Still run by the descendants of its founder, Malcolm Mackay, this 114-year-old family-owned working cattle ranch in Roscoe, Montana, has been hosting guests—Roy Rogers and Robert Redford among them—since the 1980s. Lazy E-L Ranch is often booked a year in advance due to a capacity of just 14 guests who stay in three period cabins furnished with Western art, family pictures, and Navajo rugs. Instead of a formulaic schedule of staged chuckwagons, cowboy sing-alongs, roping practice, and nose-to-tail trail rides, guests have the option of a more authentic experience, joining ranch staff as they manage stock on 12,000 acres roamed by moose, deer, and bald eagles. The main draw here is integrating into ranch life, feeding chickens and horses, cleaning barns, and helping prepare family meals (though chores are optional). There are no guest cattle drives, but experienced riders can occasionally join or observe Lazy E-L professional cowboys moving 2,000 head of cattle. For guests preferring play to work, there’s horseback riding and hiking across pristine alpine pasture and barren plateaus; non-horse people can mountain bike down the terrifying Beartooth Highway, play soccer, baseball, and croquet, fish a private six-mile section of the West Rose Bud River, or raft the Class IV Stillwater River.
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The joy of the place is being part of the landscape and joining ranch family life for a few days or a week. For guests wanting to travel farther afield, Yellowstone National Park is 30 miles away. Red Lodge, Montana, has a touristy strip of shopping, art galleries, restaurants, museums, and Western saloons. An hour-and-a-half drive from the ranch, Cody, Wyoming, has a museum of Western culture called the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (720 Sheridan Ave.) and a June-through-August Nite Rodeo (Stampede Park).
Need to Know
Rooms: 3 cabins house a maximum 14 guests. From $80 per person, including meals and four hours of daily horseback riding. Check-in: 2 p.m. Sunday; check-out: 10 a.m. Saturday. Dining options: There is no restaurant; guests prepare their own meals in their cabin’s fully equipped kitchen. Spa and gym details: There is no gym or spa, but there’s creek swimming as well as mountain biking, hiking, horse and ATV riding, fishing, and rafting.
Who’s it for: Guests who want to help out rather than be served; kids not addicted to smartphones and the Internet. Our favorite rooms: The Stokke Cabin, which sleeps up to four, is decorated with vintage books about cattle. The eight-person Summer Cabin, built in 1919, has wood-beamed ceilings, bear skins, and its own kitchen and laundry facilities. The decor in the atmospheric, two-person Russell Cabin includes vintage photographs, Mackay family artifacts and documents, and a fireplace mantel inscribed by the artist Charlie Russell. None of the cabins has Wi-Fi, TV, phone, or radio. Good to know:Grizzly Bar and Grill in Roscoe has the nearest reliable cell phone signal, while the town of Red Lodge offers spa services.