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5 Dude Ranches Worthy of Your Riding Boots

Seeking a bucket list girls’ trip? Have you looked into dude ranches? From horseback riding and roping lessons to mountain biking and fly-fishing, the ultimate playground awaits out West.

But the ranches in our roundup don’t stop there. These spots also have gourmet dining, off-site adventures (snow skiing, anyone?), and spas that are vacation draws in their own right. There’s no shortage of big sky, stars at night, and wildlife — you could even see a moose trot through your front yard!

Best Dude Ranches

Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa

Where: Gateway, Colorado

Ranch Redux: Located in a teeny town 3 miles from the Utah border, this outdoor playground has five restaurants, a helipad with air tours, an adventure center, an auto museum, driving experiences (book a guided driving tour or rent a car from the resort’s fleet of Bentleys and Mustangs), two swimming pools, and a spa. The ranch has horseback riding, cattle drives, skeet shooting, and roping lessons for those looking to tap into their inner cowgirl.

Must-Do: Channel Annie Oakley with a sport-shooting lesson from instructor and Army veteran Steve Dow, or explore the region (and dinosaur tracks in the area) with a guided tour led by Curator of Curiosity Zebulon Miracle. Learn about the region’s former mining days and visit the Hanging Flume, a 12-mile-long open water chute built in the 1880s for gold mining.

Best Dude Ranches - The Ranch at Rock Creek

The Ranch at Rock Creek

Where: Phillipsburg, Montana

Ranch Redux: Formerly a booming sapphire- and silver-mining town, the ranch has a range of activities, from stagecoach rides, geo-caching, and fly-fishing, to pistol shooting, yoga (snow yoga in winter), and wildlife watching (you can see wolves, coyote, deer, elk, and big horn sheep). Bikini Beach, a popular swimming spot with picnic tables and a gazebo, is a trout-fishing spot in summer and an ice-skating rink in winter. For dinner, go for the chef’s tasting menu (served Mondays and Fridays).

Notable Ranchers: Eva La Rue, 49; Gabrielle Anwar, 46.

Best Dude Ranches - Paws Up Ranch

The Resort at Paws Up

Where: Greenough, Montana

Ranch Redux: Just a short drive from Missoula, Montana, this 37,000-acre working cattle ranch (there are 300 resident elk) offers a long list of activities: ATV tours, hiking, archery, mountain biking, fly-fishing on the Blackfoot River, a rifle range, kayaking, and hot air ballooning.

Rest and Relaxation: Choose accommodations from luxury cabins to tented camp with copper claw-foot tubs and private plunge pools. After a long day outdoors, book the Montana Gold Rush massage, which incorporates 24-karat gold flakes with organic oil to boost skin elasticity and give you that true vacation glow.

Best Dude Ranches - Tanque Verde Ranch

Tanque Verde Ranch

Where: Tucson, Arizona

Ranch Redux: Set on 60,000 acres within Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, the sprawling ranch framed by the Rincon Mountains is the largest in the country. Master Chef Justin Macy (formerly of Miraval Resort & Spa) serves Southwestern cuisine such as heirloom bean casserole with acorn and butternut squash and chicken Tinga relleno paired with cilantro rice and charro beans. Activities range from watercolor workshops and desert nature strolls to barbecue cookouts, “dive-in” movies at the outdoor pool, and evening cowboy tales and music.

Off-Site Offerings: Go back in time to the Old West in Tombstone (think Western-style saloons and gun-fight reenactments) or travel underground with spelunking in a nearby cave at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Best Dude Ranches

The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort

Where: Solvang, California

Ranch Redux: Conceived 70 years ago, the idyllic family-operated working cattle ranch is situated on 10,000 acres. The barn is home to 100 horses, and equestrian activities range from introductory horsemanship skills (riding basics for novices or skills refinement for advanced riders).

Why We Love It: The 73 cozy rooms each have a wood-burning fireplace. There are six tennis courts and a guided cycling program (that runs along part of Amgen Tour’s time trials route) for those who want more than horses. The spa offers treatments such as a wrap with French green clay, seaweed, and peppermint.

Photos: Courtesy of the properties

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