For city-dwelling transplants—and underexposed natives—the charms of rustic life in the Lone Star State can be easily forgotten. But there’s a cure for those who need a helpful reminder: a dude ranch vacation.
Folks of all ages come to Texas’ abundant dude ranches to sample a lifestyle that’s still filled with mystique, whether they choose to saddle up on a horse, roast marshmallows around the campfire, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet of a wide-open prairie.
Some Texas dude ranches are simple and rustic. Others are more like Western-themed luxury resorts, with extensive wine lists, high-end meals, and spa services. Either way, you’ll be treated to good ‘ole fashioned Southern hospitality and a refreshing journey back to simpler times.
So, pack your Stetson hat and your spurs. Here are five incredible Texas dude ranches to visit this year.
Wildcatter Ranch - Graham, Texas
Just two hours from Dallas, near Graham, is the rustic, resort-style Wildcatter Ranch. Stretching over 1,500 acres and blessed with views of the Brazos River Valley as far as the eye can see, it’s the kind of place where you go for a weekend and plot ways to stay permanently.
From infinity pools to lessons in lassoing, Wildcatter Ranch has all the trappings of a typical dude ranch but includes amenities that have transformed it into a luxury resort.
Get a feel for life on the open range with guided trail rides from local Texas cowboys, hiking, archery, and skeet shooting. To recover, visit the on-site spa for a therapeutic massage, and to replenish, there’s the Wildcatter steakhouse, named as one of the best in the state by Texas Monthly.
Dixie Dude Ranch - Bandera, Texas
There are more than a dozen dude ranches to choose from in Bandera, Texas—the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World—but perhaps the most historic is the Dixie Dude Ranch, which has lured wannabe wranglers since 1937.
Although you won’t exactly be “roughing it” in their cozy cabins, the Dixie Dude is not a resort ranch. It’s a real deal working ranch where cowboys work the horses and compete in rodeos, and hired hands tend to cattle, goats, and pigs.
There’s plenty of Wild West activities for everybody in the family at the Certified Historic Texas ranch.
Explore this 725-acre Hill Country expanse during your horseback ride, fish in the nearby pond, hike the hill country, load up the kids for the hayrides, or hunt for fossils on the rugged terrain. After a day of adventures, end the night with a chuckwagon meal and storytelling by the campfire.
Flying L Hill Country Resort - Bandera, Texas
More upscale and less rugged than the Dixie Dude Ranch is one of the other Bandera-based dude ranch retreats, the Flying L Hill Country resort.
The Flying L features 86 bedroom villas, five restaurants, a water park complete with a lazy river, and an 18-hole golf course. Even with all of the modern amenities, there’s still plenty of historic, country charm.
The Flying L offers plenty of activities for those looking to play ranch hand, from horseback riding, wagon rides to feed the livestock, campfire s’mores, and sing-a-longs with cowboys.
In 2016, the Texas Historical Commission designated the ranch as a landmark and has a storied past dating back to 1947, when Colonel John H. Lapham acquired it from Polish settlers. Some of the ranch’s famous guests include Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus, John Wayne, and Willie Nelson.
Lonesome Pine Ranch - Chappell Hill, Texas
Located near Brenham, Lonesome Pine Ranch has the ultimate trifecta of offerings: Texas history, rustic wilderness, and amenities that will make you feel like you’re living the luxe life.
Originally settled in 1823 by one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300,” this 1,800-acre working ranch is home to quarter horses, American bison, and one of the country’s largest registered Texas longhorn herds.
Guests can stay in houses dating back to the 1850s that have been restored and luxuriously updated with Texas flair. So, you can pretend you’re living like a settler while soaking in a whirlpool big enough for two.
When you’re ready to cowboy up, this facility is prepared to throw the quintessential Wild West experience at you. Eat meals chuck wagon-style, ride horses, shoot skeet and witness real cowboys performing ranch work, from cattle branding to bronco breaking.
The scenery at Lonesome Pine Ranch attracts photographers and artists and lures in those longing for a peaceful rural setting. Expansive wildflower fields and untainted wilderness provide the perfect backdrop for photoshoots or romantic getaways. Speaking of romance, there’s also a historic chapel on the ranch, or couples can get married atop a hill underneath 200-year-old oak trees.
Mayan Ranch - Bandera, Texas
An hour away from the sprawling city of San Antonio is the Mayan Ranch, nestled high in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. The 350-acre Mayan Ranch has been owned and operated by the Hicks family since 1951. When they purchased the facility, they decided to keep the original name (which may explain why it conjures images of ancient runes, not corrals).
When the chow bell rings in the morning, guests can mosey on down to the corral for buttery, flaky biscuits and all the other fixings of a hearty, Western breakfast cooked by the trail boss himself. Then you can saddle up for a trail ride where you can soak in the scenery of the wide-open prairies and lush rivers.
After you’ve hitched your horse, there’s plenty of other family-friendly activities to keep the fun going. Take a refreshing swim in the nearby Medina River, partake in a lasso lesson, and put on your best boots for some saloon-style dancing.
Get a Taste For Life on The Open Range At a Texas Dude Ranch
Texas has so many incredible dude ranch destinations to explore. This year, we hope you can find some spare time to visit one of these parcels of land to unplug from your phones, reconnect with nature, and channel your inner cowpoke (even if it’s only for a day or two).