Cowboy leading horses

Ascent Xmedia / Getty Images

How the West Was Fun: What's Behind the Continued Rise Of the Western Getaway

In 1991, actress Patricia Wetting instructed her depressed on-screen husband, Billy Crystal, in the movie "City Slickers" to head west for a dude ranch vacation with fellow New Yorkers. Crystal's character, Mitch, was in the thick of a mid-life crisis. Wetting's Barbara supportively urged, "Go and find your smile." Fish-outta-water hilarity ensued, and life lessons were learned before audiences went back to planning their PTO in paradise or cosmopolitan city breaks. 

But in recent years, the Oscar-winning movie's then-unique comedy construct has turned commonplace as real-life city slickers head out in droves in search of joy in the great outdoors, all while staying at luxury lodges, fancy campgrounds, working ranches, farms, or rental homes surrounded by bucolic splendor.

"From travelers wanting to explore without the crowds as a result of COVID-19 to recent big pop culture moments such as the 'Yellowstone' series or Beyoncé's Ivy Park Rodeo clothing line, we have seen a newfound romanticism with the Old West," Piper Singer, the Wyoming Office of Tourism's public relations & media manager, told TripSavvy. "Lured to its bold, unrelenting, and freeing nature, [the West, especially] Wyoming has inspired travelers' sense of curiosity and feeds their creativity once they are here."

No matter what people call them—cowboy-cations, giddy-up getaways, or digital detoxes—one thing is for sure: these sorts of get-your-hands dirty trips full of horseback riding, clay shooting, fly-fishing, cattle wrangling, roping, canoeing, off-roading, mountaineering, glamping, and line dancing in states like Wyoming, Arizona, Texas, Utah, and Montana aren't going anywhere soon. 

There are several working theories about why everyone wants to jump on this chuckwagon now. There's, of course, Hollywood, an industry that has long acted like a Wild West travel agent. For example, John Ford's acclaimed '30s and '40s Westerns put Monument Valley on the tourist map. Recent titles like "Westworld," "The Power Of The Dog," "The Ranch," and "Yellowstone"—the most-watched cable series for the second year in a row—encourage cowboy cosplay. Filming location tours for the latter have even started popping up and inspired itineraries.

"The 'Yellowstone' effect is certainly real, for better or worse, and has raised general awareness of how pretty and incredible Montana is," said Drew Bigda, the senior director of sales and business development for The Resort At Paws Up in Montana, adding that he also credits a widespread shift toward experiential travel."

Some sources argue it's a rare pandemic silver lining. "We've recently received an additional bump in interest and bookings because of COVID-19 and the desire for outdoor vacations and, more recently, families wanting to make up lost time for reunions," said Courtney Frazier, the executive director of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association. "Many are looking for more authentic vacations than a typical beach cruise."

Others like Tess Leach, who handles business development for Ranchlands—a family-run conservation-forward livestock business that runs several properties, including Zapata Ranch near Great Sand Dunes National Park—think it's more about burnt-out urbanites looking to retreat, recharge, and "reconnect with nature." "Guests are coming to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. They are extremely curious and want to learn about what we are doing on the ranch, with the animals, and for the land," Leach said. "We're seeing this interest sustain and grow since the pandemic ended. Hopefully, a shift in consciousness!"

To meet growing demand, longtime leaders in this category, like Paws Up, Alisal Ranch near Santa Barbara, and Ted Turner's Vermejo Reserve in New Mexico, have added services, activities, or themed weekends in addition to increasing capacity or opening new locations or concepts. Trusted glamping company Under Canvas has added several new camps in the last three years, most near national parks like the Grand Canyon, which have also seen visitor tallies rise exponentially in the same period. Last month, Under Canvas unveiled ULUM, a safari-inspired outdoor resort brand, which will open its first outpost in Moab, Utah. Often, these moves were motivated because new competition rode into town.

Horse back riding on Alisal Ranch

Courtesy of Alisal Ranch

"We would like to believe we have remained one step ahead in our innovation," Bigda said. "But I'm also a firm believer that a high tide raises all ships. The more these similar properties appear (especially when done right), the more attention there is for this experience. And our travelers aren't just taking one or two trips a year so they can visit all of us."

According to Bigda, the bottom line is also helped by the fact that no two visits are the same, thus encouraging repeat business. "The same guest can come back time and time again and have incredibly different experiences depending on accommodation types, insanely different seasons, and what activities they choose," he said. "And once folks get on a horse, they generally don't want to get off."

Those interested in taking a cowboy-cation should plan far in advance, especially with a large multi-generational or corporate group. "There's far more demand than supply due to the high cost of land and the capital needed to start a dude ranch today as opposed to 40 to 50 years ago. We are seeing some growth, but it's slow," said Frazier.

Even rental property reservations in these regions are being taxed. Demand for Vrbo homes in Western destinations increased by more than 30 percent between September 2021 to August 2022, according to an Expedia Group press release shared with TripSavvy.

Still eager to throw on the waders, hop in the saddle, and croon a country hit by the fire? Head to these homes away from home where the buffalo often still roam. 

The Green O

In mid-2021, the people behind Paws Up added this adults-only romantic collection of design-centric cabins (and one genuinely top-notch restaurant) to a pine-dotted corner of their 37,000 acres, quickly attracting celebrities like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake. If you manage to pull yourself out of your hot tub, catch the cowboy poet and banjo player in action at the chuckwagon dinner, help drive a herd of 800-pound beasts, discover your inner Katniss, or scale rugged landscape atop an ATV, dog sled, or e-bike.

Yonder Escalante

Opened in 2021, this glamping resort in Southern Utah comprises renovated vintage Airstreams, custom-designed mini-cabins, and RV sites. The front desk can organize horseback rides in Bryce Canyon National Park and guide you to awesome slot canyon hikes. A refreshing pool dip, gourmet meal kits, and live-fire cooking lessons, s’mores by the many fire pits, or a John Wayne classic at the on-property drive-in await when you return from adventuring.


This is the smallest and one of the newest of Ted Turner’s many sprawling reserves in New Mexico. But size doesn’t matter when you spend time wandering this beautiful oasis where four Rio Grande tributaries can be found, and you just might catch a glimpse of bison, nearly extinct tortoises, or Mexican gray wolf pups. 

Arizona Cowboy College

Sharpen your ranching skills—including riding, penning, roping, and equitation—by day and kick it in the bunkhouse by night during three- or five-day intensives. Lessons can be customized to fit your needs.

Lazy G Ranch

This kitschy 10-room “Old West Escape,” part of Evolve’s rental inventory, features a recreated Wild West town complete with a saloon, a post office, a barbershop, and more.

ULUM by Under Canvas

Steps away from striking Looking Glass Arch will be the first example of Under Canvas’ newly launched safari-inspired outdoor resort brand. Opening next March, stressed-out guests can partake in complimentary wellness programming, run nearby rapids, or hit world-class biking trails. Under Canvas is also poised to add North Yellowstone-Paradise Valley to its portfolio in June 2023. This camp is nestled among the same high mountain plains, ranchlands, and Yellowstone where the Costner drama is set.

Triple Creek Ranch

In the hospitality game since the ‘80s, this Relais & Châteaux member makes the list because it is just down the road from the real-life ranch that plays the Yellowstone-Dutton Ranch on TV. A few years ago, all frontier activities like crosscut sawing, branding, and hatchet throwing were moved to the new Logging Camp. And special this winter, the resort is offering cowboy hat-making demos and custom shaping with a local artisan. It makes for the perfect souvenir—just don’t make the rookie mistake of putting it on your bed like Jimmy.