Heading north into Yellowstone National Park, a left-hand turn just past Moran Junction offers the bucolic setting of Buffalo Valley. At the end of the road, Turpin Meadow Ranch awaits, a historic dude ranch offering a blend of modern luxuries with classic adventures.
The experiences to be had here seek to preserve older traditions. While a guest might arrive excited to delve into modern adventures such as snowmobiling, the atmosphere presents a tangible vibe of stepping back in time. The ranch dates back to the winter of 1887-88, when a trapper named Dick Turpin counted on the Buffalo Fork River to make his living. While doing so, he built a small cabin located within the present-day ranch. Many of the structures on the ranch were built just prior to 1930, and efforts to preserve their charm has included lifting cabins from their original positions in order to pour new foundations.
Modern amenities at the ranch have evolved along with the territory that surrounds this enclave. Their culinary reputation is sound, and a top-notch wine list rounds out the dining experience. Diners do not have to be overnight guests to enjoy a meal at the classic ranch lodge.
It might be a best-kept secret that Turpin Meadow Ranch sits on public land. The ranch operates on a forest service use permit that originated prior to 1930, and is contiguous to this day. “We are the stewards of this property,” says longtime general manager Ron Stiffler. “The owners have no vision of it being anything other than what it is. Investing in the infrastructure is what matters, and maintaining the experience.” Along with his co-manager wife Bobbi, Ron is an enthusiastic proponent of public land use.
The Western Experience, Modified
The Stifflers have managed this operation for seven years, acting as purveyors of fun for the guests who choose to visit. “It’s your land. You own this. Come out and use it,” Ron says, speaking in terms of making sure the public understands how invested the owners are to the ranch operations. “They own zero dirt,” he says. “The idea is to invest in the existing infrastructure so people can keep coming back to enjoy what the ranch has to offer. That includes the public land that surrounds us.”
A traditional dude ranch experience extends throughout a full week, with some activities meant to occur over a few days. At the ranch, a summer stay requires a three-night minimum. Guests are permitted to book any day of the week, and can choose from a variety of activities that are either on or off ranch property.
This modern ranch experience is somewhat a la carte, but traditional choices in adventure are surviving here. Horseback riding, hiking and fly-fishing are all on the menu. A testament to the ranch’s caliber of service is reflected in the fact that their fishing guide, Carter McMillen, received the top honor of gold in 2023’s Best of Jackson Hole.
Guests cherish their time here so dearly they tend to book their next stay as they are checking out. This might have something to do with a $6 million renovation that current owners Dan Nordstrom and William Hague started executing about eight years ago after purchasing Turpin Meadow from Hans and Nancy Johnstone.
With 20 kilometers of Nordic trail designed by the Johnstones — both former Olympians — the current state of the property embodies their original vision. “We are also one of the few recreational options in the area that offers dual use of the property in the winter. Both man-powered and machine-powered recreation options are combined here,” Ron explains.
The Magic of Seasonality
The use of the land surrounding the ranch is not limited to long summer days spent reveling in alpine light. Winter hits a sweet spot here, and a lot of that has to do with the Johnstones, who brought the ranch back to life. Bought out of receivership in 2010, the Nordic center was planned for the property, and the passions of the Johnstones allowed the ranch to open again in 2014 after four years of extensive renovations.
The commitment from its current owners means taking the vision of the Johnstones and not only maintaining that, but surpassing the expectations of what the property can offer year-round. In what the ranch staff refers to as a “prairie-to-plate” experience, one of their amenities for a wilderness overnight adventure is to indulge in a gourmet meal, campside. Bonfires are a regular occurrence during the summer, with the Teton night skies serving up their own light show on a clear night.
The legacy of the dude ranch culture is surviving with the help of resort owners like Dan Nordstrom and William Hague, and the team they employ. Turpin Meadow Ranch has managed to carve out an approachable, diverse hospitality model that is meant for the enjoyment of all.