I have a girlfriend from Boston who booked a vacation at a rustic dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When she returned, she gushed about the horses, the scenery, and the real cowboys—she was transformed by her experience. The following week, she packed up, moved to Wyoming, and married a cowboy. Really.
If you can surrender to the slower pace of a sure-footed horse and the quiet emptiness of desert air, a dude ranch in southern Utah awaits your arrival. In the late 1800s, the transcontinental railroad shuttled easterners to the unspoiled lands of the West, and financially strapped ranchers opened their homes to tourists hungry for a real western experience. Horseback riding, ranch chores, and clean air were intoxicating to many, and western hospitality sealed the deal. By the 1920s, the guest-ranch industry was booming.
Many of today’s dude ranches enhance the original ranch atmosphere by offering luxury amenities such as spa treatments and hot tubs. Owners know how to pair exquisite wines with gentle horses and a dash of magnificent scenery for their sojourning dudes and dudettes.
The more authentic guest ranches are actually working cattle ranches. Guests are invited on cattle drives, on which they spend a few days in the saddle and sleep under the stars. Meals are cooked cowboy-style, outside in dutch ovens over open fires. (Think Billy Crystal in the film City Slickers.)
Horses, trail rides, and riding lessons are a big part of the western guest-ranch experience. If you love the dusty smell of horses or want to learn to properly cinch a saddle, then book some time at a dude ranch for a real Rocky Mountain high.