Guest Ranch Selection
Selecting a Dude Ranch or Guest Ranch
How to select a dude ranch
Trying to select a dude ranch or guest ranch from the many that are available can be a bit daunting. Most can offer a vacation that will renew your spirit and get you into the real outdoor world away from the pace of your workday life, and all the distractions. We will try to offer a few pointers that might make the ranch choice easier.
Select the ranch that has the best fit of horseback riding, activities, guest capacity, and surroundings to your tastes. Our goal is for you to have the best vacation of your lives, which is what makes this such a fun business for us.
The dude ranch associations have a great listing of ranches with enough information to get you started. I am only acquainted with the two we belong to: the Montana Dude Ranchers Association and the Dude Ranchers Association. They have ranch member standards, ranch inspections, and support available to their members for tips on how to provide a quality experience for our guests. Other state associations probably have similar features, but I am not familiar with them.
Some of the characteristics to keep in mind are below:
1. The state you want to visit and the season of the year in which you are traveling will help with choices. In the western states, most ranches run their season from mid-May-September. A few in the Ozarks and California are open year-round, and Arizona offers great vacation places in the winter.
2. Size or guest capacity varies a great deal. Some ranches take only a dozen or so guests per week, while the resort-oriented ranches can accommodate over a hundred people. At a small ranch you will have a more personalized experience with staff and other guests, while there are usually more amenities at the larger ranches.
3. Cost is usually important in determining a vacation spot. Guest ranches vary considerably in price because of the type of accommodations, meals, and extra amenities such as swimming pools, hot tubs, and tennis courts. Don’t forget to inquire about seasonal rates, as some ranches offer better deals during certain times of the season.
4. Type of horseback riding and where you will be riding differ at dude ranches. Are you a beginner rider needing additional support or an experienced rider ready to try anything offered? Some ranches have majestic mountain scenic trails with limited trotting or loping, others have terrain that allows for more. There may be weight limits for riding. You might have the same horse for your week stay, while other ranches may switch horses daily. Dependable horses which have been used at the ranch for many seasons are normal.
5. Scenery, wildlife, and outdoor surroundings vary with location and time of year. Some ranches border national forests and have trails to take you to very special places for your enjoyment. Free from the distractions of the city you will be looking for elk, deer, moose, and other critters while taking in vast mountain scenes of unmatched beauty.
6. Choosing a working cattle ranch versus a vacation-oriented ranch will offer you different experiences. Cattle drives are offered at certain times during the season at some ranches giving guests an experience of “life on the range.” Expect some rather intensive riding on these. Others choose to enjoy the outdoor activities during the day, come back to the lodge for a hearty meal, and relax in their surroundings with family or friends.
7. Fishing in the quiet solitude of a mountain stream is often the wish of a person seeking the perfect dude ranch. Some ranches have excellent waters for catching fish, and fly fishing instruction is part of the package. Some will put you in contact with a fishing guide. You may be able to catch your own fish for dinner.
8. Choosing a ranch in a remote location or one that is close to cities depends on the needs of the people planning a vacation. For those seeking an outdoor experience in what seems to be unlimited acres of wilderness, a ranch farther from civilization would fit the bill. On the other hand, if shopping or hitting the night spots is what you need, a location closer to city life would be better.
9. Going to a luxurious ranch resort or to one with a more rustic atmosphere is part of your decision-making process. In most cases, the more rustic ranches are smaller in size and offer a more personalized experience where you are part of the ranch family for a week and leave with long lasting friendships. The larger resort ranches usually offer more amenities and options to guests who are interested in swimming pools, hot tubs, and tennis courts.
10. Sharing the history and flavor of the area (folk lore, customs, culture of the ranch community) can be a very informative and fun experience. Many owners and families have been in the ranch business for a long time and have a colorful history of cowboys, critters, and culture to share. Ghost towns, old mines, Native American ruins, geological formations, national parks, and more can spark your interest in the history of the ranch.
11. Structured programs are sought by some but others choose a ranch with a more flexible slate of activities. A smaller ranch will try to personalize activities you wish to do, but the larger ranches usually have more options. Do you want to participate in the ranch activities and eat meals with your children, or do you want a structured children's program that keeps them separated from the adults? There is usually some age limit for young children to ride.
The listings with the dude ranch associations and possibly other listings will help to quickly sort through your options and give you a smaller number of ranches to check for more information. I think a phone call would be welcomed by any of us to help you get a better idea of what to expect.
Good luck in your search. Have a wonderful ranch vacation.