Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

Ranch chic: what to pack for a dude ranch trip


Summer vacation’s coming up faster than a freight train. Got to plan in order to pack right. What should Mom, Dad, and the kids wear to the ranch? And do you need to do any shopping first?

Well, a guest ranch vacation is different, and requires a fresh set of expectations and plans. And that takes a little planning. We polled a number of ranchers and compiled their ideas below.

Of course, you’ll know where the ranch is located and what the elevation is there, so you can then check local weather forecast (thank you Google). Remember that whether you’re going to be in mountains or desert, the weather can change quickly and dramatically. Of course, the sun is stronger at higher elevations, and parents will want to remember that little ones need extra help against sunburn. See the little guy in our photo, above? He’s dressed perfectly, including the coat of sunblock you can’t see.

First rule: layer, layer, layer! Whew. Glad we got that off our chest. Packing is easy if you remember that they’re always casual at the ranch. Whether you wear simple jeans or khakis or a full-on cowboy getup is up to you. But some ranches are more upscale than others, however, and casual there might mean ‘cruise casual’.

Of course you and the kids need sunblock and SPF-rated lip balm; hats are de rigeur as are kerchiefs. I like the SPF-rated shirts and pants you can get a sporting goods stores like REI. The best clothes are hand washable and drip dry (because, let’s face it, if you’re really having fun you’re going to get a little dirty).

For riding, you want comfy jeans (be sure and pre-wash them with fabric softener), extra socks, and boots with about a ½” heel. One of Gene Kilgore’s favorite secrets to a comfy week of riding: wearing a pair of panty hose underneath your jeans to prevent chafing.

Throw in shorts, t-shirts, swimsuit, and hiking boots and gear for any other special activities in the area or on the ranch. You’ll want some nice slacks for evening meals or special events (like square dancing). And bring a jacket, against possible sudden rainshowers and those cool, star-filled mountain or desert nights. And pack a few of those little extras that can make a vacation go smoothly: bug spray, Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Band Aids, and the like.

A lot of ranches have small gift shops where you can pick up emergency items like rain ponchos, hats, and so forth (ask ahead).  Some high-end ranches have goodie baskets in your cabin, stocked with spa products, robes, and even coffee makers, but again, ask ahead. Ask what you’ll need for any planned overnights, rafting trip, jeep tours, or pack trips. And of course, check to see if the ranch has Wi-Fi, or a computer available to guests.

Packing list
Baseball cap or cowboy hat
Camera (and batteries or charger)
Cool looking shades (and a holder to make sure they stay on your face)
Day pack
Flip flops
Heeled boots for riding
Hiking/ walking shoesJacket
Long sleeved shirt (with SPF rating)
Pre-washed jeans
Slacks for evening
Socks-lots of extra pairs
Sunscreen/ Lip Balm (SPF 30)

Those are our suggestions. What do you think folks shouldn’t forget to take to a dude ranch vacation? Write us a comment or post to our Facebook page!


Holiday gifts from ranch country


A perfect stocking stuffer for ranch vacation planning

Everybody’s doing more vacation plan-ahead work these days. It’s one way to save time, money, and hassle. And now is a good time to begin the planning process for your big summer getaway. Sure, you could surf the web (that’s what Ranchweb is for), but sometimes there’s nothing better than a real, honest-to-God book, with color photos to pour over, and tactile pages to flip through as you dream about the perfect ranch vacation with your loved ones.

There’s nothing better, more accurate, or up-to-date than Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations 2011; ($22.95), now available on and on Amazon. On the cover: Wyoming’s newest, The Ranch at Rock Creek. Its a great way to find dude ranch deals, value vacations, backcountry getaways, and the best dude ranch food and wine. Inside, a total access guide to more than 100 great ranches across the West, the USA, and the world. It’s got details on pricing, dining, kids’ programs, plus loads of color pix, all in a handy glovebox size–a great stocking stuffer (just try stuffing a web page into that stocking).


Gifts right from the ranch

Sometimes, you want a memento from that long-ago ranch vacation. Where to find ranch-y things? Well, some ranches let you shop for their own branded, logo-ed duds and goodies online.


Alisal Guest Ranch

Alisal Ranch’s online store offers hats and gear, gourmet products, jewelry, spa products, branded apparel and gift cards. Here’s how they put it: “From a variety of Alisal-branded apparel, to our signature spa products, to Chef Pascal’s renowned barbecue blends, you will surely find the perfect gift for a family member, a friend or yourself. If you have any questions about a product that is offered in our General Store, please contact Guest Services at 805/686-7700.” At the site, you can choose from four of Chef Pascal’s custom spice blends. Also available are the Ranch’s Old Adobe Pancake Mix and its very popular granola blend. New from their sterling silver jewelry collection is the ranch’s popular charm bracelet with an Alisal brand charm (natch!). Every year a new charm will be introduced. Spa Products feature their signature Woodland Sage scent.
The Resort at Paws Up

Seeks out treasures of the West, some molded by hand, others by the hand of nature, but always “crafted with a spirit of adventure,” says the resort. Don’t look for typical western wear here. The hand-selected items are split into categories: Clothing and Apparel, House and Home, Montana food and snacks, and accessories and jewelry, it’s all unique. Want to bring a little of the flavor of the Rockies into your home? The Montana huckleberry honey, huckleberry jam or syrup will remind you of those high mountain berries every time you pop it into your mouth (for $8 and up). For more expensive tastes, order up a Silver Paw Belt Buckle (a hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind belt buckle made by a local Montana silversmith) for some $1,200. And there’s a lot in between.

How about a really BIG present?

How about buying a piece of a real dude ranch? You can at Colorado’s C Lazy U Ranch. As they put it, “Our guests only get to spend a week here, but owners can experience it as often as they wish for generation after generation and in every season. Inquire about our Colorado land for sale or our mountain homes for sale. Become a member of our happy vacation real estate community…become one of the family.”


Cowboy up: join a dude ranch cattle drive

Dudes and wranglers herd cattle at the McGuinness Ranch

Dudes and wranglers herd cattle at the McGuinness Ranch

A nice vacation can thoroughly relax you—and be forgotten in a week. A really memorable vacation can actually transform you. That can happen on a dude ranch. Since the late 1800s, dude and guest ranches have taken city slickers, put them atop gentle horses and into the great outdoors, and, in the process, unlocked their inner cowpoke.

And some dude ranches give you the ultimate in involvement—the chance to be a real cowboy or cowgirl for a time. A number of ranches offer you the chance to saddle up and actually work with cattle—driving them across high pastures and helping out with all manner of cattle work. Finding a dude and guest ranch with the option of joining a cattle drive is easy on Ranchweb—just click the Selecting a Dude Ranch button and toggle over to Cattle Drives.

Below, we’ve listed six ranches from Colorado to Ecuador that offer cattle drives in fall or spring; some let you take a hand in all manner of ranch work throughout various seasons. It’s more than a good idea to be physically fit and able to ride fairly well in order to participate on most cattle drives. And just for fun, before you go, rent a DVD of the John Wayne classic film Red River. You’ll get a sense of what adventures the old time cowboys faced on their cattle drives (most of which, hopefully, you’ll avoid).

But then, after a week or so of playing cowboy, you’ll feel right at home on the range. And thoroughly transformed.

Chico Basin Ranch
This 87,000-acre ranch, near Colorado Springs, remains one of Colorado’s largest historical cattle ranches. It is said that famed cattleman Charles Goodnight grazed his cattle herds in the region of the Chico Basin Ranch in the late 1800’s. Today, the ranch offers ‘active participation for guests interested in hands-on’ experiences: cattle herding, natural horsemanship, cowboy traditions, land positive range management, and the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat. WHEN: Fall and spring, plus other various times; call ahead.

Vista Verde Ranch
Don’t wait to sign up for their Fall Cattle Gather, one activity where luxury meets rustic. Guests enjoy all Vista Verde’s fabulous amenities, meals, and accommodations, but will be doing the hard work of cowhands during the day.  The week begins with a quick review of cattle work during clinics in the arena; the rest of the week is spent riding to find and gather the cows and calves on more than 16,000 acres of forest land.  WHEN: cattle gather weeks are September 12-19 and September 19-26.

McGarry Ranches

The McGarry Ranch is a working cattle outfit that’s really three ranches. They’re all in spectacular locations in southeastern Idaho, in the upper Snake River Valley and along the South Fork of the Snake River (some 90 miles west of Jackson Hole, Wyoming). Owner Theron McGarry is a fourth-generation rancher and the real deal: a lifelong cowboy.

And when you stay at the McGarry guest ranch, you can (at various times of the year) become cowboy or cowgirl for a spell, helping out with the cattle operations. Join the cowboy crew and help with whatever: branding, calving, doctoring, gathering the herd to move to the mountains or on the drive from the mountains back to the valley for the winter. Plus, there are always fences to mend, roping to do, and other jobs around the ranch. As the family says, “Thank you for your interest in our way of life. Come share a bit of the cowboy dream with us.” WHEN: Various times, call ahead.

McGinnis Meadows Cattle & Guest Ranch

Outside Libby, MT, you’ll get lots of riding in (not the boring head to tail chain of horses kind, but real riding). Cattle drives start during the third week of May; you can drive cattle all summer long throughout 75,000 acres of spectacular country surrounding Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge in Northwest Montana. You can help with moving cattle to new pastures, riding for strays, and pushing cattle up to the high country. The wranglers at McGinnis will teach you about the ways of cattle, and even add tips about proper land management. WHEN: The ‘Fall Gather’ runs through all of October and throughout the peak of fall color. You’re welcome to participate as much as you wish.

Burntwell Guest Ranch

Near Roswell, you’ll find the real deal: at an authentic working ranch, join authentic week long cattle drives. You’ll sleeping, eating and living with the cattle—just like John Wayne in Red River. WHEN: Their fall drives will be October 3-9, 2010 (Bonney Canyon Ranch Drive) and October 24-30, 2010 (Kerr Ranch Cattle Drive).  They have no details yet (go to the webpage for more). Details and dates on the spring 2011 drives will be posted later on.

Hacienda La Alegria

Okay, Quito is a bit farther West than John Wayne ever got, but they know horses there. And this is a family-run organic farm in the heart of Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes”. Join a South American-style cattle drive, true horseback riding adventures (even a volcano ride), delicious food, and a warm family environment. The Cattle Round-up Ride lasts 10 days and the riding difficulty is listed as: Moderate to Advanced (the itinerary can be customized for non-expert riders). WHEN: Call ahead for dates and details or write to

Get a kick out of a great boot

A really great pair of cowboy boots, like a great vacation, can also be transformative. Just check out the Share Your Boot Stories archive on the Justin Boots site ( and you’ll see how people feel about their boots. (One writer even related how his boot saved his foot in an accident on the ranch!) The story of the Justin Boots company itself began in 1879, when founder H.J. Justin left Lafayette, Indiana to ‘start a new life’ in Spanish Fort, Texas. Today the brand is so well respected for quality and tradition that the firm was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, managed by financial genius Warren Buffet. (According to the company, it takes more than 100 steps and over 16 square feet of leather to produce one pair of Justin Boots.) To see their new fall line, due soon, check

Ask anyone who knows about footwear and chances are they’ll have heard of Lucchese boots—considered by many to be the Ferrari of cowboy boots. They’re sleek, stylish, distinctive—and they often have a price to match. It’s no accident that Lucchese  has a line of boots called Diva. Those are the kind of boots you might see on the red carpet at a film premier. They also have the rough, rugged, and ranch ready Resistol line of boot under the Lucchese umbrella. Sam Lucchese started the brand in 1883, and the company is still making hand-crafted quality boots to this day. The new Fall 2010 Lucchese Collection is coming soon; go to

Getting the right boot fit is about more than style. Hint: the boot should fit properly in the instep, ball, and heel of your foot. Here’s a complete explanation.


Tony Lama’s new boots for summer

tl-stars-bootThe Tony Lama Stars Collection—a new line of barrel racing boots—was inspired by the company’s work with the National Barrel Horse Association. These boots are designed to meet the needs of barrel racing competitors, but it turns out that they work great for anyone who’s looking for protection and comfort in the stirrup. Whether your’re a wrangler looking to replace those worn-outs in time for the spring season, or a dude who wants to be comfortable (and, let’s face it, look right) while riding, these boots can be a good choice.

Details: Rubber outsoles give you a superior grip in the stirrup; they’re flexible and resist oil, so you’ve got a better chance of keeping your feet when you’re not in the saddle. The rubber heel bumper is there for durability and the orthotic inserts are comfortable, removable, and washablt. Retail: $130-$160, available later this summer. Go to: the Tony Lama website.


The birth of a ‘new classic’ Western shirt

What’s Cacties? No, not a group of desert plants with spines—it’s a new line of Western wear shirts and ties. Creator Jimmy Griscom started the company, called Cacties, just a couple of years ago “for the cowboy in us all”.

Two years ago, he made the decision to leave his Wall Street trading desk behind. “I grew up wearing suits and ties,” Griscom says, “but there’s a cowboy in us all, and mine wanted to get out.”

He started out making ties that can best be described as ‘Will Rogers meets Ferragamo’. We’ve seen them, and they’re elegant, high-end (100% silk), and made entirely by hand in the USA; they each have a pattern featuring fun but tasteful western-themed icons—look closely and you’ll see tiny images of flags, chaps, cacti (hence the company name), cutting horses and the like. Each of the 28 designs retails for $80, so they’re not cheap, nor do they look it. They’ve caught on with Wall Streeters, like Mad Money pundit Jim Cramer, and politicos like President George Bush (who has a passel of ‘em).

Griscom’s next goal? Merely to make “the best high-end Western-influenced shirt on the market”. The typical western shirt is very utilitarian, he says, and he wanted to make something that “a real cowboy would wear to get gussied up in” but that the guy in Manhattan would also want to wear.

We recently got a look (and feel) of Cacties’ two-pocket, antique horn snap denim classic western shirt ($125); it is made from a 60/40 blend of cotton and tencel indigo chambray and has that smooth, silky feel of a well-worn “old favorite” shirt—without the well-worn look. The line has become a favorite of singer Vince Gill, who wore one for an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. 

Take a look at the Cacties website. If the shirt looks half as good on you as it does on Griscom (pictured on the About page), then you’ll consider it money well spent. For more, click here.


Holiday gifts in the ranch tradition: III

Vintage shirts for gals

Denver-based Rockmount has been around since 1946—long enough to become a true Western icon. The company made its name with its embroidered shirts, and they’re still hot today—especially women’s shirts with their pictorial (shown) and floral patterns. A lot of the work on items like the one above is done by hand, which is why these shirts cost a bit more, but become so treasured and lovingly cared for by their owners.


Rockmount has dozens of styles to choose from on their website (and you can order by email or phone). Their newest embroidery is inspired by the natural beauty of the iris, with chenille embroidery on collar, front, cuffs and back;  ($87). For more info, check the Rockmount website (photo courtesy of Rockmount).


Holiday gifts in the ranch tradition: II

Need more gift ideas for the wrangler or dude in your life? We’re counting down the list of Hot Picks from Sheplers western wear, and this one is not only distinctive but is perfect for the guy who ‘can’t be fenced in’.

The Justin® barbed wire belt ($60) is made of leather, with a leather barbed wire detail overlay and more barbed wire detailing on the buckle. Now I know what you’re thinking: how do I know what size to get? Easy: just use his jean or slack waist size and then add 2 inches to determine belt size. To order, go to Sheplers website and order online, or use the store locator button to find out where you can shop locally. Photo courtesy of Sheplers.

Holiday gifts in the ranch tradition

Can’t think of what to get for the cowboy or cowgirl in the family? We couldn’t either, so we asked the nice folks at Sheplers western wear store for their Hot Picks. Over the next few days, we’ll highlight some of the most asked-for gifts in Sheplers lineup. And don’t worry that you’ve left your shopping too late or that there is no western wear store nearby. Go online, shop, and set up overnight shipping—there’s plenty of time for your gift to arrive before the big day.

Today’s hot item: Roper Old West embroidered retro Western shirt ($62), shown at left. Its the vintage western look, with lots of detailing and the classic one-point western back yoke, pearlized snap closures, and five-snap cuffs.  With its traditional fit (not too slim or loose), it could be just the thing to suit ranchers and dudes alike. You can order online at Sheplers’ website or find a nearby store using their store locator button. Photo courtesy of Sheplers.  

Classic ranch wear

If you really want to fit in with the wranglers, get to know Denver’s Rockmount Ranch Wear. The company has real cred on the range—they’ve been around since 1946.  Your must-have for the dude ranch: Rockmount’s trademark diamond snap-front shirt (legend says they invented ’em); they’re the longest-lasting production shirt design in America and one is even in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. You can find ’em at any self-respecting western wear shop, or online. The tailored shirts with the sawtooth pocket style are now an icon, and make even city clickers look like the real deal. 

They were the brainchild of the late Jack A. Weil (below) Rockmount’s patriarch and a fixture at the Rockies’ main store even when he was well past age 100. 
When I stopped by the store in Denver’s LoDo district a few years back, I asked Jack why he kept working long after the age when most guys have opted for golf and bridge. “Work is my way of relaxing,” Jack said with a grin. “It keeps you young!”

Rock on, Jack A. Weil, wherever you are!