What images do you conjure up when you think of a dude ranch? Cowboys roping in cattle? Singalongs by a campfire? Horseback riding through miles of open land?
What if I told you that it can also involve a spa? Or kid’s programs like you might encounter on cruise ships or in a resort? Dining on gourmet food? Five-star room accommodations?
Yup – a dude ranch experience can be pretty much as rustic as you would like it to be or as luxurious as you want it to be – and everywhere in between!
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to find out all this and more as I chatted with Colleen Hodson – who happens to be the past Executive Director of the Dude Ranchers’ Association. Being that she held that role for 19 years – she has plenty of insight on dude ranch experiences – as she visited well over 150 of them during that time!
Read on for the highlights of this enlightening chat!
Ranch “Categories”: Dude ranches can vary widely in size, but most have miles and miles of open land to explore. As for occupancy – they usually will take anywhere from 40 to 60 guests with 60 definitely being a larger ranch. And there are some that are very boutique like – meaning that they only allow six to eight guests at a time. So, as you can see – they come in all shapes and sizes.
As for the different types – first there are your traditional or resort ranches. These tend to cater more towards families with younger children and often will offer kids programs which gives the young ins opportunities mingle with others their age – and do some cool things – like camping out under the stars. The other type is a working ranch which involves a lot of riding – i.e. – you’re in the saddle a lot. These tend to cater more to families with older kids – say age 14 and up.
Activities: As stated in the introduction there are a plethora of activities to be found on dude ranches. Of course, you can work with the livestock – such as helping to move cattle. But you can also hang out by the pool and catch up on the amazing views that surround you or a read good book. You can even opt to pamper yourself and do a spa treatment or two or three. And there are all kinds of physical activities to take part in including horseback riding – of course -yoga, mountain biking, hiking, fishing and even skiing when the weather permits. And of course, don’t forget those cowboy singalongs with that cute cowboy and his guitar strumming along by the campfire!
Gastronomy: Meals on the ranch are typically offered at certain times. For instance, breakfast may start at seven am and be open for a few hours. Or you may opt to do a morning ride at seven am and eat breakfast on the trail. Same with lunch and dinner. And the style can be alone with your group, family style with other guests or just ordering from a menu. It too varies from ranch to ranch. A lot of times dinner is actually a cookout or barbeque. It is also important to note that all food (as well as activities) is typically included in your price – but not drinks – making it akin to an all-inclusive experience minus the alcohol.
Attire: You are definitely going to want to pack comfy, casual clothing for this adventure! No high heels here. But you will need boots – as you have to ride with hard soled shoes with a heel for your safety. But don’t worry – if you don’t want to invest in a pair of riding boots most ranches will have a stockpile of them on hand for you to borrow. But if I were you, I would buy a pair because honestly, they are a cute little fashion statement once you return home! You will also want to be sure to bring a hat – preferably a cowboy hat with a wide brim to shade you from sun. The ranch will also typically provide you with a stampede string, so it doesn’t blow off while you’re riding. And speaking of sun – don’t forget to pack plenty of sunscreen!
Wellness: So pretty much everything about a dude ranch experience screams wellness. And pretty much everything you are doing is physical activity – even walking to and from the main lodge is often a bit of a hike – so they are definitely a healthy way to vacation. Obviously, they are very nature-based trips because my gosh – you’re surrounded by nature! We already mentioned a lot of ranches have spas but what about other mind, body and spirit experiences?
Well there is that all important alone time for mom and dad while the kids are doing – well – kid things! Then there is that special connection the ranger will make sure you get with your horse and the confidence gained just by being around horses. And what a fantastic out-of-the-box experience for children! The education they will receive is priceless. Not only will they learn the importance of ranches and how they work – they will also gain some valuable life skills as well! And they get to be kids – meaning they will be totally unplugged – running through fields and wading in creeks – things a lot of children never have the chance to do – especially in urban settings. Think about it – even the road trip there is usually a ride through history – as opposed to flying and missing all the historic sites along the way. It truly is a living classroom for them.
Safety: Needless to say – dude ranches are a very good choice in this day in age – i.e. – they are great for social distancing! Heck – you can go all day without seeing anyone but your wrangler.
Miscellaneous: Colleen brought up a great point – the Dude Rancher’s Association is NOT a pay to play association – you must qualify to be a member. This means that the ranches will get inspected every five years to ensure that they are up to speed on everything. This also means that they are vetted, and this is important because let’s face it – most of us are city folk that need this kind of guidance to make sure our dude ranch experience is authentic. And your Travel Guru is not only member of the Family Travel Association but also of the Dude Ranchers’ Association and thus can vet them even further for you based on your family’s needs.
Type of Traveler: Now I know we talked a lot about families – but dude ranches are not for families only! They are a great bonding experience for couples. A super fun (and probably different than anything you’ve ever done before) girls’ trip. Wonderful for solo travelers thanks to the intimate setting that ensures you’ll meet new people. And they are also great for the LGBTQ community due to that wonderful western hospitality that welcomes everyone with open arms and strives to make you comfortable at their ranch.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As each dude ranch resides in a different state please check with the state’s official website in the destination you are interested in visiting for up-to-date entry requirements.
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 click here.
Of course, as always – this is a very broad overview but hopefully it gave you a feeling for the flavor of dude ranches. For more details on a dude ranch getaway, their price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!