Arizona Dude Ranch Roundup

Lasso a lifetime memory at 10 guest ranches around Tucson

By C. Jill Hofer

More than a century ago, the nation was captivated by iconic images of the great American West. Travelers were drawn westward by Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West world tour, Western silent movies, and dime novels like The Shootout at the OK Corral. The dude ranch was born. Today, the desire for an authentic reprieve from modern life has never been stronger.

According to Russell True, former president of the Arizona Dude Ranch Association, author of Dude Ranching in Arizona, and co-owner of several dude ranches, “It’s the unwavering core principles of dude ranching that provide the timeless appeal. The ‘Six Hs’ are at the core of any good dude ranch: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty, and heart.”

Take a gander at a few of Arizona’s dude ranches. Explore the many options and cut your favorite from the herd.

FUN FACT: Western cattle ranchers used the word “dude” to describe city slickers. Many consider Teddy Roosevelt to be the original dude.

Photo courtesy of Tanque Verde Ranch

Tanque Verde Ranch
14301 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson

Tanque Verde Ranch is located in the Rincon Mountain foothills, bordering Saguaro National Park East and the Coronado National Forest. The first guests arrived in 1928, 60 years after the ranch was established in 1868. Tanque Verde Ranch recently celebrated 150 years in operation as the oldest non-city owned business in town.

FUN FACT: You could win a ranch vacation by signing up to receive exclusive offers and updates from Tanque Verde Ranch. Drawings are held April, August, and December.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Team Penning + Horsemanship Lessons + Guided Fishing + Hiking & Biking

Photography of White Stallion Ranch by Steven Meckler

White Stallion Ranch
9251 W. Twin Peaks Rd., Tucson

White Stallion Ranch has been in the True family for more than 50 years. The ranch is located on 3,000 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert and borders Saguaro National Park West for an even more expansive, wide-open landscape. A quick 35 minutes from the Tucson International Airport and 90 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, this Spanish hacienda-style dude ranch carefully blends the frontier lifestyle with the amenities and services of a fine resort and includes an on-site bar.

FUN FACT: More than 200 productions and 31 feature films were shot at White Stallion Ranch, including the gunfight from the classic film Winchester ’73 starring Jimmy Stewart.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Team Cattle Sorting & Penning + Rock Climbing & Biking + Shooting Range & Archery + Weekly Ranch Rodeo

Photo courtesy of Elkhorn Ranch

Elkhorn Ranch
27000 W. Elk Horn Ranch Rd., Tucson

Elkhorn Ranch, owned and operated by the Miller family since 1945, is nestled into the Sonoran Desert grasslands in the foothills of the Baboquivari Mountains just an hour from the Tucson International Airport. “We ride into the rough and scenic mountains and explore the open desert grasslands of the Altar Valley. With about 10,000 acres of country for riding, guests experience true adventure in a wilderness setting,” said Mary Miller, co-owner.

FUN FACT: Thanks to their intimate size limit of up to 32 guests and a small on-site horse breeding program, horses outnumber guests more than three to one at Elkhorn Ranch.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Guided Hikes + Bird and Nature Watching + Tennis, Basketball & Shuffleboard + Heated Pool

Photo courtesy of Kenyon Guest Ranch

Kenyon Guest Ranch
80 Kenyon Ranch Rd., Tubac

Built from native river rocks in the foothills of the Tumacacori Mountains, Kenyon Guest Ranch is a stone’s throw from the highway and a world away from modern life. The water runs year-round along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, lined with shady cottonwood trees. Guests follow in the footsteps (and hoofprints) of celebrities such as Cary Grant and Ricky Nelson. Nearby, Tubac offers plenty of opportunities to gallery hop, shop, stroll, and dine.

FUN FACT: Kenyon Guest Ranch resident cowboy poet and livestock manager Ross Knox holds the Guinness World Record for logging more than 50K miles in 17 years as a mule-packer in the Grand Canyon.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + UTV & Fat Tire Electric Bike Tours + Labyrinth + Heated Pool + Poolside Bar

Photos courtesy of Kay El Bar Guest Ranch

Kay El Bar Guest Ranch
2655 S. Kay El Bar Rd., Wickenburg

The quaint Kay El Bar Guest Ranch lies outside the mining town of Wickenburg, an early hotspot for Arizona dude ranches. Built from adobe bricks, handmade by the nearby Maricopa Indians, this historic guest ranch offers an unhurried lifestyle, and unforgettable memories. Vacationers ride through scenic hills and canyons and enjoy close proximity to Wickenburg’s history, restaurants, and shops.

FUN FACT: This charming adobe ranch was built in the early 1900s, is listed on the Arizona and National Historic Registers, and is where actor Val Kilmer grew up.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horse Grooming + Horseback Riding + Hiking & Horseshoes + Hammocks + Bird and Nature Watching

Photo courtesy of Triangle T Guest Ranch

Triangle T Guest Ranch
4190 E. Dragoon Rd., Dragoon

Nestled in the boulders of Dragoon’s Texas Canyon, Triangle T Ranch is the setting of several original Lone Ranger movies and 3:10 to Yuma, starring Glenn Ford. The ranch is renowned as the winter camp of Apache Chieftain Cochise, and other esteemed visitors include the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and President John F. Kennedy. Co-owner Don Beesley encourages guests to experience a dude ranch getaway to “discover the magic and treasure the memories.”

FUN FACT: The Triangle T Texas Canyon Harmony Labyrinth is an exact copy of the Tohono O’odham design except that there is an opening into the center circle.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Mountain Biking + Labyrinth + Jeep & ATV Tours + The Rock Saloon & Grill

Photo courtesy of Tombstone Mounument Ranch

Tombstone Monument Ranch
895 W. Schiefflin Monument Rd., Tombstone

For the quintessential Old West look and feel, visit Tombstone Monument Ranch, a 13,000-acre working cattle ranch. Built to modern standards using remnants from original 1880s structures, it resembles a Western frontier town with a main street, saloon, and themed rooms such as the jail, bank, and sheriff’s office. Guests can catch the stagecoach or head to Tombstone on horseback between poker lessons, petroglyph hikes, and shows at the on-site saloon.

FUN FACT: Criollo cattle are purebred descendants of Spanish cows brought by Christopher Columbus. Tombstone Monument Ranch collaborates with The University of Arizona to offer a ranch-to-table experience with their on-site herd.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Working Ranch Experience + Shooting Range + Archery + Star Cinematic + Photo Shoot

Photo courtesy of Circle Z Ranch

Circle Z Ranch
1476 AZ-82, Patagonia

The Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia offers all-inclusive adventures with everything from horseback riding to guided nature walks. “Sonoita Creek traverses the heart of our property, which features more than 100 miles of trails through a riparian area, desert scrub, high grasslands, and mountains that rise dramatically from the desert floor,” said co-owner Diana Nash.

FUN FACT:  Circle Z Ranch offers a tennis court that doubles as a pickle ball court, complete with paddles, rackets, and balls.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Ranch Activities + Birding & Guided + Nature Walks + Hiking & Stargazing + Heated Pool

Photo courtesy of Spurcedale Guest Ranch

Sprucedale Guest Ranch
1228 Wiltbank Rd., Alpine

For an elevated experience, ascend to Sprucedale Guest Ranch in the pines of the White Mountains. The appeal of this family-owned and -operated dude ranch is much about what they don’t have. “We’re unique in that we’re off the grid with generator electricity, no TV, and cell service is limited to the lodge only,” said Tiffany Willis, manager. It’s easy to unplug in this high-country ranch in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

FUN FACT: The first guests of Sprucedale Guest Ranch were fishermen looking for shelter from a monsoon in the early 1920s. Today, it is the oldest continually run guest ranch in Arizona.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding (including a River Ride) + Cow Milking & Colt Leading + Rodeo Practice + Cattle Work + Hayrides & Bonfires

Photo courtesy of Rancho del la Osa

Rancho de la Osa
1 La Osa Ranch Rd., Sasabe

At Rancho de la Osa in Sasabe, the unique convergence of Native American, Spanish, Mexican, ranching, political, and celebrity history keeps guests coming back year after year. Three US presidents, Pancho Villa, and John Wayne have frequented this remarkably historic property on 590 acres surrounded by 120,000 acres of the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge.

FUN FACT: The Marshall Plan was drafted at Rancho de la Osa, and the ranch boasts the oldest continually occupied building in Arizona.

HIGHLIGHTS: Horseback Riding + Wildlife Refuge + Guided Off-Road Tours + Guided Fat Tire Electric + Bike Tours + Sport Shooting & 22 Range

Start making your plans to trade in your cellphones and televisions for a rustic retreat complete with crackling campfires under a starry Arizona sky.