Once upon a time, American cowboy culture was born under the big skies and wide-open spaces of the Golden State. Today, horsemen like John Varian, owner of V6 Ranch, maintain California’s buckaroo traditions and invite visitors to join in on the fun. A recent guest on the California Now Podcast, Varian said this to host Soterios Johnson: “There's so much going on in this state, everyone seems to forget that there still is a huge amount of open land, and cowboys that still do it very similar to the way they did it 100 years ago.”

Tucked in the Cholame Valley in the town of Parkfield, V6 Ranch spans 20,000 acres of the stunning Central Coast. The Varian family has maintained the working ranch since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until City Slickers debuted in 1991, a comedy in which a two-week cattle drive transforms three friends’ perspectives on life, that John Varian’s parents considered opening their property to outsiders.

V6 Ranch now offers more than a dozen different ranch experiences during spring, summer, and fall each year but their quarterly cattle drive is one of the most authentic. Not sure if you’re ready to get in the saddle? Here are a few reasons to put a little hitch in your giddy up and find a weekend-long home on the range at V6 or one of the other authentic ranches open for visitors all across the state. And don’t miss Varian’s interview on the California Now Podcast to hear about cowboy culture straight from the source. 

Sleep under the stars

V6 Ranch’s cattle drives run Thursday through Sundayand for three nights, it’s just you, your bedroll, and a twinkling sky. Varian says, “We’re on the mountain range that separates the coast from the Central Valley, and so we camp right on top of that mountain.” Parkfield’s resident total (a whopping 18) makes for some of the darkest skies in Californiaperfect for stargazing.

Go from zero to horseback-hero

Every cattle drive trip caters to all ages and all abilitiesfrom longtime horse-owners to guests who’ve never even touched a bridle. “We have ranch horses that are for all levels,” explains Varian. With more than 100 horses at the ready, even the most novice rider will find a steed he or she feels comfortable on.

Learn how to wrangle

Varian explains that the wrangling work is just one of the many seasonal duties of ranch life. When you attend a cattle drive, you will learn how to round up the cows and drive them to other parts of the land. As Varian explains, this is a truly authentic experience: “We're doing it whether you're there or not.”

Hang out with real-life cowboys

“All the people that you're riding with do this for a living,” Varian explains. Learn the ins and outs of cowboy culture as you saddle up next to experts who live and breathe life in the stirrups.

Make new friends on the range

Days spent on horseback working toward a mutual goal create bonds that last a lifetime. The trips are popular with couples, friends, families, as well as solo travelers. “The first night everyone’s at different tables… the last day everyone’s hugging,” says Varian. He has even witnessed marriages spring from cattle drives.

Experience campfire magic

Once the cattle have been herded and the horses tied, wranglers retreat to the fire. Varian says there’s something about that experience that encourages people to get in touch with a simpler part of themselves: “In everyday life, you don’t just stand up and start singing music around a campfire. But when you're on top of a mountain all by yourselves, it's definitely where it happens.”