Best Vacation Ranches in the West

The American West may have grown less wild, but its wide expanses are still peppered with ranches that welcome guests out to experience the romance. Many of these retreats provide ample options for sport and luxury, but you’ll also find working ranches that offer visitors a more authentic experience: the chance to help manage stock, feed animals, cook meals, and perform various chores around the property. Use this list to pick the place for you from some of the best vacation ranches in the West!

79 Carriage House Ln, Philipsburg, MT 59858, USA
In 2007, hedge fund investor Jim Manley bought a working cattle ranch on the site of a historic silver-mining claim to stake as his bigger-than-life family retreat. In 2010, he opened up the Ranch at Rock Creek, a toy-filled haven in southwest Montana’s Big Sky Country, with 13 houses with one to five bedrooms, luxurious canvas cabins for “glamping,” or a nine-room granite lodge. All are decorated by designer Jet Zarkadas and feature Oriental carpets, deep leather chairs, cow skin 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 landline, working Wi-Fi, and cell phone coverage; some have moose antlers, a private sauna, outdoor hot tub, and indoor copper bathtub.

Open year-round, the 10-square-mile property encompasses meadows, high country lakes, grassy ridges, and stunning vistas of the Pintler and Sapphire mountains. This self-contained adventureland offers horseback riding; heli-hiking; fly-fishing; river floating; high-tech mountain biking; rope courses; trap shooting; and archery on a 3D course using powerful hunting bows to shoot life-sized models of animals. Weekly rodeo and stagecoach rides underscore the Western theme; in winter, guests cross-country ski, ice skate, and snowshoe on-site. A kids’ club frees parents for spa time and other pursuits.
5551 West Fork Rd., Darby, Montana
There are helipads but no cell phones or young children at Triple Creek Ranch, a 600-acre luxury Western playground on a slope of 10,157-foot Trapper Peak, Montana’s highest mountain, near the Idaho border. Owned by Craig and Barbara Barrett (he, the former CEO of Intel; she, a former astronaut and U.S. ambassador to Finland), this elegant, high-end dude ranch offers sapphire pan mining, scenic trail rides, fishing from stocked trout ponds, and guided hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing (including starlit expeditions), as well as themed weekend stays focusing on art, food, and wine. The owners’ no-hunting policy has resulted in large herds of elk and other game gravitating to the property, and guests frequently spot animals from huge log cabins decorated with leather furniture and original Western-themed art and equipped with wood-burning fireplaces, private decks, bar, Blu-ray players, and working Wi-Fi connections. (Though the ranch deliberately has no cell phone signal.) From May through October, for additional fees, the ranch pairs up guests with professional rodeo trainers and Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing operators. In winter, the lodge facilitates transportation, tickets, and equipment rental vouchers for the nearby Lost Trail Powder Mountain downhill ski center (300 inches of snow annually) and Chief Joseph Cross Country Ski Area.
29555 Goose Creek Rd
The nine-mile dirt road through Pike’s Peak National Forest is a properly isolated, remote, and grand driveway to Lost Valley Ranch, one of the few guest ranches in Colorado that is so close to Denver. (It is only about two hours by car from Denver International Airport, and a short drive from any other front range city.) The drive leads you through the still-recovering burn area of the 2002 Hayman Fire, then dips down into a green oasis, in a cozy corner of the Goose Creek drainage. Lost Valley is a traditional, medium-size ranch with plenty of history and a robust kids and teens program in the summer. It’s all about horseback riding in the morning and afternoon, a lazy schedule punctuated by the dining room bell and yelps of happy children and ranch dogs playing in front of the main lodge. Lost Valley Ranch books week-long, all-inclusive packages throughout the summer season; shorter stays are available in spring and fall. Rates begin at $3,020 per adult, and cheaper for children (how much cheaper depends on age), and include meals, lodging, horseback riding, evening entertainment, and children’s programming (Trap shooting, town purchases and massage therapy are extra).
82 Parque Creek Rd, Dubois, WY 82513, USA
“Are we still going to ride?” I ask, glancing at the storm rolling off the jagged peaks of the Absaroka mountains. Wrangler Dallin Maples, 25, responds by handing me a long, yellow raincoat as the first drops splat on the hard brim of my hat. “The trails up the hill will be too slick,” Maples says, “so we’re going exploring.” With that, he pulls his horse into the trees, and three of us follow. I’m visiting T Cross Ranch, a small, rustic guest operation in northwest Wyoming, with my wife and three daughters. As a schoolteacher about to start another busy year, I wanted to bring my family somewhere special before hectic schedules take over our lives — somewhere quiet, where we would be forced to turn off our toys and actually listen to each other. Holing up in a simple log cabin at the end of a remote mountain road seemed like just the ticket, and the old-fashioned family fun of a guest ranch seemed like the perfect level of excitement. Dates: Open through late September Highlights: This small, remote ranch embodies traditional Western hospitality, and they have spectacular, well-kept horses, to boot. Rates: $1,690 adults for six nights
40060 Paws Up Rd, Greenough, MT 59823, USA
One of the most luxurious Western guest ranches, opened in 2005, the Resort at Paws Up, in Greenough, sprawls over 37,000 acres of classic Montana landscape: elk-filled meadows, rocky peaks, and ponderosa pines in the Blackfoot Valley, with the river of the same name running through it all. The most sought-after accommodations are the “glamping” tents on the banks of the Blackfoot or along Elk Creek that are available May through October and organized into five separate camps, taking just six guests each. The camps combine a Western lifestyle with an African safari formula: canvas suites with private baths, a communal dining pavilion with fireplace and fire pit, private camp chef, and butlers to help organize guest activities. Families and friends who prefer four walls between themselves and nature stay in enormous wood-and-stone villas with heated hardwood floors, fireplaces, leather furniture, huge flat-screen TVs, and panoramic windows; some of these homes come with outdoor hot tubs and tented bedrooms for kids.

All guests have the opportunity to hike, rappel, canoe, play paintball, take cooking classes, and more, but the main action is on-site fly-fishing and horseback riding for all levels on 100 miles of private trails or in a 23,000-square-foot equestrian arena; adults and kids 12 and up can help move small herds of Black Angus cattle on sample stock drives. If parents want private adventure time, kid wranglers entertain young’uns. In the evening, communal entertainment takes place in a renovated barn that serves as stock sales venue, dance floor, and movie theater. Despite the busy activity menu and flow of golf carts transporting guests to and fro, the ranch is large enough, and accommodation so widely spaced that guests can survey the landscape and not see anyone.
Twin Bridges, MT 59754, USA
Peggy Dulany, a New York philanthropist and daughter of David Rockefeller, bought J Bar L to protect the 620-square-mile Centennial Valley, a former Native American hunting ground settled by a few cattle-ranching families in the late 19th century—and which still has no towns, let alone paved roads, gas stations, shops, or subdivisions. To conserve the rangeland way of life, she hired locals to run a holistic grass-fed cattle business on the principles of rotational grazing and natural stockmanship. To share the landscape with nature-loving travelers and to keep the valley looking as it was, Dulany restored several abandoned 19th- and early 20th-century homesteads. These self-contained vacation rental homes range from a Sears Roebuck family house, now solar-powered, to isolated cabins on a bend of the Red Rock River. All come with fully-equipped kitchens and are tastefully filled with Western-themed furnishings and antiques; some have outdoor hot tubs.

J Bar L no longer offers working weeks for would-be cowboys but will match guests with geologists as well as with hiking, bird-watching, and fly-fishing guides. Horse lovers can hire ranch mounts for guided daily rides on rangeland that is home to pronghorn, elk, and Black Angus cattle, or up the slopes of the 10,000-foot Gravelly Mountains where wolves, grizzly bears, and bald eagles roam.
Roscoe, MT 59001, USA
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.
2020 Chevallier Dr., Wolf Creek, Montana
This family-owned and -managed 1,000-acre guest ranch in Lewis and Clark County is paradise for riders of all ages looking to improve technique while learning about equine psychology and Western working life. The owners, Zack and Patty Wirth, and two of their six children, all direct descendants of 1860s Montana homesteaders, breed and train quarter horses and hold wide-ranging riding rights on a neighboring ranch of 85,000 acres. Guests, a maximum 20 at a time, ride according to their interest and level; time in the saddle (or bareback) might be spent in the ring, on scenic trail rides, endurance training, or learning to rope and work with the Wirths’ 30 Corientti and Longhorn cattle.

Four cozy rooms of the same size but with different bed configurations have fireplaces and mountain views. The atmosphere is communal and convivial, the hosts dining with guests and taking note of the weather and individual interests to plan activities. Many teen visitors fulfill dreams of unlimited horse time; for non-riding family members or partners there is guided shooting, hiking, and mountain biking. There’s also technical fly-fishing on the Little Prickly Pear Creek, a spawning ground for rainbow and brown trout. For rock hounds, fossil-rich shale cliffs sit just a mile away from the barn and guest rooms.
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