Contrary to popular belief, ranch vacations aren’t synonymous with roughing it. Luxury family dude ranches cater for guests who want the best of both worlds, blending a classic, down-to-earth ranch atmosphere with well-outfitted accommodations, fine dining and a thoughtfully curated slate of activities for all ages. And the best part? Even the most luxe ranches are a perfect match for kids, and heartily welcome them!
Here are 10 luxury properties to consider for your next ranch getaway:
Intrigued by the idea of camping’s sophisticated cousin, glamping? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for it than The Resort at Paws Up. Tucked away in a secluded setting just west of Greenough, Montana, Paws Up offers spacious tents with sumptuous beds, ensuite bathrooms, daily housekeeping and personal butler service. Two-, three- and four-bedroom luxury homes are available for those who prefer solid walls, cozy fireplaces and full kitchens.
At mealtimes, the chef serves up gourmet fare created with locally sourced ingredients — not a hobo pack or camp stove in sight. In addition to riding, activities include a sporting clays course, fly fishing, golf at a nearby course, croquet, bocce and more. The Kids Corps of Discovery program keeps tots through teens busy and happy, with activities that range from archery to acrobatics lessons.
Service is a standout at this Steamboat Springs-area ranch. The Vista Verde staff makes guests feel like VIPs, and will happily satisfy requests large and small. Accommodations include three lodge rooms and 10 private cabins, all uniquely decorated with either one, two or three bedrooms. Each cabin has a wood-burning stove and a private hot tub as well.
Vista Verde’s riding program is well thought out and carefully coordinated to ensure that guests always feel comfortable, yet stimulated by learning new skills and techniques. Daily kids’ rides get younger ones familiar with the trails, and kids also learn how to groom and care for their horses. Teens get more intensive instruction. In addition to other outdoor activities, guests can take a photography lesson with a local pro, indulge in a massage or take one of the weekly cooking classes.
Lost Creek Ranch is every bit as stunning as its Grand Tetons backdrop. Its 10 cabins, which feature outdoor porches, have either a two-bedroom or one-bedroom layout, making them easy to configure for families of various sizes. Nearby Jackson Hole provides endless recreation opportunities for kids, from hiking and hot-air ballooning to float trips down the river. The dedicated children’s riding program is geared toward ages 6 and up, but parents can lead younger kids on a horse, and nanny service is available as well.
Parents will enjoy the resort’s stellar golf and spa facilities. Meals at Lost Creek are served family-style in a casually elegant environment. Little ones can partake of a menu all their own, geared toward young palates, in the kids’ program areas.
Nearly a century old, Mountain Sky — in southwest Montana, just a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park — rolls out the welcome mat for families in a variety of ways. Lodging here ranges from rustic to refined, with many of the original cabins carefully renovated to preserve their charm yet add the creature comforts that discerning families expect. Some cabins offer stone fireplaces, while others have breathtaking views.
Dinner at Mountain Sky is an event, beginning with drinks and nibbles in the ranch saloon and progressing to a sit-down, three- to five-course gourmet meal. Activities are diverse, ranging from yoga and massages to sunrise hiking and Yellowstone excursions. In addition to riding instruction for kids, Mountain Sky offers a standout kids’ program broken out by age. Younger kids might enjoy hayrides, scavenger hunts and more, while older ones can participate in offsite rock-climbing and more.
A working cattle ranch, Red Reflet is the prime place to bring a multigenerational group — with a chalet that sleeps 14, everyone can stay under the same roof. The other chalets on the property sleep anywhere from four to six guests. Although accommodations are simple in style, amenities are first-rate: fully stocked kitchens, washer/dryer facilities, high-speed Internet and private hot tubs and steam showers, to name a handful.
Although joining in cattle drives and wrangling is part of the fun here, those craving a different sort of adventure might opt for mountain biking, ziplining, an ATV tour or the rifle range. More leisurely activities include tennis, badminton, fishing and massages. Although there’s no standalone kids’ program, activities for the younger set abound, from an onsite water park to helping the chef with daily meal prep. Riding lessons are tailored by age and skill.
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Ever since the early 20th century, the Alisal has been a magnet for sophisticated, savvy dudes (ranch-speak for guests). Is it the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley setting that keeps them coming back, or the creative take on California cuisine? The top-notch riding instruction, or the heavenly treatments at the Alisal Spa? Whatever the reason, it’s clear that luxury-seeking families have found plenty to love here.
From Studio Guestrooms to One-bedroom Suites, the accommodations are comfortably outfitted, if not particularly stylish. In addition to trotting and trail rides, kids will love spending time in the barnyard, where they can interact with farm animals; biking through the valley; and birdwatching on Alisal Lake. Older kids can try their hand at air rifle shooting or stand-up paddle boards. Seasonal activities, such as movie nights, storytellers and a ropes course, add to the family-friendly fun. And for parents who want to squeeze in a round of golf, there are two courses onsite.
Few ranches earn the prestigious Relais & Chateaux designation, but Home Ranch outside Steamboat Springs is in that elite group. The six rooms in the main lodge and the eight standalone cabins whisper of rustic luxury, with top-quality materials and bespoke decor. Relais & Chateaux properties are known for stellar dining, and this is no exception, with a daily-changing menu that might feature delicacies such as goat cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms, chili-rubbed striped bass or flan with macerated local peaches.
Although Home Ranch has an age limit (kids must be at least 6), it is unquestionably family-friendly. The children’s program runs from 8:30a-9p, and a dedicated staff of kids’ counselors leads activities such as nature hikes, kickball and barn dances. There are also options tailored just for teens, including overnight campouts and just hanging out in the rec room. And the riding program, one of the finest anywhere, is customizable; wranglers join guests at their first dinner to get a sense of experience and comfort levels, then develop an instruction plan from there.
Unpretentious yet upscale, the venerable A Bar A is perfect for families seeking a digital diet. With no TVs or phones in the rooms, the focus is on family time and enjoying the outdoors. WIFI is available for guests who need it, but everyone is encouraged to disconnect as much as possible. Three guesthouses and 16 cabins, done in unfussy mountain style, accommodate both small and large groups with ease.
Non-riders can play a round of golf on the 9-hole course, get in a tennis match or sunbathe by the heated pool, while riding enthusiasts have the opportunity for a self-guided or wrangler-led ride. The all-day kids’ program, which includes lunch and dinner, is packed full of activities to keep children on the go, and teens have their very own recreation room, the Lariat. A Bar A welcomes very young kids too, offering babysitter service so that parents can enjoy some time on the trails.
When it comes to accommodations, guests at The Ranch at Rock Creek are spoiled for choice. There are the typical cabins and lodge rooms, but also luxury homes, glamping cabins and a remodeled 19th-century barn that can be configured as a three-bedroom family unit. The decor in each is top-of-the-line, with niceties such as copper soaking tubs, expansive gourmet kitchens and Oriental rugs. Unlike most ranches, which serve meals family-style in a communal space, The Ranch at Rock Creek offers four distinct dining venues, from the cozy Granite Lodge dining room to the alfresco Blue Canteen.
The Old West is alive and well here — activities include old-fashioned stagecoach rides and rodeos, plus more modern pursuits such as a ropes course and geocaching. The Little Grizzlies kids’ club, for ages 4 to 12, is shaped around outdoor education; themes range from Rivers & Ponds to Cowboys & Horses. Meanwhile, parents can savor a treatment at the Granite Spa or simply relax at the pond-side Bikini Beach.
This 19th-century working cattle ranch, hidden away in a remote corner of Wyoming, is a true destination. Luxury is on full display in the lodge rooms, cabin suites, and cabin residences, which include overscale chandeliers, sophisticated artwork and fine trappings. During their stay at The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, families also can book an overnight glamping adventure in the ranch’s yurt — this secluded setting is home to private archery lessons, fishing, wildlife viewing and more.
The Lil’ Wranglers program, for ages 4 to 8, blends horseback time with tried-and-true kids’ activities such as arts and crafts, capture the flag and fort building. While riding instruction and options here are excellent, this is a particularly good property for non-riders, as it has a true resort atmosphere with a spa, gaming venue, hunting, water activities and more. The four dining venues range from an elegant restaurant to an open-air campfire setting.
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Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of the ranch properties pictured.
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