Tapping into the region’s history and culture, Hill Country dude ranches allow visitors to get away from it all and dabble in rustic living. We headed out to an authentic working guest ranch to get our fill of the frontier.

Dixie Dude Ranch

An inimitable mix of ruggedness and comfort makes dude ranches the ultimate Texas getaway. Sprawling on vast estates, guest ranches punctuate the Hill Country, each offering a temporary home on the range. We saddled up, chowed down and sat around the campfire for a heaping helping of Old West romance.

Authentic to the last goat, Dixie Dude Ranch has everything you need to be transported to another time and way of life.

The property, located about nine miles west of Bandera, known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” was founded as a working ranch in 1901 by William Wallace Whitely. His daughter and son-in-law, after stints working in Hollywood, made the trek back to “Dixieland” and repurposed the place as a guest ranch in 1937. The Great Depression couldn’t keep a good idea down, and the business was a hit.

Nearly eight decades later, that still holds true. During a recent overnight stay, we discovered why so many fall in love with the ranch. We found simple but disarming trappings: a cluster of buildings including Western-style guest cottages, a dining hall, and a gift shop; amenities such as a corral, a swimming pool with hot tub, and countless porches; and acre upon acre of open, pristine land.

For all its beauty and opportunities for lazing—seriously, there are a lot of porches—the ranch boasts rustic activities to get the blood circulating. Guests can try catch-and-release fishing, hitch a hayride, or hunt for fossils while hiking. But the main attraction is the horseback riding. We went on two hour-long group rides, which are available twice daily to overnight guests. 

A friendly cowboy named Tyler acquainted us with our four-legged transport, patiently saddled us up, and led us single file down a trail that wound through some of the ranch’s 725 acres. Our ride covered subtle valleys and gentle hills, which we relished at a walking, sometimes trotting, pace.

The chow bell rang in the evening, drawing us into the dining hall for family-style grub. I washed down my serving of barbecued ribs, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls with lemonade before we ambled out to the campfire, which had just been started. Next to its flickering light, a guitar-strumming cowboy serenaded us to a perfect day’s end.