September 12, 2020
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Whoever said that dude ranches aren't exciting made a grave mistake. Horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, archery—what more could we ask for? California's cattle ranches–turned–vacation destinations are the low-tech, Western-themed adventures you’ve been missing out on.
The Golden State has no shortage of California dude ranches, and now, they’re as luxurious as ever. Upscale accommodations, wide-open spaces, and pristine nature make them the perfect option for family vacations and glamping. The Western-inspired vacation spots are a change of scenery for both locals and tourists looking for unique, authentic experiences.
But you may be wondering: What exactly is a dude ranch? (And no, it’s not a ranch for “bros.”) Back in the day, “dude” had a completely different meaning. In the late 19th century, East Coast urbanites became fascinated with the West and frequently visited ranches to escape the crowds of their suburban routine and experience the rough-and-tough life.
Westerners started calling wealthy, East Coast–born visitors “dudes” since they didn't have to face the genuine risks that real cowboys did on a daily basis. So, the Dude Ranchers’ Association was formed in 1926 to preserve the Western lifestyle and environment. As a result, a whole new industry was born, and “dude” was no longer considered a derogatory term. Guest ranches then became known as dude ranches.
If you want to enjoy a Wild West experience, saddle up and put on your cowboy (or cowgirl) hat for your next vacation at one of the best California dude ranches.
The Best Dude Ranches in Northern California
1. Greenhorn Ranch
Location: 2116 Greenhorn Ranch Road, Quincy
Providing guests with a true ranch experience, Greenhorn Ranch is a wonderful destination for family vacations, retreats, team buildings, and even weddings. The all-inclusive dude ranch provides guests with trout fishing, archery, mountain biking, skeet shooting, horseback riding, and swimming in a pool with a view—all amidst a luxurious rustic setting.
This long-time member of the Dude Ranchers’ Association warmly welcomes visitors for a genuine ranch experience with breathtaking mountain vistas and an abundance of activities. You may find the best dude ranch vacation experience at Greenhorn Ranch.
2. Marble Mountain Ranch
Location: 92520 Highway 96, Somes Bar
The ultimate California dude ranch experience awaits you at Marble Mountain Ranch. Family-owned since 1968, the guest ranch provides you with an exciting combination of stunning scenery and fabulous mountain trail horseback riding. Here, all your cowboy dreams come true. The all-inclusive dude ranch offers lodging, meals, riding, kayaking, fishing, sporting clays, and top-notch hospitality. Embark on a journey of Western adventures in this hidden gem.
3. Hunewill Guest Ranch
Location: 1110 Hunewill Ranch Road, Bridgeport
Located north of Yosemite National Park, Hunewill Guest Ranch is a working cattle ranch with over 100 trained horses and lush meadows. The homely ambience of the guest ranch immediately welcomes you. Home-style meals among scenic mountain trails enhance your recreational paradise at this California dude ranch.
Hunewill does a fantastic job offering horseback riding options for all ages and skill levels. With wild iris growing amidst the tall grasses, this dude ranch is also perfect for nature enthusiasts who are eager to participate in the traditional ranch life of the Old West. Ride your horse into the sunset at Hunewill Guest Ranch, and make long-lasting memories with your loved ones.
4. Bar SZ Ranch
Location: 10001 Willow Creek Road, Paicines
Disconnect from the city buzz and reconnect with nature at Bar SZ Ranch. The 660-acre dude ranch allows you to experience the life your ancestors lived in the Wild West. Located on the historic property of the Legendary Doc Bar Ranch, it has an art studio that once belonged to renowned painter Thomas Kinkade.
Embrace the country lifestyle on your dude ranch vacation as you feed animals, learn to rope, practice archery, hike around the area, and explore the creek. Gather your friends and family at night to relax and roast s’mores around the campfire as you immerse yourself in the stellar night sky.
5. V6 Ranch
Location: 70410 Parkfield-Coalinga Road, Parkfield
Indulge in the beauty of the Wild West at V6 Ranch on your next dude ranch vacation. Occupying 20,000 acres of California’s most diverse and alluring landscapes, this guest ranch embodies the rustic side of the Golden State. V6 Ranch's Parkfield Lodge has nine guest rooms with impeccable details. The rustic California dude ranch also features a pool, a spa area, a gazebo, and a wonderful treehouse. With over 50 scenic miles of trails to explore, savor the charm of the West among the ranch’s wildlife.
The Best Dude Ranches in Southern California
1. Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
Location: 1054 Alisal Road, Solvang
Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, a member of the Dude Ranchers’ Association, is one of the most luxurious dude ranches in Southern California. Privately owned and operated since 1946, it’s the glamping getaway you need. The 10,000-acre working cattle ranch and full-service resort provides guests with two golf courses, six tennis courts, and a 100-acre private lake for fishing and boating. An outdoor ropes course with a rock climbing wall is available for visitors to enjoy, too.
The cottages are decorated in a California ranch design with Spanish accents. To top things off, the rooms have wood-burning fireplaces and private baths. Relax at the spa, swim in the heated pool, and live your best life at this glamourous California dude ranch.
2. Circle Bar B Stables and Dude Ranch
Location: 1800 Refugio Road, Goleta
The pristine coastal paradise of Circle Bar B Stables and Dude Ranch has been operating since 1939. Providing guests with a full-service spa and a true home-style dining experience, the guest ranch is the oldest public horseback riding stable in Santa Barbara County, so escape to Santa Barbara for the weekend.
A ride into the hills at this California dude ranch is a unique experience—the ocean comes into view and takes your breath away. The lodging here is just as beautiful; Western-style rooms and rustic-chic two-story houses with a stone fireplace enhance your dude ranch experience. Enjoy complimentary meals and quiet evenings at the outdoor pool of this prestigious guest ranch.
3. Reed Valley Ranch
Location: 36521 Reed Valley Road, Hemet
An 835-acre cattle ranch with verdant valleys, oak groves, and bumpy hills, Reed Valley Ranch is a family-owned and operated dude ranch. Frequently used as a film and photography location, the guest ranch has multiple ponds, barns, and an original Spanish-style house along with a bunkhouse. The ranch has trails set up for a variety of horseback riding levels. A beautiful location tucked away in the hills of Hemet, there’s so much to see, do, and soak in. So, escape the hustle and bustle of the city and plan your next dude ranch vacation at Reed Valley Ranch.
4. Rankin Ranch
Location: 23500 Walker Basin Road, Caliente
Established in 1863, Rankin Ranch is one of the oldest and largest family-owned dude ranches in Southern California. Sharing the Western lifestyle with locals and tourists from all over the world, guests participate in horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and swimming activities. The all-inclusive dude ranch also offers delicious homemade meals that leave you craving more. Visitors stay in rustic cabins secluded in the magnificent mountains. Let the beautiful scenery penetrate your soul while the chirping birds silence the city noises.
5. Silver Saddle Ranch and Club
Location: 20751 Aristotle Drive, California City
An oasis in the Mojave Desert, Silver Saddle Ranch and Club is the ideal dude ranch vacation spot. With a variety of outdoor activities, the guest ranch offers two open-air pools, a full-service spa, and a gourmet restaurant. Members of the ranch have the ultimate getaway experience.
The California dude ranch has 45 rooms, including three executive suites and eight bungalows with private patios. Kayaking, biking, and swimming are a few of the many activities guests actively engage in. Stretching between pleasant lush areas and an exceptional desert setting, Silver Saddle Ranch and Club provides a relaxing atmosphere and a serene environment.
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