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Best Guest Ranch Vacations for Women

A Directory to the Finest Dude Ranches for Women

by Patti Schmidt

The Homestead Ranch
Matfield Green, Kansas
Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat
[read our story about The Homestead Ranch]

The Homestead Ranch is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch in the Kansas Flint Hills. Wildlife is abundant and Native American arrowheads and tools still crop up in pastures and creekbeds after spring rains. Owner Jane Koger, a fourth-generation rancher, and her mostly women ranch crews have been handling things for 20 years. William Least Heat Moon wrote about Jane and the others in Chase County in his book PrairyErth, the American Library Association's Best Work of Nonfiction for 1991. The county is the geographical center of the U.S.

Programs: Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat offers several programs: two three-day Prairie Ecology programs, which focus on the ecology and use of native prairie plants and four horseback riding programs, for those who want "just a little more time with the horses"; one branding vacation, where guests will help inoculate, brand, and band (turn bull calves into steers) them; and one pasture-burning program each spring. Program manager Ginifer Maceau stressed that this ranch does things "the preferred Humane Society way; for example, we freeze brand rather than hot-iron brand." She believes women are a lot more comfortable with that.

Amenities: Guests reside in a modern bunkhouse: up to two in the one private bedroom; the other 10 guests sleep dormitory style in the bunkhouse, which is heated, air-conditioned, and includes a hot tub on the deck. All meals are provided; the afternoon I spoke with Maceau, they were having teriyaki beef kabobs, rice pilaf, salad, fresh bread and lemonade pie with strawberries.

For more information: contact Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat / The Homestead Ranch Guest Programs at (620) 753-3416.

Wilderness Trails Dude Ranch
Durango, Colo.
Women's Week

The San Juan Mountains and the Los Pinos Valley lend this 160-acre ranch beauty; it also shares a fence line with the Piedra Wilderness Study Area. The Roberts family-Gene, Jan, Randy, Lance, and Erika, who have owned it since 1970- are responsible for its designation in Gene Kilgore 's Ranch Vacations as "one of the finest ranch vacation experiences in the country." At times of the year other than Women's Week, especially in summer, families provide this ranch about 95 percent of its often repeat customers.

Women's Week combines riding and relaxing in a Western, spa-style retreat. Activities include horsemanship training, which focuses on "becoming a better rider; " horseback riding on ranch-owned mounts with instruction (walk, trot, and cantering) on trails in the Piedra Wilderness Area; working with cattle (yearlings) in a large arena; modified team penning; a one-hour massage; a trip to Pagosa Hot Springs; daily yoga classes; hayrides and campfire singalongs; and evening seminars on beauty and health care. "It's an opportunity for women to get away and have some time for themselves," said Jan Roberts. "And to feel totally pampered."

Amenities: Historic two-bedroom log cabins feature full private baths, decks/porches, and daily maid service; some have refrigerators. Cabin suites include three bedrooms, three baths, a living room with wood-burning stove, plus a separate bar area with refrigerator. Meals are prepared by Cordon Bleu Chef Gary Peach.

Awards: Mobil 3 star, AAA 3 Diamond.

For more information: (800) 527-2624.
Email: or

The Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch
Tucson, Ariz.
Cowgirl Camp

Sixteen miles northwest of Tucson, Ariz., and at 2,300 feet above sea level, this casual, relaxed ranch borders 24,000 acres of the Saguaro National Park. The Arts & Entertainment Channel called Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch "one of the world's top destinations for animal adventures." Owners Peter Evans and Jim Shiner have owned the ranch for four years.

Programs: Cowgirl Camp, a 4-day adventure in the Tucson Mountains, is offered several times each year. Instruction by cowgirl wranglers ranges from basic horsemanship, grooming and saddling to barrel racing and team penning. The All-Girl Rodeo finale is prefaced by a shopping trip to a local Western store for boots, hats, and a complete set of cowgirl clothes, so you're dressed appropriately. An awards luncheon, complete with champagne, tops off the event.

Amenities: Lazy K's 23 guest rooms -standard, deluxe and suite-were renovated in 1999. Each casita contains a full, private bath, private entrance and no phones or TVs. Some have private patios and fireplaces. A pool and spa offer relief for tired muscles. The home-cooked, ranch-style meals are hearty and delicious: "We don't tend to lose weight around here," says Vivian Lang, the Lazy K's accountant.

For more information: call (800) 321-7018 or (520) 744-3050

Kay El Bar Ranch
Wickenburg, Ariz.
Women's Week

Kay El Bar Guest Ranch is a small, cozy ranch 60 miles northwest of Phoenix in the Sonoran Desert, sheltered by cedars and eucalyptus trees. Their riding program is flexible and the terrain offers everything from sandy washes to canyons and high ridges with mountain views. The ranch is listed on both the National and state Registers of Historic Places, and first welcomed guests in 1926. Val Kilmer, the handsome star of Tombstone and The Doors,lived there as a child. Owners John and Nancy Loftis bought the ranch in 1997 and have established a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

Programs: Each year the ranch features Women's Week where women learn about ranch life, especially riding, and enjoy outdoor activities such as guided hikes. Riding instruction is based on ability; the Loftis' bring in equine professionals to work with guests in the arena. Although equestrian pursuits are stressed, Women's Week also offers various artistic events or programs- singers serenade the group at night, and guests enjoy poetry readings and a trip to the Western Museum in town.

Amenities: The lodge has eight rooms with private baths and a comfortable living room with large stone fireplace. The Homestead House, a two-bedroom, two-bath cottage, offers its own living room with fireplace. Casa Grande has one bedroom, sitting area and fireplace; Casa Monterey has twin beds. Both have private baths featuring walk-in showers. The hot tub, heated swimming pool and large library are popular; you can also play horseshoes and table tennis. Home-cooked meals, featuring fresh fruit, vegetables and dessert specials, are served family-style in the dining room.

For more information: (800) 684-7583 or (928) 684- 7593

Elkhead Ranch
Hayden, Colo.
Women's Retreat

This 10,000-acre ranch is nestled in the Elkhead Valley just 40 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs and 6,600-9,000 feet above sea level. Hay meadows, rolling sage brush-covered hills, aspen spotted ridges provide a varied terrain for riding. Owner Heather Stirling bought her historically designated 1883 cattle ranch in 1974, and began a women's program six years ago. Half of her ranch hands are female.

Programs: Small-group programs of six or less ensure personal attention. A week-long and a three-day women's retreat include riding and riding instruction, yoga instruction, a massage therapist, and "playing cowgirl," where guests help work the 1,600 head of yearling cattle. In summer, there's also 10,000 acres of range and trail riding, team roping, cattle work and team penning to keep you busy, along with stream and stocked-reservoir fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing in the reservoir, and Steamboat Spring's weekly PRCA Rodeo. The winter program focuses on cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, yoga, massage therapy and enjoying winter's peace and beauty. Stirling will also tailor a program to a particular group's wishes. Open year-round.

Amenities: An authentic five-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath, ranch-style lodge, with two fireplaces and a wood-burning stove. Full-scale horse facilities are available for guests who bring them and well-mannered dogs are welcome. Hearty, home-made, country cooking is served family style, and often includes home-baked breads, fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetarian meals available. (Bring your own libations, though.)

For more information: (970) 276-3920

White Stallion Ranch
Tuscon, Ariz.
Ladies Week

A peaceful 3,000- acre working cattle ranch located in the Sonoran Desert, adjacent to the Saguaro National Monument West. The ranch is just a short drive around the mountain to town. Scenes from the TV series High Chaparral were filmed here.

Programs: An annual Ladies Week can be "as horsey or horseless as you wish," says Russell True, the White Stallion's owner. The program, in its second year, consists of 20-25 women enjoying an on-site aerobics instructor, daily riding lessons and trail rides, one-hour full body massage, guided hikes and beauty treatments like pedicures and facials. Evening speakers might discuss cosmetics or women's health, but you'll also find a cowboy singer, bonfires, Country & Western line dancing lessons and nature programs.

Amenities: 41 Spanish style bungalows (singles, suites, deluxe and cabins) decorated in southwest style, each with private entrance and bath, individual patios with views of Saguara National Park, individually controlled heat and air, daily maid service. No TVs or phones. Deluxe suites have antique Mexican furniture, whirlpools and fireplaces. Business center has telephone, computer and Internet access.

For more information: Call (888) 977-2624

7 Springs Guest Ranch
New Ramer, Colo.
Women's Weeks

At 6,000 feet and in the Pawnee National Grasslands, this ranch's 5,000 acres of towering canyons and rolling hills is home to around 500 head of cows and calves. A single woman herself, owner Penny Merritt says it's "not a mountain resort, not a dude ranch, but a real cattle ranch in full operation. You can come as a guest, but you'll leave as a real cowgirl!"

If you bring your own fishing gear, you can fish in a stocked pond for rainbow trout (catch-and-release only unless someone is hungry for fish); fly fish; and a small rowboat is available for bait fishermen. You can hunt for arrowheads or artifacts - things from every era have been discovered, from dinosaur bones and tools and weapons from early man all the way to the more modern-day Pawnee, Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indian things; bird-watch (raptors, eagles, hawks and falcons abound); or hike on varying terrain, from steep canyons to flat rolling prairie. A pool and sauna offer respite. Tuesday night dance lessons at a nearby saloon, a trip to a Western saloon on Wednesday nights and a trip to a local rodeo on Friday nights add to the fun. Whitewater Rafting at The Cache La Poudre provides Class II, III and IV rapids. Transportation, lunch meal and rafting is included.

Amenities: Guests stay in a five-bedroom log bunkhouse, the original homestead cabin on the ranch. Built in 1897, and added onto in 1909 and again in 1921, its bedrooms each have private bathrooms, Queen beds, private entrances off a deck, and excellent views of the lake, the horses and the sunrise every morning. Rooms are air-conditioned and heated. Each room has a home-made quilt, "Prairie-style antiques" and a coffee bar. One suite has two bedrooms sharing a bathroom, and includes two Queen beds. Three home-cooked meals each day are served family style in the Big House dining room. (Or out on the trail if you're horseback riding all day). Snacks are available to take back to the rooms. Campfire night, you'll hitch up a team to take you to a cookout. Meals for Women's Week are "healthy and light." Penny is flexible and will make sure she can cook for you regardless of your diet. (She's a vegetarian herself.) Bring your own alcoholic beverages.

For more information: (970) 437-5345

The Powder River Experience / Rio Vaquero
Arvada, Wyo. / Benson, Ariz.
Bob King's Cowgirl Clinic & Cowgirl Schools

Bob King and one of his all-female crews relax after an event.

The Powder River Experience is a 24,000-acre ranch in Arvada, Wyoming, right on the Powder River. It's also host to Bob King's Cowgirl Clinics and Schools. (Bob also has classes and clinics scheduled all over the U.S.; he'll try to schedule another if your group wants one. Call for information.)

Programs: Bob's "Cowgirl Clinic" is a day-long clinic for 10-12 women which focuses mostly on horsemanship training. His week-long Cowboy School for four-to-six women consists of more intense classes on horsemanship, cattle work, ranch roping and range management.

("You'll do your horse work in the saddle and your cattle work in the dirt, where textbooks offer little guidance," says Bob) His new four-week program is three more weeks of intense training on those topics. "At a clinic I introduce new concepts to people, and at a school I teach them the skills involved," explained Bob, who grew up on a farms and ranches in Utah and Idaho. In the winter, Bob spends most of his time in Arizona; in fact, he's moving the Cowboy School this Fall to Rio Vaquero, a small 80-acre ranch in Benson, Arizona, complete with large indoor and outdoor arenas.

Amenities: Rio Vaquero Guest Ranch is a new three-bedroom, 2-bath rustic, Western style home with cedar posts and a rock fireplace. The master suite has a bedroom with private bath, garden tub and shower, and lots of storage. The "bunk bedroom" holds up to eight bunkbeds, and shares a bath with a smaller, single bedroom. They'll expand soon and add more rooms, baths and a hot tub. All bedrooms overlook horse pastures and have mountain views. A study off the master holds a library of books and videos on ranch-style living.

For more information: toll free (888) 596-3304 or (307) 758.4381

Lil Bit North Ranch
Longmont, Colo.
Touched By a Horse

Sandy Taylor, (left) and Diana Hunt, groom Tory at a Touched By a Horse event last October.

Nestled in Colorado's Front Range, Lil Bit North Ranch is bordered to the South by a wooded creek, and is surrounded by acres of pastureland and miles of trails. Lil Bit North Ranch is proud to be the home to 3-time APHA World Champion Go Robin Bar.

Program: Touched by a Horse, a retreat for 12 women is "an opportunity to network with other women, explore and identify top values, expand personal identity, explore what horses have to teach you, and get pampered ranch style," according to owner and former psychotherapist Melisa Pearce. Lil Bit North's barn with indoor and outdoor arenas, state-of-the-art breeding facility, three tack rooms, several round pens and a fully developed Trail course and Utility Driving course make this a perfect vacation for the horse-lover. At the end of the program, each woman will have written out her personal five-year vision of where she wants her life to go.

Amenities: Guests stay in private rooms at the 5-star Niwot Bed and Breakfast in Niwot, Colorado, complete with jacuzzis, fireplaces, and a private chef who cooks all meals. The program includes frequent gifts such as hand-made lariat baskets, denim shirts with the Touched By a Horse logo, and a cowboy frame. Thirty days after the event, Melisa sends each guest a personal photo album, complete with photos taken during the five-day event.

Websites: and
For more information: (303) 652-8704

Chico Basin Ranch
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Women on the Range, Out of The Rat Race And Onto the Ranch, The Basics of Creative Cooking, Women Artists' Workshop

This 87,000-acre ranch, located 35 minutes southeast of Colorado Springs, is one of the largest working cattle ranches in the country. Owned by the Colorado State Land Board and managed under a one-of-a-kind lease by Duke and Janet Phillips and family, it offers rolling prairie with hundreds of springs, streams and six large, spring-fed lakes; hidden meadows; and rolling hills that sweep toward the Rocky Mountains. The Phillips family believes, "A working landscape is a place that changes you by moving you closer to what you're feeling in your heart. We'll put you in touch with the great outdoors on a working cattle ranch that emphasizes living life to its fullest."

Programs: (Each 10 guests.) The Women on the Range program is for women who want a hands-on, outdoor experience; participants learn about working together as a team on horseback, real-life ranching, herding cattle, the ecosystem and responsible land stewardship. Other activities include fly fishing instruction, arrow head and fossil hunting, hiking, swimming, bird-watching, volleyball, horseshoes and badminton. Out of The Rat Race And Onto the Ranch, a chance to take time and reevaluate what's important, emphasizes stress reduction and relaxation techniques taught by an experienced therapist. Other activities include star mapping, meditation, horseback riding, birding and wild-flowering. The Basics of Creative Cooking led by an experienced chef who specializes in cooking with the seasons, explores cooking with fresh ingredients, and making meals with or without recipes. Cooking class held mid-day; other activities include horseback riding; canoeing; fly fishing; swimming; and learning about natural, ornamental and edible plants. At Women Artists' Workshop on the Ranch, women will attend one workshop each day, led by professional artists. Attendees may submit work to the ranch's annual juried art show Art in the Basin: Artists Gathering & Exhibition, held in September. Workshops are held early and late each day; other activities include horseback riding, fishing and herding cattle.

Amenities: Two cabins located in an ancient lake bed each sleep between 6-8 guests and offer private baths and kitchens; one has a wood-burning stove. Furniture made in Mexico and photographs and paintings made on the ranch supply an artistic touch. Modern weight machines and physical trainers can help guests get their exercise; a clean, clear-water natural lake complete with pier offer a respite afterward. Guests also have free use of Landcruisers for getting around the ranch, and canoes and bicycles.

For more information: (719) 683-7960

7W Guest Ranch
Gypsum, Colo.
Women's Week

The 7W Guest Ranch is a small, secluded mountain resort (never more than 18 guests) located on 400 acres of privately owned land, adjacent to the White River National Forest. This remote ranch is one of the oldest established guest ranches in Colorado. At 9,000 feet, the ranch overlooks the Sweetwater Creek Valley and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Programs: Horseback riding is the main attraction at Women's Week. You'll ride a variety of terrain over thousands of acres in the national forest and raft the Colorado River with a private outfitter. You can relax in the hot tub, go on a scenic hike, fish in the stocked trout lake, play horseshoes, relax and read a book or go sightseeing in Vail or Aspen.

Amenities: The Main Lodge is the central gathering place for meals and socializing. The deck or fireplace offer good spots to relax. Original log cabins are rustic on the outside and renovated inside. Each has a bath with shower, wood stove, porch, daily maid service and cowboy coffee is delivered to your door each morning. No liquor or carbonated beverages, but guests may bring their favorites.

For more information: (800) 524-1286 or (970) 524-9328

Hartley Guest Ranch
Roy, N.M.
Women's RoundUp, Women's Overnight Trail Ride

Branding cattle at Hartley Guest Ranch.

Family-owned and operated by the Hartley family since the 1940s, this secluded 25,000-acre ranch in Northeastern New Mexico borders the Canadian River. At 4,000-6,000 feet, the ranch claims terrain that varies from mesas and canyons to high open plains. Hikers and those on horseback can explore 200 miles of trails that circle the rims of red-rock canyons and wind through forests of juniper, oak and pine by horseback or ATV.

Program: The Women's RoundUp is a six-day program that includes "plenty of horseback riding, and a little cattle work," says Doris Hartley. Hayrides, campfires and cowboy entertainment add to the fun in the evenings. Ranch activities include working cattle, cattle drives, branding (in season), and cowboy camp-outs. You can also fish, or discover the ancient Indian sites, dinosaur bones, and unusual geological formations on ranch land. The highlight of the Women's Overnight Trail Ride is a three-night camp-out at a comfortable base camp; guests will spend each day riding to a new outpost.

Amenities: A six-bedroom, three-bath guest house is host to a maximum of 12 guests. Guests have access to a shared kitchen always stocked with fresh fruit, snacks, fresh coffee in the mornings and beer and wine in the evenings; a hot tub; and a washer and dryer. Rooms feature Southwestern décor, telephones, heat and air conditioning but no TVs. Delicious home-cooked meals are served family style in the dining room, or cooked outdoors over an open fire.

For more information: (800) 687-3833

Paradise Rest Ranch in Buffalo, Wyo. has a women's program, but men can come along; call (307) 684-7876 or email

Quite a few ranches have set up women's program for next year; call or email for more information: Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Bozeman, Mont., at (800) 548-3392 or; King Mountain Ranch near Granby, Colo., at (800) 476-5464 or; Hidden Valley Guest Ranch in Cle Elum, Wash., at (800) 526-9269 or


Travel for women
Adventures in Good Company:
Call: 877-439-4042 Phone: 651-998-0120

Call of the Wild:
Call: (510) 849-9292 or outside California (888) 378-1978

Call: (800) 804-8686

Specialty workshop
Jeff Goodman's "Get on the Truck" photography workshop:

Ranching vacations
Gene Kilgore's Ranchweb ( is a comprehensive ranch vacation information and search site, and contains links to guest ranches throughout North America. It also allows you to search for ranches via categories such as guest/dude, family, luxury, spa, hunting, working cattle, etc. The site includes guest reviews to help people get feedback from those who've already visited the ranch or lodge they're considering; ranch maps; and a discussion forum, where you can post comments as well as search old posts and discussions. Kilgore's best-selling, 6th edition guide book, Gene Kilgore's Ranch Vacations, is available via the website and in bookstores.

The Dude Ranchers' Association ( has descriptions of more than 100 ranches which have made it through a rigorous two-year inspection and approval process; an amenities comparison grid; and a step-by-step guide to choosing the best ranch. You can find ranches by state, or use their vacation travel service, which offers specialized assistance with air, auto rental or Amtrak travel arrangements. You can also download or order the free directory of member dude ranches, The Dude Rancher.
A "helpful vacation information" link includes short, information packed articles to help you understand dude ranching and how to select the right ranch for you, and a "Frequently Asked Questions" link is helpful for first-timers.

The Dude and Guest Ranches of North America's search engine ( will help you find a horseback riding or western ranch vacation in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. DGRNA's database contains more than 400 dude and guest ranches and includes contact information on each.

Gordon's Guide website is an outgrowth of the book Gordon's Guide to Adventure Vacations, a definitive guide to adventure vacations that lists detailed information about thousands of family getaways. You can search offerings from more than 700 recreational companies by type of adventure, including guest ranching and women's travel. Covers the U.S., Canada, most of Europe and other far off destinations. offers a state-by-state search engine, as well as hot deals, featured ranch vacations, and a way to chat with a travel specialist via email or Internet chat to help you choose a vacation. They also feature Top Family, Top Adult, Working Cowboy, and Top Luxury lists of ranches. See

Horse lovers should visit Horse's Ranch Finder (, where you can search for ranches via country, state and specialty, such as dressage, breeding and ranching. And before you go on a riding vacation, read Bayard Fox's tips for choosing the right kind of riding ranch, at

Fox, who owns the Bitterroot Ranch near Dubois, Wyoming, has also managed a travel agency called Equitours for the past 25 years, which offers riding trips in 30 countries. For more information, see, call (800)

All photos provided by respective ranch owners
unless otherwise indicated