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.


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