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8 Places to Tap Into Your Inner Cowboy

U.S. News & World Report

8 Places to Tap Into Your Inner Cowboy

A rustic vacation in the Wild West might be just the cure for stressed-out city slickers or suburbanites. As John Denver once crooned, the range is the place where deer and antelope play, where discouraging words are seldom heard, and where "the skies are not cloudy all day." So, if you're anticipating a year full of traffic-congested commutes and long hours at your desk, now might be the time to start planning a Wild West getaway. Yee haw!

You can try your hand at fly-fishing, saddle up for a trail ride and even participate in a cattle drive, but at The Resort at Paws Up you won't be roughing it. The 37,000-acre working ranch is peppered with elk and Angus cows, but they share land with a pristine resort, complete with a spa, delicious dining options and accommodations that range from elegant woodland ranch homes to opulent tents. And if you want to bring the whole family, you'll find that children's activities abound: Half- or full-day camps let young visitors offer young visitors the chance to pan for gold and even visit a Montana ghost town. Vacation packages start at about $400 per person per night. 

Carrying on the traditions of the American West since 1919, C Lazy U Ranch is a family-run homestead in the northern Colorado Rockies (about 92 miles northwest of Denver). In the summer, the ranch offers horseback riding, fly-fishing excursions, archery and more. When the mercury drops, guests can grab a trail map and go snowshoeing or let a draft horse do all the work on a sleigh ride. No matter the season, guests can enjoy the luxury of chef-prepared specialties like the Rocky Mountain trout or rosemary rack of lamb. Travelers can also relish a menu of spa treatments, including a couples "Cowboy Soak" in a pair of copper tubs, accompanied by Champagne and strawberries. Winter a la carte rates start at $249 a night for a two-person cabin (activities cost extra).

The Gros Ventre River Ranch is a family-owned dude ranch that sits about 18 miles northeast of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After a good night's sleep in the lodge, a cabin or a house, you'll be introduced to your personal horse. That one horse will be yours for the week on up to two wrangler-led rides a day. The ranch also offers guests fly-fishing lessons in the Gros Ventre River and self-led hikes up to a summit known as the Wedding Tree, which affords a high viewpoint for taking in the surrounding Tetons. And because the property is just a short drive from two national parks, many guests choose to pack a picnic lunch from the ranch and head out on a day trip to Yellowstone (about 50 miles north) or Grand Teton National Park (about 25 miles north). Weeklong all-inclusive rates for two guests start at $1,645.

The Tanque Verde Ranch is as an oasis in the middle of Tucson, Arizona's desert landscape. The ranch's luxurious spa, pool, tennis courts, gourmet restaurant and more sit smack dab in the middle of the cacti-dappled Rincon Mountains and Sonoran Desert. The ranch's prime location means outdoor adventures abound: Saddle up on one of the ranch's 180 horses and follow one of the experienced wranglers on different trail rides across the property's 60,000 acres. You'll also find a lake, where you can cast your line for everything from bluegill sunfish to largemouth bass. Accommodations range from salas (rooms) to casitas (junior suites) to hacienda (suites), and all-inclusive nightly rates for a room start around $575. 

Northwest Montana's Seven Lazy P specializes in horseback riding, with most stays including half- or full-day rides to different spots around Teton Canyon. When guests aren't in the saddle, they can hike the trails American Indians once used, such as the North Trail or Pondera Trail. Wildlife watching is another popular activity: This part of Montana is known for bighorn sheep, whitetail deer, mountain goats and even grizzly bears. The ranch also organizes fishing, swimming and float trips on the nearby Teton River. Guests can rest up for the next day of activities in the cozy ranch cabins. The nightly rate is $268 per day per person with a minimum four-day stay. 

When you think of California, you might not immediately picture a dude ranch. But Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, which is located about 30 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, proves that SoCal can offer a cowboy-esque experience. Alisal is a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch. And the "Round Up Vacation" package is a perfect fit for guests looking for the Wild West experience. This package — which includes fishing and horseback riding, as well as accommodations — starts at about $515 a night, and lasts through Memorial Day. Cowboys-in-training can saddle one of the ranch's 100 horses and ride through the property’s scenic canyons, hills and brooks. Those more interested in keeping two feet firmly planted on the ground can fish for bass and bluegill in the 100-acre, spring-fed lake. And when it's time to hang your cowboy hat, there's a spa, a restaurant, two golf courses and six tennis courts, not to mention some cushy accommodations. 

The Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, which burrows in the Idaho panhandle, is a family-run guest ranch that provides its visitors a host of Old West activities. Horseback riding is the main specialty, but you'll find a handful of other outdoor offerings, too. In the summertime, you can go on hikes, swim underneath a waterfall, try your hand at trap shoots and learn how to cattle sort, among other pursuits. Between June 1 and Sept. 30, rates start at $250 a person and include lodging, three meals a day, daily horseback rides, nightly skeet shooting and a dinner cruise on Lake Pend Oreille. Keep in mind that there's a three-night minimum.

Tucked inside the San Isabel National Forest in Crested Butte, Colorado, the Elk Mountain Ranch is a dude ranch that offers an intimate experience for just 30 guests at a time. The family-run ranch organizes activities like horseback riding, archery, whitewater rafting, campouts, fishing and more. And for the littlest cowboys and cowgirls (ages 3 to 7), the ranch has a counselor-run camp. A trip to beaver ponds, a visit to the petting zoo, arts and crafts and more is all on the agenda for the kiddos. After action-filled days, you can bed down in comfortable digs in the main lodge or in one of the ranch's seven cabins. All-inclusive weeklong rates start at $1,785 per person, though the rate for kids is lower. Only select fall, spring and summer trips are available, so check Elk Mountain Ranch's calendar for availability.

Emily H. Bratcher is a freelance writer living in Iowa City, Iowa. She has also written for the Washingtonian and Outside Online, among other publications.

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