Ranches have been a staple of Central and West River South Dakota economies and for as long as South Dakota has been a state. Some of these working ranches are now being utilized by locals and visitors alike to see what true ranch living is all about.
From the rolling hills of Central South Dakota to the Wyoming border in the west, working ranches are opening their doors to guests. Most of these ranches just recently offered their homes as a destination place for visitors; but their way of life, which includes hard work and western hospitality, has remained constant for decades. Although more than twenty “working ranches” are open to guests throughout the state, here’s a closer look at three:
Handboy Creek Ranch – This is a modern-day, working cattle ranch that’s located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in central South Dakota near Mobridge. Guests are invited to ride horses, help with the cattle (including branding, calving, weighing, moving, and checking) or do ranch work, such as fixing fences and other chores.
According to Brenda Jones, who runs Handboy Creek with her husband Jay, most of their guests are either local people who come to ride horses, or they’re international visitors using the ranching vacation package. “We’ve had groups from Germany and Italy, and most of them comment on the quiet and vastness of the prairie,” said Jones. “It’s a very relaxing place. If you want to go somewhere and have no demands on you, you can participate in what we do or just sit outside and read a book.”
Cow Creek Ranch – Shearer’s Cow Creek Ranch is another working cattle ranch in western South Dakota, where the “1876 Deadwood Trail” crossed the Cheyenne River near Wall. The Shearer family has been in the cattle business since the 1800s, and they offer ranching vacation packages as well as hunting. Ranching guests can help with activities like haying, practicing for rodeos, cleaning stalls, moving cattle with horses, and much more. Cow Creek also offers hunting for Whitetail & Mule Deer, Merriam Turkey, Pheasant, Chukkars and Sharptail Grouse.
Glendon Shearer, who runs Cow Creek, said past guests loved the family atmosphere and the solitude surrounding the ranch. “People are always so surprised by how our family welcomes guests into our home and treat them like our own,” said Shearer. “We’re 25 miles from the nearest mailbox and people are always in awe of the vastness we have here.”
Crow Creek Ranch – This 4,000 acre working cattle and guest ranch is located in western South Dakota near Belle Fourche. Guests are invited to help with the moving, sorting, and doctoring of livestock on horseback, as well as branding. Crow Creek Ranch is also well known for its antelope archery hunting.
Todd Larsen, who owns and operates Crow Creek Ranch, said the attraction for most visitors to the ranch, especially non-locals, is the history surrounding the area.
“I think people like the western heritage,” said Larsen. “They read a lot of history about the American West and they want to be a part of it all.”