Hotels are out, dude ranches are in. At least to some luxury travelers.
More wealthy travelers are opting to stay local, rather than travel overseas this holiday season. Many are heading to the mountain states, seeking intimate settings that fuse privacy, safety, fresh air, and breathtaking views of nature. It’s also the kind of wholesome setting that creates the space for bonding between family and friends.
As a result, a number of ultra-luxe western dude ranches are seeing a surge of bookings this fall and winter. Experts say dude ranches will continue to surge in popularity throughout next year, driving luxury demand in states such as Montana, Utah, and Colorado.
“Luxury ranches offer privacy and ample outdoor space to feel safe when returning to travel after a pandemic—but the most magical part is the sentiment of nostalgia and escape they offer,” says Larry Mueller , CEO and founder of Cuvée, a travel company that pairs adventures with stays at luxury villas, chalets, and estates. “After a difficult time, travelers want to feel a sense of freedom and adventure.”
Among the ultra-luxe dude ranches seeing a spike in popularity is the Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont. Since 1995, this pioneering luxe ranch offers much more than your average horseback ride.
The ranch features breathtaking scenery and meals conjured by the ranch’s in-house gourmet chef, Jacob Leatherman , who combines fine dining—much of it locally sourced—with award-winning vintage wine. Guests stay in luxury cabins with private hot tubs.
“In recent years, especially with the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in demand as people have rediscovered America’s backyard and welcome these new guests to our corner of Montana,” says David MacIlwraith , the general manager of Triple Creek Ranch.
Dunton Destinations , which has locations in Telluride and Dolores , Colo., offers five-star hotel amenities inside luxury tents in the middle of the wilderness. They are connected by trails with amenities including enormous soaking tubs and towel-warmers.
There’s also The Ranch at Rock Creek , a five-star guest ranch with a remodeled 19th-century barn and luxury log homes in Philipsburg, Mont., offering everything from yoga classes to archery and sapphire mining.
Meanwhile, The Green O resort in Greenough, Mont., boasts stays in luxury residences called the Light Haus , which has enormous windows to watch the stars at night. For outings, they offer over 25 outdoor activities, from snowmobile rides to snowshoeing and nature hikes. Wellness activities include hot stone massages with Blackfoot River rocks.
At Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyo., its old-fashioned style farm feels like the set of an old Western film. The resort offers seed-to-table meals, a rotating menu at its luxury restaurant, plus a brewery, distillery, and wine cellar. Winter activities include ice fishing, skiing, and ice skating for guests. Brush Creek also has an event space to fit up to 250 people.
“Luxury travelers place a high value on their leisure time; they’re looking for lifetime memories and experiences that combine personal growth, renewal, and strengthening relationships,” says Mike Williams , executive vice president and COO of Brush Creek Ranch.
The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont., is also seeing a surge in fall bookings. According to Laurence Lipson , the co-owner and managing director, it's more than just the Wild West intrigue. As a bona fide working cattle and bison ranch, it was born as a family business bought by his parents to raise cattle.
“We can offer a bit more genuineness and historical perspective than the average dude ranch,” he says. “There’s wonderful wildlife and breathtaking surroundings of Montana. It’s a wild and rugged setting, but it’s also very peaceful and rejuvenating. There’s a real sense of authenticity here.”
On site, the resort has luxury vacation homes, ranging from two to four bedrooms in wooden-clad accommodations—as well as glamping—surrounded by greenery. Guests can take horse-drawn carriage rides or try out a cattle drive. “Our ranch activities are things they wouldn't be able to experience anywhere else in the world, instead of being more of a bucket list type of thing,” says Lipson.
Each rental ranch comes with a private Lexus vehicle so guests can get around the property. They have chef’s kitchens, fireplaces, outdoor decks, and game rooms for families, as well as cuisine from a former French Laundry chef, Sunny Jin . Guests can choose from over 50 outdoor activities; the property boasts over 100 miles of trails, which guests can visit on foot, horseback, or bike.
“We cater to travelers who desire to be at one with nature, but who still want to be able to enjoy the finer things in life with little or no discomfort at all,” Lipson adds.