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.
Rancho Los Baños
Rancho Los Baños, a guest ranch in Sonora, Mexico, offers a different sort of vacation than its northern cousins. Rather than tking luxury and outdoor activities, Los Baños provides visitors with the opportunity to spend some time on a working cattle ranch. There's not much more to it than that, but there's something to be said for long, unstructured days spent in the saddle. An, yes, there is free time to bike nearby roads, boulder in the local box canyon, and take a dunk in the surprisingly chilly Bavispe River. The ranch is best suited to travelers who have had some dude ranch experiences – knowing how to ride a horse is key – and want to try something a bit more authentic. It's also a great destination for anyone looking to save a few pesos amid some astonishing scenery. And getting there isn't tricky either. Ranch staff pick Americans up in Tucson and drive due south. [Rates start at $139 per person]
Credit: Courtesy Chamahua Eco Tours