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.
The Ranch at Emerald Valley
The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs has long been the grande dame of Front Range hotels, but its management is only now getting into the ranch business. The Ranch at Emerald Valley, a newly opened all-inclusive homestead 8 miles west of the hotel, features 10 luxurious cabins decorated in traditional mountain style and warmed by wood-burning stoves, a coffee bar, and access to the hundreds of miles of trails that meander through Pike National Forest. The hikers and runners will come, but the lodge is probably best suited to fishers, who can take advantage of the ranch's private lake after horseback riding through a couple of alpine meadows. The ranch offers, in short, everything that a ranch ought to offer as well as access to the amenities of a swanky hotel. That means that if you want to take off your boots and mosey on over the Broadmoor's championship golf course, you can do just that – just be back in time to eat steak by the fire.
Rates begin at $500.00 per adult, based on double occupancy