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.
Lazy L&B Ranch
The Lazy L&B Ranch near Jackson Hole has just come under new management and the owners are investing in the TK property by upgrading cabins and rooms, bring more liquor onto the premises, and hiring a chef. The ranch will now offer fly fishing clinics in addition to the hikes, river swims, and horseback rides that made it popular in the first place. It may be upgrading its facilities, but the ranch will remain traditional. Guests will be able to spend afternoons at the shooting gallery and evenings around campfires. City slickers who want to get even further out into the country can also pack in to the ranch's Bear Basin Wilderness Camp, where canvas tents sit in a grove of trees near a river popular with local deer, moose, and bears. [Weekly rates begin at $1,875 per adult, based on double occupancy.]