You have to wonder what a cowboy working on a cattle ranch back in the day would think of the term "luxury dude ranch." But luxury on the ranch is a definite trend today, and travelers can combine horseback riding and hiking with some serious pampering in the Southwest. These five locations provide a dude ranch experience that's heavy on the creature comforts.
This historic Santa Ynez Valley guest ranch masters the upscale-rustic vibe. Spacious studios and one-bedroom suites are decked out with knotted wood furniture, Southwestern-print throw blankets, and wood-burning fireplaces—plus replete with creature comforts such as memory foam beds and fluffy robes. But you’re really here to embrace your inner cowboy. Horseback ride through 10,000 acres of rolling hills and oak groves, fine-tune your archery skills near the resort’s private lake, or get a workout on guided mountain biking tours (through the end of October). Recover from all that exertion with a day in the on-site spa—deep tissue massages, facials, and scrubs are all on the menu—or simply lounge by the outdoor pool. Rates include breakfast and a nightly dinner (jackets required for men); alcoholic drinks and most activities cost extra.
Spend your days at this Saratoga, Wyoming, resort horseback riding, skeet-shooting, zip lining, and fly-fishing—all before digging into gourmet dinners, blissing out at the on-site spa, and snuggling into 400-thread-count sheets. The 30,000-acre property doesn't skimp when it comes to anything: Dining includes multi-course formal affairs in the Trailhead Lodge Great Room; rock climbing trails scale 5.1-grade natural cliffs, and the spa menu even has a "My First Massage" package for the youngest adventurers in the group. Pricing includes all food, drinks (including top-shelf spirits), and most activities; specialty adventures and spa treatments cost extra.
Wickenburg, Arizona, is prime dude ranch territory, so it's no wonder this family-owned guest ranch has been welcoming visitors since the 1940s. The 20,000-acre ranch opened with luxe-for-the-era amenities such as heated floors and a pearl-shaped pool. Nowadays, a golf course, fine dining, and a spa enhance the cowboy lifestyle—indulge in full-body scrubs, a top-100 golf course, and rack of lamb for dinner. Standard pricing includes meals but not horseback riding; most guests choose packages that include trail rides. Rancho de los Caballeros has a complimentary kids program and a weekly cookout.
You could easily take a week to explore Tanque Verde Ranch and nearby Tucson. Spend your days hiking and horseback riding through the desert landscape (the ranch borders Saguaro National Park), unwinding at the on-site spa, and feasting on upscale Southwestern fare (think prickly pear margaritas and game hen with chimichurri sauce). Or, play cowboy in old town Tucson, the film site for countless westerns, including "Winchester '73" with Jimmy Stewart and "Rio Bravo" with John Wayne. All-inclusive packages include all meals, horseback riding and lessons, mountain biking, hiking, and a kids' club.
Ski bunnies and hiking enthusiasts alike will find plenty to love at this 500-acre ranch. Spend winter getaways cross-country skiing, snowshoeing in the backcountry, or schussing down black diamonds at Steamboat Springs Ski Resort (the ranch offers an excursion to the nearby mountain). Spend the warmer months admiring the golden fall foliage, mountain biking throughout the property, or rounding up cattle in early September. Families can stay in the lodge or in luxury log cabins equipped with a wood-burning stove and hot tub. Dinner options include full-service fine dining as well as family-style meals. At Christmas, each family decorates their own tree in the lodge, and guests can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to go caroling. Note that Vista Verde has a capacity of about 45 guests.