For a Wild West Adventure, Head to These 10 Family-Friendly Ranches and Lodges

These are the 10 best ranches and lodges for families in the American West.

The main Trailhead Lodge at Brush Creek Ranch has 19 rooms.

The main Trailhead Lodge at Brush Creek Ranch has 19 rooms.

Courtesy of Brush Creek Ranch

There’s no denying the romantic appeal of the American West: storied ranching culture; green valleys that explode with wildflowers in the spring; rushing, trout-filled rivers; stands of pine and aspen forests; views of snow-topped peaks. And there are few better ways to take it all in than with a stay at one of the nation’s best ranches and lodges—especially when you’re part of a larger group that’s looking for a place to get away from it all.

Ever since pandemic travel restrictions motivated more Americans to book domestic vacations, multigenerational trips at U.S. ranches and lodges have been on the rise, and that trend shows no signs of stopping. Many retreats are responding to the demand by extending their seasons into fall, and even opening up winter experiences for the first time that are proving to be popular with groups, too.

While there are many standout places to choose from, AFAR has done the legwork to identify the 10 top U.S. ranches and lodges that are the best in their class, whether for their historic architecture, their programming and service, or their unprecedented conservation efforts. Read on for the top 10 ranches and lodges in the American West, presented in no particular order, and then start planning that epic vacation your family won’t soon forget.

Interior of guest tent at the Resort at Paws Up, considered the first glamping experience in the U.S.

The Resort at Paws Up is widely considered the first glamping experience in the U.S.

Courtesy of the Resort at Paws Up

1. The Resort at Paws Up

About 45 minutes by car from Missoula, the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, is a nature paradise with offerings for all ages. The 37,000 acres include 100 miles of trails for horseback riding and walking that are blanketed with wildflowers in spring. The accommodations include 28 lavish homes—all of which come with Lexus SUVs to use on property. The 36 designer glamping tents along the Blackfoot River (Paws Up is widely recognized for having launched the first modern glamping tents in the USA) are open seasonally between mid-May and mid-October. Glamping guests can expect a butler to care for their campfire and meals.

Throughout the property, cattle and horses roam and graze. A spectacular sighting not to be missed is the morning jingle, when horse wranglers gather the resident herd and head out to pasture. Family-friendly activities include a horseback cattle roundup, fly-fishing on the Blackfoot River, and rock climbing; in the winter, there’s skijoring, dogsledding, and sleigh rides. The Resort at Paws Up is also known for its calendar of culinary weekends hosting some of the country’s best chefs. And if mom and dad can leave the kids with the grandparents, book a night inside the adults-only Green O, where 12 modern-feeling Scandinavian-inspired homes dot a pine forest.

Exterior of Bluebird, a private one-bedroom home that sits along Rock Creek.

Bluebird is one of 13 houses available at the Ranch at Rock Creek.

Courtesy of the Ranch at Rock Creek

2. The Ranch at Rock Creek

In 2007, hedge fund investor Jim Manley bought a working cattle ranch on the site of a former silver mine in southwest Montana so he could build a retreat for his own family. By 2010, he’d opened up the Ranch at Rock Creek so that other families could enjoy Big Sky Country too. The property has 13 houses (each with one to five bedrooms), luxurious canvas cabins for “glamping,” and a nine-room granite lodge. All are decorated by designer Jet Zarkadas and feature deep leather chairs, cowhide and woven Navajo rugs, custom duvet covers, and period western photos and memorabilia. Despite the remote location and 5,200-foot elevation, all accommodations have Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage; some come with a private sauna, outdoor hot tub, or indoor copper bathtub.

Open year-round, the 10-square-mile property sprawls across meadows, high country lakes, and grassy ridges; it looks out to postcard views of the Pintler and Sapphire mountains. This self-contained adventure retreat offers enough to keep a multigenerational group busy for weeks. There’s horseback riding, heli-hiking, fly-fishing, river floating, high-tech mountain biking, rope courses, and trap shooting. An archery experience on a 3D course uses powerful hunting bows to shoot life-sized models of animals. Weekly rodeo and stagecoach rides underscore the western theme, while in winter, guests can cross-country ski, ice skate, and snowshoe on-site. A kids’ club frees parents for spa time and other pursuits.

Interior at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is a half-hour drive from Yellowstone on 17,000 acres.

Courtesy of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

3. Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

  • Location: Paradise Valley, Montana
  • Book now

Located in Paradise Valley, amid a wild landscape of sagebrush, meadows, and pine and aspen forests, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is one of the state’s most coveted ranch stays—so much so that availability is a challenge (families rebook their vacations here year after year). It’s easy to see why: Established in 1929, the property and working ranch is only a half-hour drive north of Yellowstone National Park and sits on more than 17,000 acres that beckon exploration on foot, horseback, or boat. Activities can be customized to accommodate various age groups and physical abilities and include hiking, fishing in the trout-filled Big Creek (which cuts through the property), hayrides, and cattle work.

Many of the 33 log cabin accommodations date back to the 1920s. They have one to three bedrooms and feature a rustic chic design with rough-hewn wooden bedposts, stone fireplaces, and large verandas. It’s all about unplugging here, so don’t expect much in the way of cell service, and there are no TVs in the rooms. Dining is an opportunity to connect with other guests—they range from casual barbecue lunches to five-course, tasting-menu dinners highlighting such dishes as bison tenderloin and blackberry cabernet sorbet. For more revelry, hang out at the Saloon for live music, two-step, and board games; for some peace and quiet, head to the Wellness Center for a massage or a swim in the outdoor heated pool.

Interior of a glamping tent at Dunton River Camp

Dunton River Camp is located in a ghost town dating to the 1800s.

Courtesy of Dunton River Camp

4. Dunton Hot Springs

Set within a ghost town, Dunton Hot Springs will make you feel transported back in time. A cluster of a 19th-century gold mining community cabins tucked into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado (not far from Telluride) have been restored as guest accommodations. The log cabins are equipped with king-size beds, thick wool blankets, wooden furnishings, and wood-burning stoves; the former General Store cabin has its own hot spring for private soaks. The new Chuck’s Cabin is especially family friendly, with its master bedroom and two extra bedrooms with bunk beds. To feel even closer to nature, try Dunton River Camp, a collection of eight canvas-walled tents located four miles down the road on a 500-acre cattle ranch (it’s open seasonally between June 1 and mid-October).

Hike the many trails around the property and go fly-fishing in the resort’s private river; activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and afternoons of hot chocolate and board games abound in the winter. In the evenings, socialize with other guests at the large communal table in the old saloon, whose bar is allegedly where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid carved their initials. Take a soak in the on-site sulfuric hot springs, once a restorative site for the Indigenous Ute people.

Interior of dining room at Brush Creek Ranch

Brush Creek Ranch has three properties: a family-friendly lodge, a fish-and-game sportsmen’s club, and an adults-only retreat.

Courtesy of Brush Creek Ranch

5. Brush Creek Ranch

Brush Creek Ranch is a working southern Wyoming ranch near the small town of Saratoga, about 150 miles south of Casper. The ranch has three properties: Families are welcome at the communal-spirited Lodge & Spa, which has 44 individual accommodations in luxe log cabins and lodge rooms. Kids are also welcome at the fish- and game-focused French Creek Sportsmen’s Club, composed of four cabins and a glamping-style yurt. For families with grown children or a group trip with friends, consider a stay at the nine-cabin adults-only Magee Homestead, a Relais & Châteaux member.

Wherever you stay, expect decorative details like Pendleton blankets and throw pillows, cowhide rugs, and natural wood furniture. All guests can partake in activities such as horseback riding, ATV rides, mountain biking, fly-fishing, and clay shooting. Lil Wranglers is the ranch’s excellent kids club, which offers many of these activities tailored for children. The Farm is a new on-site culinary and agricultural center that debuted in 2019 with a robust produce farm (as well as a goat cheese creamery, brewery, and distillery) that hosts workshops for guests looking to deepen their culinary knowledge.

Interior of a room at the Creek Houses

The Lodge at Blue Sky’s Creek Houses overlook the Alexander Creek.

Courtesy of the Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection

6. The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection

This resort on 3,500 acres in the picturesque Wasatch Mountains outside of Park City, Utah, reimagines the luxury ranch experience for the 21st century by seamlessly pairing sleek contemporary lodgings with the great outdoors. The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection, is a collection of 19 minimalist one-and two-bedroom rooms and suites inside the main building. A separate structure features 16 one-bedroom Earth Suites with fireplaces and outdoor terraces and showers; it offers the possibility to connect two or more rooms for families. There are also five adults-only, freestanding Creek Houses along Alexander Creek. The neutral-hued homes are outfitted with king beds and leather-covered chaise longues; some have large private verandas with firepits.

Meanwhile, the outdoors await, with seasonal activities like fly-fishing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and skiing. In addition, there’s a 1.5-acre farm, and the horse stables are home to the Saving Gracie Horse Foundation, founded in 2014 as a rescue sanctuary for abused and abandoned horses. During summer and early fall, the Little Vaquero’s Kids Camp allows kids ages 5 to 12 to help with the farm, groom horses, and take part in activities including treasure hunts and yoga.

Interior at Taylor River Lodge

Taylor River Lodge is on the site of a former general store.

Courtesy of Taylor River Lodge

7. Taylor River Lodge

Taylor River Lodge is an intimate-feeling property by respected retreat collection Eleven hospitality in a Colorado Rockies canyon near Crested Butte. It offers that magical family togetherness—for a stint—via six mountain-man-chic private log cabins with twin-bedded lofts and two three-bedroom homes that can be bought out by groups. The accommodations feature rough timber walls, wood-beamed ceilings, and large beds topped with fluffy duvets.

Guests convene at the upscale but unpretentious Main Lodge, a former general store, for fireside drinks, including locally crafted beer, and daily curated, seasonally inspired meals. In summer, guests can fly-fish for trout, float in the Gunnison River, hike, play games, and roast s’mores beneath a showstopping night sky. The ranch is now open in the winter, when wellness and movement are front and center: Activities include snowshoeing and forest bathing excursions, spa treatments, and lolling in the airy new Bathhouse.

Entry sign for Rawah Ranch

Rawah Ranch was established in 1948 inside Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest.

Courtesy of Rawah Ranch

8. Rawah Ranch

Rawah Ranch is uniquely positioned on 250 acres within Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest, home to such wildlife as prairie dogs, moose, bighorn sheep, bobcats, and black bears. It was established in 1948 as a guest ranch that intended to connect visitors with the sublime natural surroundings, and more than seven decades later, the mission still stands. Rawah, which is open seasonally between early June and early October, remains a coveted spot in Colorado for families, many of whom have been returning year after year for generations.

Rawah Ranch has nine cozy cabins done up in a western theme with timber floors and walls, wool blankets on king-size beds, wood-burning stoves, and verandas with rocking chairs. Guests of all ages are welcome, and they can fill their days exploring the hiking and biking trails, going on back-country horseback rides (kids can learn to groom and feed the resident horses), fishing on the Big Laramie River, or trying their hand at supervised tomahawk and knife throwing or archery.

Guest room interior at Evergreen Lodge

Evergreen Lodge is right outside Yosemite National Park.

Courtesy of the Evergreen Lodge

9. Evergreen Lodge

Nightly s’mores by the campfire. Zip lines built into a ponderosa pine forest. A saltwater swimming pool and hot tub. Sweet log cabins with modern conveniences. These are a few reasons why families of all ages return to the Evergreen Lodge, a mountain resort just outside the west gate to California’s Yosemite National Park.

With a history that dates back more than 100 years, the Evergreen is now stewarded by two Stanford Business School grads who put social responsibility initiatives at the core of their hospitality. A youth employment program brings in high-potential young adults from cities as paid seasonal interns focused on job skills, life skills, one-on-one support, and outdoor adventures. And the lodge, a certified B Corp, has Tuolumne County’s first commercial graywater system.

Guests can feel good about their stays here, enjoying quality time together at the on-site tavern or restaurant and taking advantage of the Evergreen’s expansive outdoor recreation program, which includes guided snowshoe treks, naturalist tours of Yosemite Valley, rafting, bike tours, and more.

Exterior of the two-story timber-walled Costilla Lodge

The timber-walled Costilla Lodge is ideal for fly-fishing enthusiasts.

Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserve

10. Vermejo, A Ted Turner Reserve

Media mogul Ted Turner, the second largest private landowner in the United States, spent decades buying up land and using it to conserve vast tracts for North American flora and fauna, including bison, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and most recently, Mexican gray wolves. Over the past few years, Turner has opened his land to eco-tourism experiences for visitors who want to get a glimpse at what the American West might have looked like centuries ago. The retreats belonging to Ted Turner Reserves include Vermejo, a collection of lodges and guest houses in northern New Mexico, which sit on more than 550,000 preserved acres where 1,200 wild bison roam. The accommodations can be booked by the room or reserved as full buyouts, making them ideal for larger groups of various ages.

They include Casa Grande, a handsome stone-walled mansion with a great room and seven bedrooms, that was constructed by an industrialist in 1909. The house is Turner’s own former family retreat; its four-poster beds and European antiques harken back to another era. Channeling a similar vibe is the nearby Turner House, with 10 bedrooms and plenty of common areas for connecting with loved ones. Both are ideal bases for the horseback riding, mountain biking, archery, wildlife tours, and other activities on property. Vermejo has an additional property about 45 minutes by car from the main compound. The timber-walled Costilla Fishing Lodge has eight rooms with private baths and a main room warmed by a fireplace. It puts visitors right next to rivers where native Rio Grande cutthroat trout have been reintroduced. The property also has a handful of individual stone Guest Cottages for those who want extra seclusion.

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of Afar.
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