From Colorado to the Canadian border, the basins, meadows, and parks of the Rocky Mountains enticed enterprising cattlemen from the start. Those who could tough out the harsh winters would see their ranching interests prosper in the lush returns of summer. The mountain streams, towering peaks, abundant wildlife, and stunning vistas continue to inspire those with the capital required to own land.
Many of today’s mountain ranches are owned by the American nouveau riche—made flush by oil, telecommunications, and real estate. Yet the men and women who work the land, carrying it through the changing and challenging seasons, are the ones who define it. They’re tough—they can turn their hand at any ranching chore from topping off a bronc to fixing a tractor—and don’t let fashion get in the way of function. They’re folks who know making a living with a cow in the mountains means hard work.
Deseret Land & Livestock
In 1891, a group of prominent Mormon families pooled their resources to establish the Deseret Live Stock Company. The next century saw the holdings expand—as well as a transition from sheep to cattle—before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints purchased what had become the largest contiguous block of private land in Utah—some 200,000 acres in 1983. The ranch has expanded to Florida, where it owns an additional 295,000 acres of land and is ranked as the No. 1 cow-calf producer in the nation.
Diamond Peak Cattle Company
Though it began as a sheep ranch, the Diamond Peak, under the guidance of John Raftopoulos, has become one of the largest cattle operations in Colorado—owning some 40,000 acres and leasing another 300,000 from various government agencies. Their bulls are specifically bred for high altitudes and the ranch runs about 2,600 cows.
The Hirschy family first settled in Southwest Montana’s Big Hole Valley in 1894. Since then, they’ve expanded to become among the region’s most respected ranching outfits. Jack Hirschy guided the operations through the second half of the 20 century, and though he has passed, his children and grandchildren continue his traditions.
Overland Trail Cattle Company
Philip Anshutz, oil, rail, telecommunications, entertainment, and real estate entrepreneur, runs Angus pairs and yearlings on some 320,000 acres—about a 50/50 mix of private and government lease land—in Carbon County, Wyo. In addition to cattle, and both big and small game, the ranch boasts significant hay and wind production.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Beef Magazine ranks the Riverbend Ranch, owned by Frank Vandersloot, as the 20-largest cow-calf operation and 14th-largest seedstock outfit in the nation. Though headquartered in Idaho Falls, the Angus ranch also runs cattle in Montana, Utah, and Texas.
Silver Spur Ranches
With 2.2 million acres across the United States, John Malone holds the deed to more private ground than any other individual in the country. The Silver Spur Ranch holdings began in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado and are still headquartered there, but have expanded to include properties on Colorado’s Front Range and New Mexico. He also owns massive acreage in Maine. Beef Magazine ranks the ranch as the fourth-largest cow-calf operation.
Sitz Angus Ranch
Since 1923, the Sitz family has been involved in raising Angus beef and breeding stock. In 1959, Bob and Donna Sitz bought the Harrison Ranch in Dillon. They were involved in the rise in popularity of the Angus breed and despite Bob Sr.’s untimely death, continued to expand in the Big Hole region of Montana. Beef Magazine ranks them the sixth-largest seedstock producer.
While not the most sprawling of ranches, the 19,000-acre, multi-generational parcel in Sublette County has made a name for itself by its preservation efforts. Siblings Albert and Jonita Sommers donated the century-old homestead and other outbuildings for historic purposes and then put a conservation easement on their entire ranch, ensuring its perpetual preservation.
Stan Kroenke Ranches
Montana and Wyoming
The real estate and sports franchise owner has bought up hundreds of thousands of mountain ranch acres, including the Broken O Ranch, in Augusta, Mont., Cedar Creek Ranch in Ennis, the PV Ranch near Hysham, and Wyoming’s Q Creek Land & Livestock Company, which, at 540,000-plus acres, is the largest contiguous ranch in the Rockies. His other land holdings include the famed Douglas Lake Ranch, the largest privately owned cattle ranch in Canada.
Running a herd of 3,000 head of commercial Red Angus cattle on some 200,000 acres is enough credibility. However, they might be more famous for their AQHA breeding program, including famed cutting horse sire WR This Cats Smart.