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.
Siwash Lake Ranch
Siwash Lake Ranch is a Canadian institution, but it remains eager to innovate and offers a regularly updated roster of programs. The survival skills course will be of particular interest to anyone eager to get out into the wilderness and work with their hands. The program isn't particularly difficult, but it does require travel deep into the Cariboo Mountains, which are best know as a heli-skiing destination but deserve a second look in spring and summer. Other programs include horse skills workshops, archery classes, and kayaking classes on the mirror-still lake. And hanging out in the canvas cabins isn't so bad either: broad porches offer broader views and thick blankets keep out the British Columbian chill. [Five night stays being at $795]
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