THE COWBOY LIFE AT ITS MOST LUXURIOUS
Home Ranch Clark, Colo.; 970/879-1780; www.homeranch.com; adults and children from $2,125 per week. A Relais & Châteaux resort dressed in denim and antlers. The eight cabins come with Indian rugs, hot tubs, and down duvets. Each guest is assigned his or her own horse. Children (ages six and up) can join counselors in riding, swimming, and fishing from 8 a.m. till 9 p.m.—and are encouraged to chow down before their parents at night.
Mountain Sky Bozeman, Mont.; 800/548-3392 or 406/333-4911; www.mtnsky.com; adults from $2,660 per week, $2,205 per child. The first guests at this 1890's cattle ranch would still recognize the stone fireplaces, split-pine furniture, and trails along the Yellowstone River (Yellowstone Park is only 35 miles north). But the tennis courts, smoked antelope with green risotto, massage menu (no more saddle sores!), and kids' program would be a nice surprise.
HF Bar Saddlestring, Wyo.; 307/684-2487; www.hfbar.com; adults and children from $1,295 per week. Trail riding begins here at age five, but even infants are incorporated into the program. There are 200 horses and 10,000 acres—experienced riders can trot off on their own. Lots of hands-on opportunities for stable rats, too. Big plus: coffee and a fax of the New York Times delivered daily to each of the 28 cabins.
Hidden Creek Ranch Harrison, Idaho; 800/446-3833 or 208/689-3209; www. hiddencreek.com; adults $1,969 for five nights, $1,615 per child. Yoga and meditation classes, fitness hikes, sweat-lodge ceremonies, and a wide-ranging horse program, 78 miles east of Spokane. Children three and up take daily rides and guided hikes, and can spend a night in a tepee village.
Pinegrove Dude Ranch Kerhonkson, N.Y.; 800/346-4626 or 845/626-7345; www.pinegroveranch.com; adults and children from $785 per week. A big, action-oriented (riding, fishing, tennis, boating, boccie ball, archery) resort in the Catskills that shifts to downhill skiing lessons in winter. The camp takes on babies to teens, with a full day of activities. Caveat: No cozy cabins here; the 125 rooms are motel-style.
Tumbling River Grant, Colo.; 800/654- 8770 or 303/838-5981; www.tumblingriver.com; adults from $1,700 per week, $1,300 per child. A Rockies retreat with a serious kids' camp (separate riding groups for ages 3 to 5, 6 to 12, and teens). Guests stay in a 1920's mountain hideout, or a stone pueblo built by Taos Indians that's ideal for a group of up to 22 to take over.
Vista Verde Steamboat Springs, Colo.; 800/526-7433 or 970/879-3858; www.vistaverde.com; adults from $1,950 per week, $1,650 per child. A high-end spread with notable food (hand-cranked ice cream!) and a kids' setup that allows for riding, rafting, hot-air ballooning, and rock-climbing with parents—and gold panning and treasure hunting without them.
CLASSIC DUDE RANCHES
Brush Creek Ranch Saratoga, Wyo.; 800/726-2499 or 307/327-5241; www. brushcreekranch.com; adults from $585 for three nights, $450 per child. Guests can take part in cattle drives or canter across fields of sagebrush. Fly-fishing is another big draw. There are horseback riding and nature outings for kids six and up, but mostly, families roam the 6,000-acre range together.
63 Ranch Livingston, Mont.; 406/222- 0570; www.sixtythree.com; adults from $1,150 per week, $950 per child. A small outpost (capacity: 30) that tailors each week's schedule to guests' interests. Among the choices: joining a cattle roundup or venturing into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness for the night. Fans of cowboy decorating, note: the dining room has original Molesworth furniture.
These are large enough for unwieldy groups—and nature-phobes can check out the tennis and pool scene.
Alisal Solvang, Calif.; 800/425-4725 or 805/688-6411; www.alisal.com; adults from $395 (minimum two-night stay), $150 per child. Two 18-hole golf courses—plus 100 horses, 2,000 head of cattle, seven tennis courts, a lake, an all-day kids' program, and 10,000 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley, northwest of Santa Barbara. Families bunk in 73 cottages with no TV's or phones.
Tanque Verde Tucson, Ariz.; 800/234- 3833 or 520/296-6275; www.tanqueverderanch.com; adults from $305 (minimum two-night stay), $80 per child. It's only 30 minutes from the Tucson airport, but Tanque Verde, bordered by Coronado National Forest and Saguaro National Park, feels astonishingly isolated. The stable houses 140 horses, and parents can join kids on trail rides. There's also hiking, biking, fishing, and 275 species of birds to spot.
Rates quoted are for minimum stays, and include all meals and activities.
A RANCH NEAR YOU
Ranch Vacations, by Gene Kilgore (Avalon Travel), and its companion Web site, www.ranchweb.com, is an encyclopedia of guest ranches in North America. It's extremely useful and well organized (with roundups of ranches that offer kids' programs and even infants' programs), if not discriminating—listings are paid for by ranch owners. For ranches around the world, see www.ranchvacations.com.
THE ULTIMATE COWBOY VACATION | HIRE AN OUTFITTER
Off the Beaten Path (800/445-2995; www.offthebeatenpath.com) specializes in top-of-the-line family adventures in the West and Alaska, and can advise—for a price—on the ins and outs of the best ranches in their territory. They will also take care of travel details, snag hard-to-get reservations, and expertly orchestrate a family reunion.
Abercrombie & Kent (800/323-7308 or 630/954-2944; www.abercrombiekent.com), famous for its seamless safaris, has recently homed in on the American West, with packages at four guest ranches and a Future Explorers Club for kids.