Perfect timing! We're about to enjoy the one holiday that can bring every American together. The Fourth of July reminds us that we are all sons and daughters of America. And we are all lucky enough to live in a land that is still blessed in many ways...such as the ways in which we treasure our common heritage. And there may be no better place to celebrate the birthday of America than the place that gave it so much of its legend, lore, and colorful characters - the American West. Western ranches are an enduring symbol of America, and of American culture. But that's just one of the many reasons they're great places to celebrate the Fourth of July. And here are four of the best, most authentic ranches at which to do it!
#4 - LATIGO RANCH, KREMMLING, COLORADO - Situated in stunningly-scenic Grand County, about a hundred miles west of Denver, Latigo Ranch specializes in horsemanship and hospitality. Every guest is carefully matched with a horse appropriate for his/her riding skills, and the horses are rotated so you always get a fresh mount. There's a warm, intimate feel here, as demonstrated by the homemade caramel corn upon every guest's arrival. And the intimate feel is enhanced by the fact that the ranch holds only 35 guests...every one of whom gets personalized attention. Latigo Ranch has received honors such as being named "Best Dude Ranch In Colorado" ("Colorado's Best: The Essential Guide To Favorite Places") and one of the top 50 ranches in the world by Top50Ranches.com. Here, you'll find 200 miles of beautiful riding trails amidst 40,000 acres of deep-green National Forest, and views stretching out 75 miles to the Continental Divide, in addition to superb fly fishing on a private lake. And if you've got a hankerin' for a real July 4 celebration, the nearby town of Kremmling is staging one, with its renowned "Fire Up the Cliffs" fireworks display, a beer garden, great food and live music.
#3 - BITTERROOT RANCH, DUBOIS, WYOMING - Bitterroot Ranch was established as both a guest ranch and a working ranch by Bayard Fox in 1971, and it's still owned by Bayard and his family. So there's a sweet family touch here. This is a tranquil place, with horseback riding amidst stunning scenery, great fly fishing, and even yoga, in a specially-constructed yurt. Guests stay in authentic log cabins, each of which is individually-named and furnished, and some of which have wood-burning stoves for a genuine "pioneer" feel. In addition to the Dining Room, Bitterroot Ranch also has a sitting room with a wood-burning fireplace, and a pool (billiards) room. The ranch is also known for its hiking, with options ranging from a leisurely hike with your own llama, to a challenging push to the top of the stunning Castle Rock, to an old hideout used by the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy in the 1890's. This ranch was written about in "1,000 Places To See Before You Die." And the nearby town of Dubois celebrates the Fourth of July from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a parade, games, food, sidewalk sales by local merchants, a 7 p.m. rodeo and fireworks at dusk.
#2 - RED REFLET RANCH, TEN SLEEP, WYOMING - Red Reflet Ranch ("reflet" is French for "image") is truly a special place. With only four guest rooms - chalets, actually - it's a place where individual service is a byword. It's a delightful combination of true Old West and true luxury. And it's a place where owner Laurence Kaplan is always on hand to see to her guests' comfort. You'll stay in a chalet with authentic Western ambience and furnishings, 65 miles from the nearest highway. You'll dine on gourmet food prepared by three award-winning chefs. You'll ride on a hundred miles of groomed trails, past wildlife (and sunsets!) you may never see again. You can also ride along with cattle...or make use of ATV's, side-by-sides, mountain bikes, electric bikes, or dirt bikes. Among the extras are your own motorized vehicle to get around the ranch, and a private hot tub. The dramatic high-desert climate offers sunny, warm days and refreshing, cool nights. And there's something else it offers, too - in this part of the world, folks still wave as you drive by. Here, too, you can enjoy the Fourth of July spirit, with a rodeo all weekend in the nearby - and wonderfully-named - town of Ten Sleep. And if you own an aircraft, you can fly it into Red Reflet's private landing strip.
And now, for my top pick of ranches at which to spend the Fourth of July in 2021...
#1 - WESTERN PLEASURE GUEST RANCH, SANDPOINT, IDAHO - High in the mountains above the idyllic old town of Sandpoint, in the Idaho Panhandle, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch has become a symbol of authentic Western hospitality. For one thing, it's been family-owned since its opening in 1940. Here, you can ride to your heart's content, on well-trained, responsive mounts, reaching dramatic views of the Cabinet and Selkirk Mountain ranges. You can also hike to your heart's content, in the beautiful forest surrounding the ranch. Janice Schoonover is the third generation of the founding family (with the fourth and fifth generations also on the ranch), and husband Roley whips up gourmet country cookin' in the kitchen. Summer nights are often spent outside with a roaring campfire, Western grub, and some guitar pickin' by various family members and ranch hands. And the Great Room is often said to be one of the most beautiful (and most authentically-Western) in the West. Guestrooms are authentic and filled with the best of authentic-yet-plush furniture and furnishings, in both the main lodge and the atmospheric log cabins. Here, many of the ranch hands are family, and you'll see even the family's youngest members on horseback. The aforementioned town of Sandpoint is one of the most scenic in the Northwest, with plenty of vintage buildings, among them the historic Panida Theater, built in 1927 and still staging live performances. Also here is scenic Lake Pend Oreille, with a variety of wonderful lake-cruise boats.