herd of brown and black bulls on brown sand

Dude Ranch Vacations

Dude ranches conjure up an image of the history, culture and wide-open spaces of the American West. But they’re not relics of the past. A vacation at a dude ranch will give you a unique and unforgettable experience.

According to the Dude Ranchers’ Association, based in Wyoming, the seeds were planted in the late 19th century in the Dakota Badlands, when Easterners wanted to get a taste of the West. As railroads expanded in the 1920s, dude ranches became a new source of revenue for struggling cattle ranchers.

Today, these ranches are popular vacation spots across the West, with many clustered in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, California and Arizona. They cater to every age and type of traveler, whether you’re solo, a couple, traveling with friends or part of a multigenerational family group. They’re also great for special events, like a wedding or family reunion. And many offer weeks for adults only.

If you’re a traveler who loves staying active you’ll have lots of choices, including horseback riding, fishing, hiking, swimming, golfing, river rafting, bird watching, rodeos, cattle drives and Western dancing.

Your JetSetGO travel advisor can help you pick the destination that meets your needs. But here are some things to keep in mind:

Think about the time of year. To enjoy the best weather, you should visit northern ranches from June to the beginning of October and southern ranches from October to May. Ranches usually have a minimum stay and ideally you should plan on a week, in order to take advantage of all the activities.

Consider how far you want to travel. Ranches require lots of space, so you won’t find them in the middle of suburbs of major cities. When you’re looking at different options, take into account the distance you’ll have to travel from the airport to the ranch.

Learn about the different types of ranches. Dude ranches range from rustic to luxurious and everything in between.

A working cattle ranch will give an opportunity to sample a cowboy’s life. These are true working operations. Your horseback riding adventures will be determined by the ranch’s livestock and associated work. You’ll still get great food and comfortable but rustic accommodations. At a traditional dude ranch, you’ll get to try Western horseback riding and a variety of outdoor activities. Traditional ranches are known for their family friendly atmosphere and home-like feel. At a luxury dude ranch, horseback riding is featured along with a wide range of activities. These are generally larger ranches with additional amenities like a spa, high-end accommodations and gourmet food.

Look at the size of the ranch, too. Your vacation at a ranch with fewer than a dozen guests will be different from one that has space for more than 100 visitors at a time. Think about whether you want a more intimate experience, or a chance to meet and mingle with other guests.