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Western Wanderlust



Move over, glamping, there’s a new “it” travel experience in town. The guest ranch has become a preferred travel experience for the affluent. In the last few years, guest ranches that combine the spirit of the Old West with the pampering of a five-star resort have grown in popularity among supermodels, celebrities and well-to-do families alike who want to experience a frontier fantasyland of sorts. A certain Hollywood actress has been known to escape to Colorado’s Dunton Hot Springs and Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch for much-needed respite on the range; several supermodels have also shared their experiences of “roughin’ it” at Montana’s The Ranch at Rock Creek on Instagram.

So why are so many sophisticated travelers opting to swap out their Ferragamo heels for cowboy boots to vacation at these fancy-yet-pretension-free destinations?

“One of the reasons travelers are seeking out guest ranches like The Ranch at Rock Creek is because of the increasing emphasis on experiential travel,” says Jon Martin, general manager. “Guests come to be immersed in the experience, not just to have a vacation. They connect with the natural wonders of our mountain ranges, the diversity of our ecosystem and the authentic Western adventure.”

Travel experts agree. In addition to a greater interest in experiential travel, a growing emphasis on multigenerational family travel has been a major driver in the popularity of luxury guest ranches.

“Kids are busy with activities, both parents often work long days, and everyone is connected to their devices,” explains Caroline Bach Wood, a Bozeman, Montana-based independent travel advisor with Travel Experts, a Virtuoso Agency. “I find my clients crave connection to each other and to the natural world. They come to me seeking unique properties in the mountains with beautiful scenery and a full host of activities to keep everyone entertained while also offering the level of service and luxury they are accustomed to when they travel. This is where luxury ranches are often a perfect option.”

Adds Diana Traficante of Westlake Village, California-based en Route Travel, another Virtuoso Agency: “My clients are intrigued by the chance to enjoy an authentic Western experience and be active together, riding horses, fly fishing, hiking, biking and more. A luxury ranch experience gets everyone off the grid and off their devices, so they can get back to basics: family, fun and fresh air!”

If “family, fun and fresh air” sounds like a summer vacation made in heaven, then look no further. Here are five classic Western getaways that have mastered the art of “glampsteading.”


Dunton Hot Springs

Nestled between Telluride and Durango, Dunton Hot Springs brings together the rustic charm of an 1885 mining camp-turned-ghost town with the romance of gussied-up accommodations such as rain showers, heated floors, luxurious linens, pampering massages, sensuous hot springs and a cell phone-free environment (although there is Wi-Fi) to create a destination that feels almost otherworldly.

The 1,500-acre resort is refreshingly intimate, offering only 13 homestead cabins clustered around “a life-worn saloon” that serves restaurant-quality food and wine. Between the property’s nine private miles of Dolores River teeming with trout, a majestic 35-foot waterfall, and numerous horseback-riding, hiking and mountain-biking trails, you feel as if your past life — in whatever city you came from — is just worlds away. While the resort offers a variety of day and overnight packages, the entire town or ranch can be rented exclusively for corporate retreats, family reunions and weddings.

Rates from $1,000/night


Triple Creek Ranch

This adults-only, all-inclusive Relais & Châteaux property sits on 26,000 acres in the heart of the breathtaking Bitterroot Mountain range of the Montana Rockies and features all the trappings of Western elegance: awe-inspiring views, welcoming five-star service, privacy with only 23 cabins — many of which are outfitted with comfy pine-frame beds and outdoor hot tubs — plus an excellent restaurant and fine wine list at the lodge that would satisfy the most serious of epicureans.

If it’s Western ranch activities you seek, you’ll have plenty of choices — horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, rafting, trap shooting, mountain biking, photo safaris and seasonal activities like a cattle drive in September, as well as dog sledding and skiing (both cross-country and downhill). If you want to take a break from the outdoor adventures, there are also artist’s workshops, wine-tasting events, massages and other activities.

Rates from $950/night

The Ranch at Rock Creek

Another all-inclusive Relais & Châteaux property, the Ranch at Rock Creek rests on 10 square miles outside Philipsburg, Montana. As the only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star property in Montana and the world’s first five-star luxury ranch, it has become a celebrity favorite for blending the adventures of the frontier with lavish amenities.

It’s the kind of place where you can enjoy lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes for breakfast, go horseback riding, follow it up with a massage at the award-winning spa, and cap off the evening with a special tasting-menu dinner complete with grass-fed beef and wine in the dining lodge. Privacy and luxury are priorities at the ranch, with accommodations that range from lodge rooms and glamping tents to a historic barn and luxury homes. Some cabins even feature outdoor patios, where you can relax to the sounds of nearby Rock Creek in a private cedar soaking tub.

The property offers over 20 guided outdoor activities, including fly fishing on a Blue Ribbon trout stream. Twice-daily ranch activities are part of the all-inclusive package. Rodeos are a weekly event during the summer. Each October, the ranch also hosts a special Autumn Harvest Weekend, with LeAnn Rimes headlining several local Montana bands. Affluent travelers have caught on. “We averaged 90-percent occupancy across all our holidays in 2018,” says Martin. “We also saw a 67-percent increase in guests from January to May in 2018, as compared with the prior year.”

Rates from $900/night per person


A Bar A Ranch

A Bar A Ranch does “Western elegant” as good as any other American guest ranch. Settled along the banks of the North Platte River, in the heart of southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains, the 1922-established property is one of the oldest
guest ranches in the country, and at over 100,000 acres, it is also one of the largest.

Only open from June to September, A Bar A Ranch offers the standard summer outdoor activities like fly fishing and hiking, along with tennis, swimming and golf. After you work up your appetite for the day, you’ll want to indulge in the chef’s creative menu in the Double Rainbow Dining Lodge and enjoy wine from the A Bar A’s famous wine cellar — which holds one of the largest selections of fine wines in the entire state of Wyoming. Afterward, don’t miss a chance to socialize with your fellow guests in the Round Room, a 1920s historic lodge designed by Thomas Molesworth, or take a stroll in the Western-style sculpture garden. Luxurious accommodations at the all-inclusive summer retreat include historic cabins and lodges designed to fit a variety of family sizes.

Rates from $555/night for adults, $450/night for children (aged 6–11), $340/night for children (aged 3–5) and no charge for children under 3


Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

Drive 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara, and you’ll find Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort’s 50 miles of riding trails, 100-acre spring-fed lake, two 18-hole championship golf courses, tennis courts, pool, spa, Western-themed accommodations and fine dining tucked away in California’s famed Santa Ynez Valley.

The ranch was once a celebrity haven; Doris Day was a past guest, and Clark Gable famously married Lady Silvia in Alisal’s old library, according to the ranch’s website. The ranch — which has been owned and operated by the same family for 75 years — caters primarily to multigenerational families today.

“Alisal has been proactive in adding guest activities and amenities that appeal to all members of the family, as there is a strong desire to reconnect with loved ones and truly unplug in today’s fast-paced world,” says Jim Jackson, the third-generation patriarch and chief operating officer of the ranch.

“Alisal is a place to return to a simpler time, where guests enjoy the unique and rare experiences our family-owned ranch has to offer. A few include our miles of hiking, horseback riding and biking trails and an extensive list of equine programs for all experience levels.”

There are sailboats and canoes, archery and air rifles, a ropes course and a spa with exercise facilities. But it’s the ranch’s unique traditions that are most memorable to those who have the opportunity to stay here. There are no televisions or telephones in the rooms. Guests enjoy the consistency of dining at the same table each night, and men are required to wear formal jackets to dinner. These are just some of the touches that inspire guests to return year after year.

“Alisal has experienced a great uptick in bookings in the last two years,” adds Sherrie FitzGerald, director of marketing, attributing the growth partly to the economy and the upswing in California destination travel.

Rates from $575/night

By Alyson Pitarre

This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine. 

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