Dude ranches became popular destinations around the turn of the 20th century as America's new urban upper class looked for ways to get in touch with the land and appreciate that wilderness Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't shut up about. Over time, the working ranches that initially invited travelers to experience the rough-hewn joys of life on the range were gentrified by visitors and the gracious lodges that lured the less rugged created outdoorsy programs to meet demand for "Western" experiences. Today, most dude ranches offer mild luxuries and mild adventures, but the best of the bunch run toward extremes in both directions. Modern ranches let visitors get their hands as dirty as they want before washing them off with top-of-the-range artisanal soaps.
Here are our favorite spots bringing the dude ranch experience into a new era.
Brush Creek Ranch
Brush Creek Ranch, a collection of beautifully constructed log cabins herded together on a wide plain, is striking unto itself, but it's nothing compared to its surroundings. South Central Wyoming's North Platte River Valley is a wild piece of country stretching between the Sierra Madre and Snowy Mountain and the ranche's most notable amenity is access to the trails that run deep into the million-acre Medicine Bow National Forest. That said, posting up in one of the ranch's tastefully decorated rooms is a touch more luxurious than roughing it up the mountain. There is all the fishing and mountain biking you can shake a pole at, but there are are also nordic ski trails and snowmobiles that whisk travelers across plains thick with bison and antelope. The fact that the ranch has been revamped over the last several years doesn't hurt either. The only things that looks tired are the guests – there is, after all, always more to do. [$1000 per night based on double occupancy for adventure packages]