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Saddle Up at Arizona’s Dude & Guest Ranches

By: Elena Acoba

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See Arizona's Old West landscape as it was meant to be seen—from atop a horse.

About the author

Elena Acoba

Elena Acoba

Since moving to Tucson in 1988, freelance writer Elena Acoba has enjoyed traveling to the four corners of Arizona. Her favorites spots in her adopted state: the natural wonders and the rich historical sights.

Leave your plugged-in life behind for the quiet of Arizona's wide-open spaces and warm, laid-back Western hospitality at one of the state's famous dude ranches.

Get inspired to "cowboy up" with the following sampling of guest ranches ranging from the luxury of a full-service resort to working ranches and bunkhouse living where you can herd cattle through warm deserts, pine-scented forests or wavy grasslands.

Western ways: Enjoy the ride with gentle horses and skilled wranglers

More than 160 horses at Tucson's Tanque Verde Ranch provide riding adventures through the Sonoran Desert, including a mounted scavenger hunt. You also can relax at the pool or spa or hike, mountain bike, fish, play tennis or visit the nature center. Book a stay and experience for yourself why Tanque Verde Ranch consistently ranks among the top 10 Southwest resorts by readers of Condé Nast Traveler.

Further south is Tombstone Monument Ranch, a guest ranch designed to resemble an 1880s Western town. There's horseback riding, yes, but also archery and shooting practice, as well as tours to the towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, the nearby Dragoon Mountains and Chiricahua National Monument.

A top-rated year-round golf course, plus a seasonal full-service spa and elegant dining speak to the luxury of Rancho de Los Caballeros in Wickenburg, located just 50 minutes northwest from Phoenix. From October through May, some 100 horses ply trails that crisscross the resort's 20,000 acres of rolling hills and desert.

Also in Wickenburg, the historic 1918 Kay El Bar Guest Ranch maintains the original ranch's adobe structures, which can house a maximum of 28 guests. Rates at the intimate ranch include lodging, three meals a day, and all activities such as swimming, live entertainment, hiking and horseback riding through the Sonoran Desert.

Special riders get attentive treatment at the Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch in Yucca in northwestern Arizona. In what may be the world's only completely handicapped-accessible guest ranch, disabled riders can easily mount up for trail or arena riding. Other amenities include a swimming pool and fireside evening entertainment.

Working ranches and cattle drive vacations: Get immersed in the ranch life

Riders along the trail at White Stallion Ranch near Tucson, ArizonaGuests of White Stallion Ranch along the trail

Longhorn cattle roam the 3,000-acre White Stallion Ranch near Tucson. Learn how to herd cattle in team-penning contests, and watch cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills at weekly scheduled rodeos. For a more relaxing time, opt for the Wine and Cheese Ride or the slightly more relaxed Beer & Cheetos Ride.

Team penning is also popular at the 20,000-acre Flying E Ranch where cows and calves are raised. The guest ranch, established in 1946, is open year-round to take advantage of the warm Sonoran Desert winters near Wickenburg. Cattle drives are available seasonally.

Milk a cow or help lead a colt at the Sprucedale Guest Ranch near the White Mountains community of Alpine in northeast Arizona. This granddaddy of Arizona dude ranches—it's been around since 1921—is open from Memorial thru Labor Day, and also offers seasonal horse drives and cattle roundups.

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