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.
Majestic Dude Ranch
Majestic Dude Ranch is everything you wanted Boy Scouts to be. The massive, all-inclusive property in Mancos, Colorado, abuts over a million acres of national forest and offers western staples like mountain biking, horseback riding, and steak eating – but that's just for starters. On-site instructors are available to teach visitors how to fly, shoot a bow and arrow, and win at paintball (the ranch has its own course). As if that wasn't enough, there is also a batting cage, a softball field, and the Animas River, which is well known in the area for being thick with trout. Though the ranch offers a less traditional experience, it's far from a landlocked cruise and perfect for men who would rather spend their vacation running around than reading Louis L'Amour by the campfire. [Rate start at $375 per day for adults]