With sprawling acreage and the Western spirit, luxury dude and guest ranches are a new vacation trend promising an exceptional outdoor experience.

By Samantha Myers



Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana

Originating in the American West a little over 100 years ago, ranches served as lodging spots for travelers passing through while journeying over vast land and deserts. This longstanding U.S. tradition has been kept alive today with luxurious dude and guest ranches throughout the mountain states, providing an experience that incorporates time-honored ranch ideals, but in magnificent, all-inclusive vacation experiences.

Different than a guest ranch, dude ranches are where visitors are taught how to live on the ranch, including how to ride and care for horses, go fishing, and participate in activities such as rodeos and family-style meals. “Dude ranches offer a more programmed approach that embodies a more romantic notion of our country’s cowboy heritage with a strong focus on horseback riding,” says Jennifer O’Donohue, marketing and sales director for Triple Creek Ranch. “A guest ranch is a more relaxed take on the ranch experience.”

Identifying as a luxury guest ranch, Triple Creek Ranch, located in Darby, Montana, is an adults-only ranch surrounded by 4 million acres of National Forest Service land at the base of Trapper Peak, the tallest mountain in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. “We offer a rich array of Montana outdoor adventures throughout the year, and our guests enjoy the amenities, cuisine and service that they expect from a fine resort,” says O’Donohue. “Our secluded nature provides a serene retreat from which guests venture forth each day to play in our great Montana backyard, or to relax in our tranquil hideaway.”

While each ranch resort location has activities unique to their landscape, typical ones include horseback riding, hiking, fly-fishing, archery, shooting sports and most come equipped with full-service spas. One of the most coveted activities offered at Triple Creek Ranch includes sapphire panning, where guests sift through dirt at a nearby mine in search of rough gems — an experience unique to Montana, also known as the “Treasure State.”

Homesteaded in 1877, and now spread across 30,000 acres of Wyoming landscape, Brush Creek Ranch embodies the spirit of the West and still operates as a growing, working cattle ranch as it did in days past. This luxury dude ranch offers cabins ranging from new-builds to renovated historic ones and brings all the traditional aspects one might expect in a ranch immersed in nature.

Brush Creek Ranch

“We really believe in something when it comes to the ranch,” says Mike Williams, general manager at Brush Creek Ranch. “When you look out to the south side of the lodge, when you’re looking at the Sierra Madres and there’s snow on them, hay meadows, livestock.… We really know that guests come out to the West for that sense of place. They’ve seen it on TV; they’ve seen it in Westerns. They want to be outdoors, to breathe fresh air, sounds, smells, get their fingernails dirty and try new things.”

Unhindered by technology (there are no TVs in the rooms), Brush Creek aims at bringing the family together. The staff encourages guests of all expertise and ages to embrace the ranch’s saying, “Learn to do and learn to do better.” Brush Creek upholds a sophisticated activity concierge service aimed at understanding their guests’ desires for the trip and helping meet those goals alongside equipped and well-trained guides.

“I grew up in a place where you lock your doors, you lock your cars,” says Williams. “It’s not like that here in Saratoga. We’ve never issued a guest room key here. We never lock the doors. It’s just the Western way of life.”

The Home Ranch

“At The Home Ranch, it’s wide open spaces, fresh air, being in a place where you are well-served and meeting other guests, but still feeling like you have your privacy,” says General Manager Brooks Bradbury. At the year-round Clark, Colorado, ranch, dinner is served each night on common tables in the dining room, giving the chance for guests to get to know each other. The Home Ranch prepares what they call “haute mountain cuisine” for each meal, featuring farm-to-table food, where produce, herbs and meat, among others, are all raised and grown on the property.

Sustainability is a common feature for contemporary luxury ranches, and most serve organic, regionally and locally sourced and seasonally diverse food enjoyed within another rich ranch tradition of communal, family-style dinners. These, coupled with musical events, bring the historic characteristics of ranches to life everyday. Every Tuesday night at The Home Ranch, a cowboy group performs, and, in the summertime, every Wednesday following dinner, there is a barn dance featuring musicians playing country western dance music.

The Ranch at Rock Creek

“Every meal is an event,” says Steve Shotsberger, general manager of the 5-star guest ranch The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana. “We do different things every night for dinner, from a four- to six-course tasting menu, to barbecues, to supper clubs. We change the location most evenings.”

Accommodations in luxury ranches include many different options, all of which offer exquisite lodging experiences. In the case of Rock Creek, varied accommodations include granite lodges, “glamping” cabins, a 19th-century historic barn or luxury homes.

“The number one thing that resonates with me is the memories that we create,” adds Shotsberger. “It’s such a unique experience in a beautiful setting in Western Montana — our guests don’t get these anywhere. It’s a combination of absolutely wonderful product, variety in structure and architecture, followed by service. We make sure we deliver customized experiences to every guest.”

Overall, the ranches report guests typically stay four to seven days, with summer the most in-demand season, followed closely by fall. Depending on accommodations, season and number of guests, prices range from $750 to $3,000 per night.

Photos courtesy: Triple Creek Ranch, Brush Creek Ranch, The Home Ranch and The Ranch at Rock Creek