2023 – The Year of the Cowboy
Usually a last resort, being a cowboy during the frontier era was a dangerous and badly paid job for lowly drovers. This stands in stark contrast to today, as scores of travellers are paying to saddle up for a chance to experience the authentic Western lifestyle.
Post pandemic, demand for ranch holidays in the USA continues to soar, with specialist operator Ranch Rider now predicting that 2023 will be the Year of the Cowboy.
Throughout this year, North America has been incredibly popular, and the desire to explore the continent’s wide-open spaces on horseback shows no sign of stopping. US ranches filled up much more quickly this past season, and some cattle and horse drive outfitters are already taking bookings for 2024. While riding holidays are available in Africa, Asia and South America, it is America’s Wild West that is still a huge draw for adventurous travellers.
Arizona Rancho de la Osa
Cattle ranching in the Grand Canyon state dates back more than 300 years to 1690, when the first cows were introduced to the region by Spanish settlers.
Head to Arizona’s 600-acre Rancho de la Osa, as the wranglers are always ready and willing to show guests how to work the Criollo herd. Located high in the Sonoran Desert, just over an hour south of Tucson, the ranch surrounds were the backdrop for several movies including Light of the Western Sky, dating back to 1918, and the ranch was a favourite of Wild West movie icon, John Wayne – you can stay in his favourite room!
A property with many stories to tell, the Tohono O’Odham Indians; the Jesuits and the Mexican Army have all occupied this landscape, and a cannonball fired by Mexican revolutionary general, Pancho Villa, is embedded in the wall of the Hacienda. No less legendary, the on-site cowboy poet (one of only eight cowboys enshrined on the Working Ranch Cowboy Association Wall of Legends) has logged a record breaking 45,000 plus miles sitting atop a mule in the Grand Canyon – the most miles travelled by a human at the world heritage site.
In or out of the saddle there are an almost endless number of ways to enjoy this vast desert expanse. Hit the trail on your trusty steed, by fat tire electric bike, in a UTV or simply on foot, with eerie ghost towns and a plethora of wildlife dotting your path.
Montana Hidden Hollow Hideaway
Where better to catch the cowboy bug than in Montana where the cattle outnumber people almost 3 to 1.
Nestled in the mountains and east of Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Townsend’s 15,000 acre Hidden Hollow Hideaway is a fixture of the American West. While the ranch has been operating for more than 160 years, it is still changing with the times, its modern-day accolades including the Leopold Conservation Award (2021).
The Flynn family are able to trace their roots back to the 1860s when their ancestors followed the gold rush to Diamond City, a once booming ghost town located on the northern side of the property. With a herd of 200 cattle there is always plenty of action and adventure on horseback.
The herds are regularly rotated in the summer from one mountain pasture to another, and in the spring, the team gets busy in the foothills during calving time. Expect to be put through your cowboy paces as guests are encouraged to go at their own pace, rather than ride nose to tail, and practice their reining skills.
Hunt for cows through forests littered with fallen trees and branches. clamber up steep slopes, and back on the plains enjoy long canters. Summer rodeo visits, trips to Yellowstone and white-water adventures can also be arranged.
Idaho Medicine Lodge Horse Drive
Tied to a successful horse rescue program, Idaho’s world-famous Medicine Lodge Horse Drive is rated as the ultimate challenge for anyone craving to test their mettle out West.
An adrenaline-charged experience, the adventure involves driving a herd of over 40 horses across the Gem state’s desert canyon backcountry, with the ride spanning 100,000 acres of wide-open Rocky Mountain terrain. Starting their journey as unbroken colts and fillies, over the course of the five-night riding holiday, the horses gain the skills they will need to become sure-footed cow ponies, the trails taking them across creeks, deadfall, and steep terrain.
An authentic Western journey and all off-grid, the rustic ranch cabins (three-nights) and tented accommodation (two nights) come complete with outhouse showers and toilets. Traditional chuckwagon dinners also stay true to the old West, and there is the opportunity to bathe in Idaho’s natural warm springs.
Wyoming Vee Bar Ranch
Built in the 1890s and listed on the Register of Historic Places, city slickers have been hitting the trail at Wyoming’s fourth-generation Vee Bar Ranch for over a century.
Made for families, at this working guest property, even tweens have the opportunity to learn the ways of the cowboy, as guests as young as eight years old are able to move cattle across the pasture and participate in exhilarating games of team penning in the arena.
Nestled among the cottonwoods at the foot of the Snowy Range mountains, the ranch is surrounded by breath-taking scenery, and every summer, the nearby town of Laramie goes “rodeo up” to celebrate Laramie Jubilee Days. A free event that began as a horse race back in 1940, today’s week-long festivities include a kids’ horse show, professional PRCA bull riding, petting zoos, carnivals, live music, street dancing and more.
Back on the ranch, families can sign up for camp-outs, trapshooting, archery, tubing, and private fishing. One mile of the Little Laramie River flows through the property, the waters swarming with Brown and Brook Trout.
Colorado Chico Basin Ranch
Forward thinking, learning the cowboy way at Colorado’s Chico Basin Ranch goes much further than simply herding its 1,800 head of cattle. Living out West teaches you how to be resilient and adaptive – attributes the crew on this family managed working operation have in chuckwagon loads.
From using age-old regenerative farming methods to conserve the land, to designing leather products that have scored a mention in Vogue, this is a ranch that stays in step with the times. Out on the range you could be gathering a pasture, checking water or repairing fences, and in spring and autumn there are adrenaline inducing cattle drives. Another highlight of the year is branding time, where you can expect around 500 head of calves to be branded in one day.
Socially inviting, the shared accommodation is offered to a tight knit weekly group of only six guests, and every evening meal is enjoyed with the crew and the Phillips family.
Idaho Western Pleasure
Located in the panhandle region of Idaho, the 1,100-acre Western Pleasure has clocked up more than a few miles on the trail.
The fifth-generation guest ranch has been in the hands of the Schoonover’s since 1940, making it ideal for families and multigenerational groups looking for a home away from home rather than a resort.
Beautifully positioned, the property sits at the foothills of the pine-crested Cabinet Mountains, the surrounding terrain composed of ridges, forests, valleys, logging roads and meadows. Horse riding is the main activity and the expert wranglers are able to give guests a glimpse into the world of Wild West horsemanship.
Spend your time either in the arena practising cattle sorting and barrel racing (the kids showing off their new found skills in the weekly gymkhana), or ride through countryside where the wildlife viewing is worthy of a National Geographic spread.
Trapshooting, e-bike rides, archery, hiking and fishing are alternative pursuits, and typical cowboy fare, end your day with a campfire sing along or line dancing.