Saddle Up and Ride Out on a ‘Real Deal’ Western Vacation at These Rustic Riding Lodges
Thanks to Paramount’s binge-worthy neo-Western drama, cowboy culture is having a moment. “Yellowstone’s” crossover appeal has influenced fashion (hello “Westerncore”) and now travel trends, as there is now a growing demand for old-fashioned hospitality and adventures on horseback across the great American West. From California’s Santa Ynez Valley to Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and Big Sky, Montana, get a taste of the Dutton lifestyle at these rustic-meets-luxe dude ranches and riding lodges.
Zapata Ranch: Mosca, Colorado
For a true taste of ranch life and land conservation in the American West, picture riding out among a 2,000-strong bison herd at the Great Sand Dunes National Park at Zapata Ranch. Built on the original Zapata homestead and open between early March and late October, this lodge in Southern Colorado features 17 bedrooms, so vacation stays (there’s a three-night minimum) feel intimate. Special-interest workshops range from Western literature, leatherwork and painting to calf branding and roping. Zapata’s three resident chefs whip up gourmet ranch-to-table meals, which are served family-style every evening. Pro tip: bring your own wine and beer.
Lone Mountain Ranch: Big Sky, Montana
Operating in Big Sky Country for over 100 years, horses are the heart and soul of Lone Mountain Ranch. Located 50 minutes from Bozeman, it’s a stunning place to discover the real Montana and its majestic high country. From June through early October, over 100 horses take riders (wranglers match up guests based on abilities) into the backcountry while Belgian and Percheron draft horses pull wagons and sleighs. Back at the ranch, rustic-chic cabins feature wood-burning fireplaces, record players and in-room coffee service. An Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing destination, non-riding activities include naturalist-led hikes and day trips to Yellowstone National Park.
The Lodge at Blue Sky: Wanship, Utah
Set on a 3,500-acre working ranch outside of Park City, The Lodge at Blue Sky is a year-round haven for horse lovers and a sustainably designed retreat perfectly in sync with its beautiful surroundings. Winter sleigh rides and mountain meadow trail rides during warmer months, ranch-riding and cattle-moving classes with working cowboys and natural horsemanship lessons (based on the Spanish vaquero riding style) are just a handful of the equine adventures offered here. Meet rescue thoroughbreds and mustangs at Gracie’s Farm or visit The Remuda to see firsthand how the herd gets pampered with acupuncture and massages.7/1
Alisal Ranch: Solvang, California
A working ranch since 1843 and family getaway since 1946, Alisal Ranch is a lovely spot to catch the weekly rodeo or unplug with wrangler-led trail rides through rolling hills—including one to a historic Adobe Camp for breakfast. Guided fishing trips to Alisal’s lake and mountain e-bike rides across the ranch’s 10,000 acres are options too. Book a luxury studio (they come with Pendleton accessories, vintage artwork and wood-burning fireplaces) and get dressed up for dinner at The Ranch Room, where “smart cowboy” attire is required. Shopping the mercantile for Alisal logo apparel and a visit to the spa are also highly recommended.
Rancho de los Caballeros: Wickenburg, Arizona
If riding out in the Sonoran Desert sounds like a good time, Wickenburg’s historic Rancho de los Caballeros should appeal. Founded in 1948 and home to a herd of 85 horses, the daily trail rides and springtime sunset cookout rides provide an authentic Western experience—the roping lessons and team penning classes give you a taste of real ranch work. Rancho’s rooms and suites allow you to enjoy lovely desert vistas and are furnished in a Santa Fe style (read: kiva fireplaces and desert-inspired color palettes). After a day in the saddle, post up in The Saloon for signature Los Cab margaritas and live music.
Reid Creek Lodge: Douglas, Wyoming
A stunning place to experience the rugged beauty of Wyoming, guides at ultra-exclusive Reid Creek Lodge create customized Western itineraries with an emphasis on horseback riding—although archery, fishing and wildlife viewing are excellent features too. Located on a working ranch (and an 1800s-era stop on the Oregon Trail) in the Laramie Range of the Rocky Mountains, days here can be spent heading out on the trail, learning cowboy tricks in the arena and enjoying a Creekside cocktail wagon ride. The traditional log-cabin lodge features Western-inspired decor and seven bedrooms that sleep up to 22 guests, one private group at a time6/17
Bishop’s Lodge: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Riding season begins in early April at Bishop’s Lodge, which is when the herd moves back after winter vacation at The Ghostranch to the century-old resort bordering the Santa Fe National Forest. Take in views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on a trail ride, meet the horses during a clinic (don’t forget to bring some carrots) or sign up for a Painting at the Stables art class. Rooms and suites range from multi-room casitas to a 12-bedroom Bunkhouse and feature swoon-worthy Southwestern decor. After riding, a sound healing treatment or meditative bath at the Stream Dance Spa should be another highlight.
Keri Bridgwater is a freelance writer covering travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Marie Claire, Matador Network and InsideHook, among other outlets and publications.