Just as those who live in the North go to the South to escape the cold, guests from around the country head West to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life at a dude ranch.
The machine age of the early 1900s in the United States kick-started the popularity of dude ranches. While the population started to go to cities in order to have office jobs, the confines of those buildings sparked an interest in spending hard-earned money on vacations in a place where workers could disconnect. This trend continues today, making up the booming guest ranch industry. The idyllic setting of a dude ranch
will leave visiting groups in awe, and the experience is nothing like your typical resort or corporate hotel.
An Immersive Retreat
“Groups should choose a dude ranch for their retreats because there is something for everyone,” says Bryce Albright, executive director of the Dude Ranchers’ Association. “There are great opportunities for group bonding such as learning to ride horses, shoot archery, fish, and more. Most ranches have capabilities to host meetings as well, so work and pleasure can be combined.” Dude ranches provide genuine Western hospitality in an all-inclusive setting to make planning a breeze. The immersive retreats are complete with lodging, meals, and outdoor activities.
Dude ranch excursions are available year-round. One of the many wonders of the West is the temperate setting, perfect for time on a ranch. Albright knows it’s a common worry among travelers. “Any time of year is a great time to visit a dude ranch,” she says. “If you are wanting to see the beauty of the northern Rocky Mountains, summertime is the best time of year to visit ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho. If you are looking for a winter getaway, Arizona and California ranches are a great option and provide wonderful locations for groups.”
Snow-covered ranches are especially beautiful and offer many wintertime excursions. Activities like sled rides, skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and more become available for visitors to get outside and enjoy the snow. Hearty ranch meals provided daily will also help keep guests warm during their stay. Be sure to pack for the weather and check in with your group’s chosen ranch, as some locations require a minimum stay for guests depending on the time of year.
The West’s Dude Ranches
Among the multitude of dude ranches in the western United States, a few established favorites are Tanque Verde Ranch, White Stallion Ranch, Rainbow Trout Ranch, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, and Paradise Guest Ranch. All ranches offer horseback riding, but many other other activities, too.
Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, can accommodate 200-plus people and provides stunning environments with exciting adventures, including mountain biking, fishing, and more. Visitors can choose between one of 43 guest rooms or The Hacienda—a home with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. It’s perfect for families, reunions, getaways, or small groups.
Also in Tucson, White Stallion Ranch has the resources to make any event or trip a success. Around 100-plus people can stay at the ranch comfortably and take part in activities like hiking, fat tire biking, e-biking, .22-caliber shooting, a weekly ranch rodeo, and evening entertainment most evenings after dinner. Guests also have access to the heated pool, fitness center, movie theater, and other amenities conveniently located on the grounds.
Head to Colorado’s backcountry for a stay at Rainbow Trout Ranch. True to its name, guests can spend time fly-fishing on the ranch’s private 1.5-mile stretch of the Conejos River. After time on the river, ride among waterfalls, cliffs, rivers, and lakes and then enjoy a family-style dinner back at the ranch. At Rainbow Trout Ranch, fill your evening with live music, dancing, and sing-alongs, or a quiet reside chat and stargazing.
Head to Idaho for the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, situated on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Choose how to spend your time—whether it’s among the Nordic ski trails or taking part in activities like skeet shooting, e-bike rides, or roping lessons. Guests can book a lodge room or a log cabin.
Near Cody, Wyoming, and just outside the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, a group of 11 family-owned lodges and guest ranches known as The Lodges of East Yellowstone, provide horseback riding, hiking, fishing, cookouts, and campfires.
Shoshone Lodge & Guest Ranch, one of The Lodges of East Yellowstone, is owned by Michael Christiansen, whose great-grandparents built the lodge nearly 100 years ago. Guests can ride past historical sites like the location of the family’s sawmill, which they used to mill the timbers for the lodge.
Life on the Ranch
There are a variety of activities on or around dude ranches. Adventures in and around Cody include the famous Cody Nite Rodeo, the Buffalo Bill Dam, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, where there are five museums that make one Wild West experience.
Last, but certainly not least, Paradise Guest Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming, has been around for more than 100 years and has the reputation to prove it. Adventures include trout fishing, hiking, and horseback riding for adults, and arts and crafts, pony rides, archery, and a talent show for the kids.
If the sheer number of destination dude and guest ranch prospects is overwhelming, check out the Dude Ranchers’ Association at duderanch.org for help choosing and planning exactly what’s best for your group. The association will be sure to help you pick the best place to hang your hat for genuine Western hospitality.
Ranches remind visitors of the simplicities of the past, and every ranch has a deep and storied history to share. The magic of a trip to a dude ranch is the opportunity to transport visitors back to an era of living spontaneously and being at one with the land. Choose a ranch trip for your group to get back to nature, embrace the simpler things in life, and discover a new frontier—or at least one that’s new to you.
Add an extra layer of excitement to your trip by trying a specialty week. Check in with your ranch of choice to see what specialty weeks they
offer. Here are some examples of past events that have taken place at ranches throughout the West:
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch hosted a weekend of learning lifestyle photography in the mountains of northern Idaho.
A week of new friends and fun adventures took place during Circle Bar Ranch’s Big Sky Cowgirls—Women’s Only Week. Circle Bar gave guests the opportunity to learn new skills, make new connections, and try new things.
Rawah Ranch’s Bourbon Week is a dream for any bourbon connoisseur. The days may be spent doing typical ranch activities, but the nights are packed with tastings and teachings. The Colorado ranch curates a selection of quality bourbon and pairs them with mouthwatering meals made by in-house chefs.
Written by Samantha Johnson
Main Image: Western Pleasure Guest Ranch