I want a ranch holiday… what sort of ranch do I want?

The answer will depend, as always, as to who you are and what you would like from your holiday.  Ranches in both the US and  Canada are broadly split into four types which range from simple accommodation on working ranches to luxurious accommodation with spas and every wish catered for. The only common denominator is the horse.  It doesn’t matter whether you are an experienced rider or a complete novice, travelling alone or with your family, there will be a ranch to suit you.  Surprisingly many people who choose a ranch holiday have never ridden before.

Most  ranches will want you to stay a week typically starting on a Sunday which is usually a day of rest for the horses so a good time for you to settle in and get acquainted with the ranch and your fellow guests.

lost valley runout

Working ranches

Working ranches are pretty much what they say on the tin;  farms raising cattle and crops that take in guests who over the years have become an important part of the operation.  You don’t have to join in the work of the ranch, but to be honest, if  you don’t, you are missing most of the fun. The work ranges from mending fences, to branding and roping the steers, driving cattle and looking after the horses.  The accommodation is usually fairly simple in the ranch house, the meals are certainly not gourmet but there is masses of fresh and healthy food much of it coming from the local area. You will need to be quite active and previous riding experience is usually necessary.

One such ranch is Kara Creek Ranch in north east Wyoming. They offer all seasonal experiences such as calving, branding, summertime herd moving and a large round-up mid September for 4 weeks. This one is for experienced riders for the round up as you will ride 8 hours every day with basic lodge accommodation.

Cattle and horse drives

Closely aligned to the working ranches, the drives, which usually  take place in the spring and autumn as stock is moved from the pastures into the ranch and back again, are really for experienced riders who are expected to spend up to 6 hours a day in the saddle.  You will spend 5 or 6 exhilarating days moving the stock, camping out under the stars and living the life of a cowboy.  Driving the cattle is obviously quite slow whereas the horse drives can be quite fast; both will be dusty and enormous fun.

Silver Spur Ranch in Idaho offer horse drives where small groups will drive some 30 head of horses over 60 miles between May and September. Three nights under canvas and three at the ranch so a nice combination.

Moving cattle at Double E

Guest ranches

Guest ranches are designed with riders in mind.  Unlike a working ranch, horses are often the only livestock; it is the guests who are the driving force of the ranch.  Riding is the main activity, but there are usually other western pursuits available such as fishing and hiking.  Accommodation is usually in the ranch house or nearby outbuildings.  Meals are shared with other guests; the informal atmosphere is very much that of a house party staying with friends.

Examples of a guest ranch include the Rich Ranch in Montana where the emphasis in on riding in beautiful countryside but alternative activities are hiking, biking and excellent fishing. The Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming is close to Yellowstone National Park so you can combine the ranch with a fly-drive holiday through the park.

Paradise Ranch View Wildflowers

Dude ranches

Riding is still a crucial part of a dude ranch holiday but it is only one of the many activities on offer.  Perfect for a family where some ride and some don’t, there is something going on all the time.  You can join in with all sorts of Western activities such as clay pigeon shooting,  fishing, white water rafting, visits to local rodeos, square dancing and barbecues to name but a few.  On a dude ranch, you should never hear “I am bored”! Many of the larger ranches have specialist children’s programmes hosted by child counsellors.

Child fishing at Tumbling River

One of the things you have to consider when choosing which ranch to visit is the weather!  Many ranches are in Wyoming and Montana so are only open in the summer, however, the White Stallion Ranch is close to Tucson, Arizona so makes the perfect spot to be during the winter months.

Riding at White stallion

Resort ranches

Resort ranches can best be described as resorts with riding attached.  They vary considerably; some offer the “full cowboy experience” whilst staying in beautiful log cabins such as the Triple Creek in Montana.  Others, such as Ranch at Rock Creek, offer more of a resort experience concentrating on luxurious accommodation, gourmet meals and fine wines.  Tanque Verde in Arizona with its hacienda style accommodation is particularly popular during the winter months. All the resort ranches offer a full schedule of western activities as well as a varied mixture which could include ballooning, golf or rafting. Most of the resort ranches are very children friendly with Counsellors on hand to keep the children entertained and safe while the adults are away enjoying themselves.

Bedroom at Ranch of Rock Creek

So, as you can see, there is a ranch for you, winter or summer, whether you are 8 or 80, a keen rider or have never put your leg across a horse’s back.

Sandra Potter is Founder of Frontier Travel.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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