Leave the heels at home, forget your make-up and tell the office not to call. Families looking for a true escape from city life are skipping the scene at the Hamptons, Nantucket and Malibu and succumbing to the lure of the American West. But it’s not just the drop-dead landscapes and pristine wilderness that are pushing the cowboy life to the top of everyone’s wish list. The kids’ programs are so good that parents can log some alone time in addition to scoring plenty of family bonding. So saddle up and follow our lead to the top dude ranches you should be visiting this summer.
For Family Camp: Lone Mountain Ranch
Neither the most famous nor the most fancy, this 100-year-old ranch, one of the original Montana homesteads, delivers the kind of old-school family trip that will keep everyone from Grandma to baby happy. There are no televisions or telephones, but there is reliable wifi plus wagon rides to bbq dinners, excellent fly fishing and whitewater rafting plus, most importantly for cowgirl wannabes, a huge stable of steeds for galloping through the Big Sky meadows. Cabins range from rustic to recently renovated, but chances are you’ll visit them only to sleep. Evening s’mores on the central lawn keeps everyone out past bedtime.
For Glamping: Resort at Paws Up
Families who like the idea of camping but can’t give up the essentials (fine linens, indoor plumbing, ‘natch), Montana’s Paws Up is the place to be. The accommodations in their six camps range from new three-bedroom tent suites to romantic adults-only tents that overlook the Blackfoot River and even have air-conditioning. Split your stay between the tents and the ranch homes, which range up to reunion size if you want to bring all your friends. If the ranch’s 37,000 acres don’t provide enough activities, don’t sweat it; there are an additional 1.5-million-acres of wilderness preserve next door.
For Five-Star: Ranch at Rock Creek
Don’t like crowds, or anything less than the best? Ranch at Rock Creek’s got you covered. Each of the twenty-eight cabins look like a design magazine blended with a Ralph Lauren daydream. Haylofts turned hotel rooms, bunk beds hewn from vintage woods, copper soaking tubs, and exposed beams are all Old West perfection, yet finished to meet the exacting tastes of New West billionaires. Roam the ranch’s 6,600 acres or chopper into Pintler Mountain Range to fish and hike in untouched wilderness (sleep overnight if you want). There aren’t many resorts in the world that can top this.
For Wyoming Wilderness: Brush Creek Ranch
With so many ranches in Montana, it can be easy to forget that some of the West’s most spectacular scenery is one state south in Wyoming. And while Brush Creek isn’t easy to reach (it’s a 3.5-hour drive from Denver unless you charter into the local airstrip), the trip takes guests through one of the prettiest parts of the state. Kids will love Brush Creek’s Lil’ Wranglers program, while adults can hit some of the West’s best fly fishing, join a cattle drive or hike up Medicine Bow Peak. So popular is the ranch that many families return year after year, so plan ahead if you want to score a peak summer date.
For a Takeover: Dunton Hot Springs
Head to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains with a group to experience a 19th-century mining ghost town returned to life as the perfect western escape on the banks of the Dolores River. Serious hikers can head to the famous Via Ferrata or trek to the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings while the younger crowd stays put in “town” or does an easy horseback ride from camp. With only twelve cabins, this is the perfect private escape for the right crew.