided a horse and spend the day working cattle with the rest of the ranch hands. This ranch is popular with those who truly love riding. While the ranch has turned beginners into good riders, it's best to have some riding experience before you go. With only 8 to 12 guests at a time, the Lazy E-L provides an intimate ranch experience. The location is spectacular: It's only a 30-mile ride to Yellowstone Park, although it takes 1.5 hours to drive to the Northeast entrance. The ranch has five miles of private access to West Rosebud River, where guests enjoy Blue Ribbon fishing.

Like most of our favorite ranches, North Fork Ranch is known for its excellent cuisine, comfortable cabins and top-notch riding program. But what really sets this Colorado ranch apart is its excellent fishing. With an enviable location on a two-mile stretch of the South Platte River, guests simply step outside to catch trophy rainbow, brown and steelhead trout. Professional guides are available to offer expert tips. Ranch owners Dean and Karen May have been serving guests for 26 years, and their success shows in the number of guests who come back year after year.

If the whole family enjoys horseback riding, the all-inclusive Red Horse Mountain Ranch is the place to go. The ranch allows children ages 3 and up to ride, something unique in the industry. The popular children's program is packed with trail rides, riding lessons and other fun activities, including a climbing wall and two zip lines. Special adults-only weeks are available for a romantic vacation or a "girls' getaway."

Located high in the Colorado Rockies, Tumbling River Ranch is a family favorite. The ranch focuses on kids and teens, offering a well-coordinated children's program that includes trained counselors, riding, swimming, fishing, hay rides and even campouts. Kids younger than age 6 ride ponies, while older kids can hit the trails. For teens, there's rock climbing, rafting, fly fishing and overnight pack trips. And while the kids are off having fun, parents can relax in well-appointed cabins, sit by the pool or enjoy a massage. Popular family activities include the square dance, family rodeos, and nightly live entertainment.


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