Americans have never been more enthusiastic about the American West than they are now. Perhaps this is due to years of pandemic restrictions that kept tourists closer to home, or maybe it’s just the cool factor of that feisty cattle rancher’s daughter Beth Dutton of the popular TV series Yellowstone. This is particularly true for groups that span generations, as they are drawn to retreats in states like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and California. These locations provide them with access to some of the most stunning scenery in the nation, including verdant meadows, swift-moving rivers, snow-capped peaks, and a glimpse into the centuries-old ranching culture.BEST DESTINATIONS FOR FAMILY TRAVEL


Travel advisors have noted a boom in ranch and lodge stays since the pandemic; ranch experiences are defined as retreats where all activities happen on property, whereas lodges have a smaller footprint and offer programming that put guests within easy reach of a surrounding area’s natural wonders.

“It’s an absolute dream for a multigenerational trip,” said Elizabeth Benson, a Denver-based travel advisor with the Virtuoso luxury travel advisor network and an independent affiliate of travel consultancy Local Foreigner. “My clients have been all over the world—the Mediterranean, Europe, Hawai‘i, the Caribbean—but when they come back from a ranch stay, they say it’s the best family trip they’ve been on.”

According to Benson, in 2020, when travel restrictions compelled Americans to seek domestic getaways, ranches and lodges were booked solid—and clients had such a good time they decided to book the following year. Today, 70 percent of her clients on these trips are multigenerational groups; often it’s the grandparents who are doing the booking in the hope that the family can come together for quality time.

Exterior of the Saloon at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana
The Saloon at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana is a gathering place for groups.

Courtesy of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch


Group travel made easy

Benson said even seasoned international travelers find the ranch or lodge-style American West getaway appealing because it’s the perfect combination of easy travel (no passports or big time-zone shifts), streamlined logistics (all-inclusive pricing), and a wide range of activities that allow people of various ages and physical abilities to have a good time, be it horseback riding, trout fishing, or hanging out on a veranda with a book. These vacations also remove the added pressure of getting larger groups into restaurants, a common issue in such regions as the Caribbean or Europe.

“If I were to pick two slam-dunk trips for multigenerational families, it’s dude ranches in the American West or a safari in Africa,” she said. “They’re comparable in that you show up and have these amazing guides, and all your needs are getting taken care of. Some ranches are just as nice as some of the nicest lodges in Africa, but you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to get there.”

Exterior of the Lil Wrangler kids club at Brush Creek Ranch with girl and dog
The Lil Wrangler kids club at Brush Creek Ranch is a standout experience for families.

Courtesy of Brush Creek Ranch


Standout kids clubs

A lot of the family-friendly ranches also have kids clubs that are getting great feedback from Benson’s clients. She named Wyoming’s Brush Creek Ranch and Montana’s Mountain Sky Guest Ranch and Ranch at Rock Creek as three shining examples.

“If the parents want to go fly-fishing and the kids aren’t quite into that, kids clubs are a way to introduce younger travelers to those activities in a safer way,” she said. “You drop them off and the staff is covering the kids in sunscreen and getting them fully into the activities, and it helps the parents relax.”

Parents can also go through the ranch to wrangle a babysitter for a younger child who needs extra supervision at the kids club, so the child can spend time with their older cousins and siblings who need less hand holding.

A rise in winter stays

One of the biggest indicators that the American West family vacation is here to stay, says Benson, is that ranches and lodges have begun to extend their seasons beyond summer to accommodate demand. At some retreats, the season is running as late as mid-October. Other places that were only previously open in the warmer months are now opening in winter for visitors. In Brush Creek Ranch, for instance, Benson’s clients reported having enjoyed taking snowcats out for back-country ski excursions, gathering the family for snowmobile rides, or sipping cocktails or having whiskey tastings in yurts surrounded by a snowy wonderland. Cooking classes and wellness programming have become especially popular in the winter months, too.

“The people I’m sending in the winter, it’s mostly groups that want to congregate in a place with fun activities and great meals, and all of the top ranches have fabulous spas as well,” said Benson, who’s been booking a good number of milestone birthdays and anniversaries during winter. “You can put together a super fun weekend, and while the activities are different, it’s the same case as summer where the logistics of a huge group are so much easier. It’s just so much more intimate and relaxing to plan it all there. It’s like having your own private retreat.”



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