My first dude ranch experience has me wanting to get back in the saddle again. But since my buckaroos are busy with school, I’ll have to instead wrangle up my memories of our trip. I came in as a novice but am now a ranch hand after our first dude ranch vacation. Here are 6 things I wish I knew before we said “giddy up” on our dude ranch vacation.
Saddle up for one heckuva vacation at a dude ranch. Photo by Sherry Boswell.
This summer, I had my first dude ranch vacation, and it won’t be my last. From outdoor excursions to horseback adventures, the fun quotient at a dude ranch is through the roof! What drew me to a dude ranch vacation in the first place was its complete immersion in nature and that it would be unlike any other trip our family has done. Boy, was I right on both counts.
However, it helps if guests go in knowing what to expect and are prepared for the excitement ahead. So here are 6 things I learned from my first dude ranch vacation that I wish I knew before I went.
6 Things I Learned on My First Dude Ranch Vacation
1. Location is key.
Consider where your dude ranch is located. If positioned around national parks, plan to take advantage of the close proximity either before or after your dude ranch vacation. (Number 4 explains why I didn’t say during). Be sure to study up on your ranch ahead of time. Know what it’s close to and what activities it offers. This is vital because you and your family will go in with realistic expectations.
If gourmet food is important to you, choose a ranch that has high food reviews. Our ranch, Goosewing Ranch in Kelly, Wyoming was almost an hour from the main roads, which sounds very isolated. But it was that level of seclusion that was ideal, and it was surrounded by the Grand Teton National Park. We were so much a part of nature at our dude ranch that they even gave us bear spray! Being so immersed in the wilderness gave me a greater respect and reverence for it.
Goosewing Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming was a prime location to see the Grand Tetons. Photo credit: Sherry Boswell.
2. The people are amazing!
What makes a dude ranch vacation so special are the staff. I expected the service to be above par, but was blown away at how exceptional it was. We really felt like family because they make a point of getting to know everyone. The warmth and charisma of each staffer makes it feel almost home-like. Our wrangler Wayne became a role model for my 12 year old, so much so that he even wanted to dress like him.
The hospitality also spills over with fellow guests who are sharing the same experiences. We bonded with a family from England whose girls were close to our kids’ ages, and it made our trail rides all the more enjoyable to have newfound friends to share rides and meals.
3. Prepare to be surprised at what you and your kids can do.
A dude ranch is a liberating experience for kids of all ages. They discover skills they didn’t know they had and are like sponges in absorbing information. I found myself stepping back and getting out of their way, not worrying at all that they were doing an advanced ride without us. They were in excellent hands with the dude ranch staff.
I have a teen and a tween, and I found myself in awe of their willingness to try new things and their independence. They helped with tacking horses, tried offerings like hatchet throwing and target shooting, and my 16 year old licensed driver took the wheel of our Polaris ranger. I didn’t expect the level of confidence and self-assuredness they would have.
My tween really blossomed on our dude ranch vacation. Photo credit: Sherry Boswell.
4. While on the Dude Ranch, Enjoy Everything It Has to Offer
What I am saying is: don’t leave the property!
While I had considered leaving the dude ranch for a day to do whitewater rafting, I was so thankful I did not book that ahead of time. We didn’t want to leave the ranch. Think about it. Guests are paying to enjoy the ranch and all its amenities, so staying on property to soak it all in just makes sense! Keep in mind that many ranches are isolated and it will take some driving to get to any off-site activity. Had we done rafting, it would have been 3 hours roundtrip. In our case, we would be better off booking that excursion on our departure day.
Ready, aim, fire! Dude ranches hit the mark with amazing activities. Photo credit: Sherry Boswell.
The list of activities is massive at dude ranches: for instance, we had fly fishing, archery, skeet shooting, cattle herding and pinning, target shooting, hatchet throwing, driving our Utility Terrain Vehicles, and tubing. Not to mention the special events like cookouts, s’mores by the fire, and hayrides. After a long day in the saddle, my favorites were the pool, hot tub, and a massage.
5. Dude Ranches are heavy on horseback riding.
Pack boots and jeans to prepare for lots of riding on a dude ranch. Photo by Sherry Boswell.
The heart and soul of a dude ranch is its horseback riding. I’d say the main activity most guests were eager to select was their trail ride. When the first thing the ranch did was have us get fitted for our horses, we knew it would be a horse-centric week. My kids wouldn’t have had it any other way. They couldn’t wait to get their horses tacked and ready.
While I am not an avid equestrian like my daughter, I was right at home on my horse, Tiger Lily. Non-riders are still welcome, but a dude ranch vacation is that much more enjoyable if guests are willing to ride. All levels are welcome-I’m living proof of that fact!
6. Embrace the Freedom of No Electronics.
Most ranches have limited wifi and cell phone service. And we were the BETTER for it. Mom and Dad didn’t feel chained to their devices to respond to work emails. My teenager stayed off Snapchat and lived. My tween could survive several days without watching Youtube videos. So all our undivided attention went into our adventures and each other.
I wanted to stay in the dude ranch bubble when we left just to savor a few more days of not being glued to my phone.
The only use for a phone is to take stunning photos of the scenery. Photo by Sherry Boswell.
This list could have been longer than 6 things, but the point is obvious: I couldn’t recommend a dude ranch vacation more highly! Many might dub a dude ranch vacation as a “once-in-a-lifetime trip.” I’d say, don’t be surprised if it becomes the family’s new go-to destination.
Written by Sherry Boswell, blogger at SherryBoswell.com