Who hasn't, at some point, imagined themselves galloping across a prairie, Clint Eastwood-style, decked-out in leather and a Stetson? Just us? The popularity of ranching holidays would suggest otherwise, as people swap the nine-to-five for a bit of Western wish fulfilment and the chance to play cowboy for a week or two.
There's a lot to love as you find peace of mind in a landscape that allows you the time to connect with yourself, your family and the land. You might say it is just for the kids, but really adults have just as much (if not more) fun. Feel free to hum the theme tune of The Good the Bad and the Ugly as we trot you through the best places in the world to channel your inner cowboy. Chaps optional.
America’s Wild West
The most iconic of ranching destinations is America's Wild West. Typically you'll find ranches that offer a host of activities alongside plenty of riding. For a place combining experience, connection and conservation, look no further that Zapata Ranch in Colorado. This 103,000-acre bison ranch is owned by the Nature Conservancy, which might explain its admirable dedication to conservation, and they offer an extensive programme of experiences that ranging from working cattle to participating in overnight pack trips. There is also the chance to live like a true cowboy - spending a day working with wranglers and learning from them.
Those searching for the cowboy experience with a side of proper beds and gourmet food should head in the direction of a luxury ranch. The charming Resort at Paws Up, located in Montana, is perfect for families. Comprised of cottages and luxury tents, the ranch has a particular focus on riding and offers fabulous children's programmes. Nowhere does nature show off a finer, more diverse wardrobe than in Big Sky Country and, in order to show off Montana's seasonal changes, the ranch is open year-round. Name any activity, from fly fishing and riding to helicopter tours and abseiling, it is probably on offer here. Paws Up gets our thumbs up when it comes to coyboy holidays.
Fancy exploring the wilds of Montana while staying at the world's first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Guest Ranch? Us too. The Ranch at Rock Creek has taken the concept of luxury ranching to the next level. Don't expect a rough and ready cowboy experience, there is little of the 'real' West in these pastures, but if you are looking for ultimate luxury in a wild landscape and the ability to ride, fly fish, shoot skeets (clay pigeons), practice yoga and get stuck into a host of other activities, then this is the ranch for you.
Latin America has a rich history of working ranches and is home, of course, to the cowboy's southern cousin, the gaucho. This might not be the cowboy holiday of your Spaghetti Western-inspired imagination but bear with us on this one. Corocora Camp is an eco-friendly, conservation-focused tented camp, situated on a private reserve in the Llanos Orientales region of Colombia. Spend your days exploring a different kind of frontier on a horseback safari, and live a day in the life of the local llaneros (Columbian cowboys).
If you are searching for something a little less rustic, head for Estancia Los Poteros. The same Anglo-Argentine family has owned the estancia for generations, so history and tradition are big here. A fully-functioning working cattle ranch with its own equine breeding programme, this is as close to the real thing as you can get (but with comfortable beds). Watch the gauchos at work but expect to get involved yourself with the day to day activities.
Half a world away, the Australian Outback with is untamed nature, is as much cowboy country as the Americas. Set in a modest million acres of wilderness, El Questro is a vast landscape of awe-inspiring sights and wildlife. The homestead has six rooms which, combined with its remote location, is a haven for those in need of an escape from reality. There is not such a big focus on riding here, although it is offered and is a marvellous was to explore. The ranch's helicopters are a more efficient (albeit less romantic) way to see the estate, given its scale. Helicopters will also allow access to inaccessible fishing spots and other remote areas such as the Zebedee thermal springs. Go on guided nature walks and boat trips while you imagine how the first Australian cowboys tried to tame the Outback.
Just three hours by car from Sydney is another Aussie bush station with style. In the midst of 4,000 acres of conservancy reserve, Wolgan Valley is a homestead offering a different take on experiencing the Outback. There is a strong focus on sustainability, with rainwater heated by solar panels for baths and showers. Activities include guided wildlife walks, driving safaris, mountain biking and riding. Visits to the cliffs and canyons of Wollemi and Gardens of Stone national parks can also be arranged.