The best life-changing dude ranch experiences in the US

With the fifth and final season of the wildly popular Yellowstone (a Paramount Network series about a cattle-ranching family in the American West) airing in November 2024, interest in the American cowboy experience is set to get a fresh bump. With experiences as varied as cattle mustering, horseback riding, fly fishing and even dabbling in some art and well-being activities, it makes sense that these all-inclusive holidays in some of America’s most stunning landscapes are so appealing. 

Whether you’re going to channel the rancher aesthetic or you genuinely want to learn the homesteading ropes, here are the best spots to make your cowboy (girl) dreams a reality.

Three people on an autumn horseback ride at the Ranch at Rock Creek
Equestrians have some 6600 acres to roam at the Ranch at Rock Creek © The Ranch at Rock Creek

1. Montana: The Ranch at Rock Creek  

Best for a luxury cowboy experience

Located 20 miles outside of Philipsburg in western Montana, midway between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, The Ranch at Rock Creek is perhaps the standard bearer of the luxe ranch experience. The 6600-acre all-inclusive Relais & Châteaux property was homesteaded back in the early 1900s, but it opened to guests a decade ago. It now hosts up to 75 people at a time or horseback trail riding and roping lessons, alongside 21st-century upgrades like private yoga classes and wilderness-inspired spa treatments. There’s also hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, plus fly fishing along four miles of Blue Ribbon–designated waters. The quarters are cushy, the dining is fine-yet-casual, and the quiet, remote grounds provide a true escape from the city grind.

Planning tip: The Ranch at Rock Creek is also known for special events like the Memorial Day Weekend rodeo, Autumn Harvest Weekend and the Whiskey & Water Weekend. Book ahead if you want to stay for one of these events. 

Man carrying gear along river fly fishing in Wyoming USA
River fly fishing is a big part of the all-inclusive dude ranch experience © crotography/ Getty Images

2. Wyoming: Paintrock Canyon Ranch

Best for safari-tent style sleeps and multi-day pack trips

Nestled in the scenic Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, Paintrock Canyon Ranch offers an unforgettable guest experience on an 80,000-acre range that extends toward Cloud Peak. The ranch is known for its breathtaking landscapes, with towering cliffs, springs and meadows. Guests engage in a variety of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, fly fishing (this is a good spot for trout), backcountry hiking and wildlife viewing, with bobcat, elk, mule and whitetail deer all roaming freely. At the nearby Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, you’ll see the 2000-year-old Native American petroglyphs. The creekside safari tents, furnished with full-sized beds, bedside tables, dressers and chairs, are rustic yet comfortable.  And for more experienced horse riders, there is also the option of going on a multi-day pack trip, camping alongside the horses at mountain camps. 

The exterior of the Lodge at Blue Sky in summer
Utah’s Lodge at Blue Sky offers a modern interpretation of Western adventure © The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection

3. Utah: The Lodge at Blue Sky

Best for modern ranching with a spa

Another upscale option, The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection is a 3500-acre private ranch in Utah’s Wasatch Range, just 25 minutes from Park City and a 40-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport. With 46 rooms and suites looking out on a stunning backdrop of peaks and greenery, it has a roster of cowboy-oriented activities like Vaquero horsemanship lessons, sunset trail rides, and working cattle. There is also fly fishing, clay shooting, and stand-up paddle boarding on a mirror-like lake. The property offers an experience described as a “modern interpretation of Western adventure.”

For equine lovers, there’s an on-site sanctuary devoted to rescue horses, and for spa-goers, a cliff-side facility boasts open-air pools, aerial yoga and guided meditation. Tipplers will also approve of the on-site distillery: The Lodge at Blue Sky is home to High West, making small-batch whiskey.

Local tip: As well as eagles and peregrine falcons, the Wasatch Mountains are home to song sparrows, yellow warblers and broad-tail hummingbirds. 

4. Colorado: Zapata Ranch

Best for learning holistic herding

Owned by the Nature Conservancy and run by Ranchlands, Colorado’s 103,000-acre Zapata Ranch is home to a herd some 2000 bison strong, comprising both cattle and free-roaming wild animals alike. Guests can participate in the day-to-day operations, like moving livestock and learning about holistic management. Sign up for activities like guided rides through nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park, or visit during a themed week to help brand calves, participate in equestrian clinics for all skill levels, or learn to paint horses under the tutelage of accomplished artists.

The 17-bedroom lodge sits on the site of the original late 19th-century homestead, with quarters decorated with southwestern flair, and the meals are served family-style, with local produce and cuts of meat from the ranch’s own bison rounding out the menu. 

Planning tip: This is the final year for ranch stays at this Colorado location, with a future vision to create a place for cultural connection, learning and resource protection alongside meaningful engagement with Tribal Nations, Indigenous Peoples, and the San Luis Valley’s historic Latino and local diverse communities.

A group of people on horseback, framed by cacti, on an evening trail ride at Tanque Verde Ranch
At Tanque Verde Ranch, guided trail rides are available almost any time of day © Courtesy of Tanque Verde Ranch / Buffalo Media Group MN

5. Arizona: Tanque Verde Ranch

Best for entry-level equestrians plus desert botanicals

Twenty miles east of Tucson, in the shadow of the Rincon Mountains, Arizona’s Tanque Verde Ranch has grown by leaps and bounds since its founder put down roots in the valley in 1868. Today, the ranch borders Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest and spans 640 acres, with an additional 60,000 leased from the US Forest Service for its cattle.

Its stables house more than 150 horses, and guides lead rides along the property’s miles of trails at breakfast and lunch, sunrise and sunset; horsemanship lessons are available for beginners and intermediates, and daily camps and programs teach kids the basics. Equines aside, activities include archery, yoga, fishing, and mountain biking, as well as less-expected offerings like watercolor workshops and classes on the nutritional and medicinal properties of desert botanicals. 

This article was first published Aug 17, 2020 and updated Jun 25, 2024.

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