Looking to get a taste of the Wild West without spending weeks aboard a wagon and dealing with heat, dust, hail, mud, bad water and broken wheels, not to mention hostile attacks , starvation, disease and perhaps death? Head to a western ranch.
This is what the thin, asthmatic and wealthy young New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt did in 1883. He wore a fringed buckskin shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, a silver belt buckle engraved with an image of a grizzly bear, alligator riding boots, spurs engraved with his initials. , and leather leggings, and wielding an ivory-handled Colt revolver and a silver-mounted Bowie knife made by decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
As he would have done all his life, Roosevelt enjoyed watching and playing the role.
Roosevelt bought a small ranch in the Dakota badlands along the Little Missouri River where, he said, “the romance of my life began”. He bought a herd of Texas cattle, declared himself a rancher, and set about living a life of stubbornness and courage, more like an Arab sheik, he imagined, than a “merchant or tradesman of elegant city”. Then, in 1884, he had a second, much more luxurious ranch built, which he named Elkhorn.
He raved about life in the West, telling readers of his books that he sat in the shade of his cabin’s veranda to escape the “lifeless hot air” with a few sounds to break the silence. midday. “From the upper branches of the poplars overhead – whose flickering, quivering leaves are almost never silent, but if the wind does not move at all, rustles, trembles and sighs all day – now and then comes the soft and melancholic cooing of the mourning dove…”
Thirty-five miles from Roosevelt’s new ranch was another ranch established several years earlier, in 1879, by three brothers – Alden, Howard and Willis Eaton – at Medora in the Dakota Territory. The Eatons were also wealthy Easterners, from Pittsburgh. Friends from the back east began visiting their ranch every summer, some staying there for months. Eventually, to make ends meet, they had to start charging for housing.
Thus, the first western ranch or “dude” was born. In 1904, along with their ever-unstoppable, now muscular, world-famous, White House old neighbor Roosevelt, the Eatons decamped to Wolf Creek near Sheridan, Wyoming, in the Bighorn Mountains. During the Roaring Twenties, the Eaton’s Ranch thrived by attracting guys from the East who wanted to play cowboy and enjoy the exhilaration of the crisp high mountain air amid the dramatic mountain scenery. Rockies.
The tradition they established continues today in Wyoming on luxury ranches like the ones featured below, all of which offer abundant and deliciously prepared food.
Flat Creek Ranch
Flat Creek Ranch, between Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, was built in the 1920s by a countess and a cowboy along a beautiful spring creek filled with soaring wild cutthroat trout. Five rustic log cabins are equipped with wood-burning stoves and old-fashioned clawfoot tubs.
Trey and Shelby Scharp managed the ranch for a decade. They note that while some Western ranches have 50 or more guests, they only house a dozen at a time and offer an “intimate vibe where you’re never part of a crowd.” Flat Creek does its best to provide a range of outdoor activities, including half-day horseback riding, backcountry fly-fishing, and gentle hikes through brilliant meadows of wildflowers, or more rigorous hikes to the nose of Sleeping Indian Mountain at 11,106 feet.
The minimum stay at Flat Creek is only three nights.
The most remote western ranch in the lower 48 states, Darwin Ranch overlooks the Gros Ventre River, with easy access to the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Pros Ventre Wilderness. It too dates back a century. Today, Kathy Bole and her son, Oliver Klingenstein, run the Darwin. Kathy is a chef who oversees the lodge’s operations and kitchen. Oliver, a Renaissance man with a degree in environmental history, is a certified emergency medical technician and the trainer of the ranch’s herd of mustangs.
The Darwin Ranch, where there is no cell phone service, is a great place to get lost. The minimum stay is six nights.
Deep in the Medicine Bow Mountains of southern Wyoming, along the North Platte River, lies the century-old A-Bar-A Ranch. It and its three sister ranches—Big Creek, State Line, and Sheep Rock—provide access to hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing on more than 100,000 acres. Firing ranges offer trap, skeet, and five-position shotgun shooting; young people can learn archery as well as the use of a .22 rifle.
Managers Lisa and Justin Howe tout the ranch’s guest-staff ratio and sustainable grazing practices with 200 horses and 5,000 cattle.
Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch
“We’re not your typical ranch,” says Peter De Cabooter, originally from Belgium, who along with his wife, Marijn Werquin, bought the Hideout Lodge and Guest Ranch in 2017. The Hideout is in Shell, Wyoming, in the mountains Bighorn. , rising over 10,000 feet above sea level, 110 miles east of Yellowstone National Park. This is an upscale riding and working cattle ranch.
“Whether you’re riding every day or swinging in the saddle for the first time,” says Marijn, “we have a horse that’s right for you.” She points out that wranglers treat their horses gently, to minimize their stress. Natural horsemanship lessons are offered throughout the week.
The relatively new Hideout & Guest Ranch was established in 1995 by Peter’s aunt, Paula De Cabooter-Flitner, and her husband, David. The well-traveled De Cabooter-Flitner has brought his experiences and culinary sensibility to rural Wyoming sagebrush, adding a distinct flair to its operation and atmosphere. Guests arrive and return every year from all over the world. Occupancy is limited to 25 guys per week.