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Dude Ranch 101

How to Choose the Best Dude Ranch for Your Next Vacation!

Are you ready to plan your next vacation that will create memories to last a lifetime? We have the perfect vacation for you, a dude ranch vacation! Dude ranches are the quintessential vacation setting to come together with your family and friends to forge memories that no one will soon forget. You have the first step and question answered, what type of vacation do we want to go on? Next, you need to pick a dude ranch. “How in the world do I do that, there are hundreds to choose from!?” The answer is simple; choose one of the 90+ member ranches of the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA), representing the best dude ranches in the West since 1926! When you vacation at a DRA member ranch you can be sure of a quality vacation. In order for the DRA’s members to join the Association, they must endure a rigorous inspection and approval process that ensures guests are treated to genuine western hospitality combined with the lodging industry’s highest standards.

The DRA has the top dude ranch experts in the West to help you find the perfect ranch to fit your needs and wants. There are usually four main questions they ask to help narrow down the list for each traveler. Keep reading to learn how to choose the best dude ranch for your next vacation!

CM Trail Ride Dude Ranch

CM Ranch, WY

Four Main Questions to Narrow Down Your Search

1. What time of year are you wanting to visit a dude ranch? 

Knowing what time of the year you want to travel is very important in determining what dude ranch you will choose for your vacation. If you are wanting to visit in the summertime, the ranches in the northwest will be the optimal options. These ranches will experience warm days and cooler nights during the summer and allow for a few more outdoor activities like fly-fishing on open waters and river rafting through white water rapids. Although there are several ranches in the south that are open in the summer, you must remember the temperatures can get uncomfortably high and limit the number of activities available. But, if you are looking to travel in the fall or winter, the south is the ideal location. Warmer days in the desert, being able to swim in the pool and lay in the sun will definitely help cure the winter blues! The DRA does also have a few northern ranches that are open in the wintertime and offer winter riding and snow activities! Weather conditions are the number one determining factor to keep in mind when choosing the best dude ranch for your group.

Kay El Bar Dude Ranch View

Kay El Bar Guest Ranch, AZ

2. Where do you want to go geographically? 

This question goes hand in hand with the above question, but it is a little different. We spoke to how the time of year will affect where you can go based on ranches being open, but you must also keep in mind that the DRA’s member ranches are surrounded by some of the West and nature’s greatest wonders! National parks, famous museums, and historical landmarks lie all around many DRA ranches. If you are interested in visiting a specific national park, you can check to see if there are any ranches around that area. You will also want to keep in mind travel distances and major airport locations. Dude ranches are not in the middle of the suburbs of Denver, CO or Phoenix, AZ. Be sure to take into consideration your travel plans when deciding where to go geographically. If you can answer this question it will most definitely help you to narrow the search.

Yellowstone National Park Dude Ranch Vacation

Yellowstone National Park

3. What kind of atmosphere are you looking for at a dude ranch? 

This question may seem a little out of the ordinary, but it is important when choosing the best dude ranch for your group. The DRA’s member ranches can be grouped into three categories: luxury, traditional, and working ranches. Each of these categories represents a type of ranch atmosphere that you should consider. The luxury, resort-type ranches will provide a more, surprise, luxurious type of atmosphere. At these ranches, you will still find a sense of family and heritage, but you will also find original Western flair with luxury comfort. Luxury ranches usually offer more guided activities, high-end, luxury-style accommodations, and top-notch food. Don’t be fooled though, many traditional-type ranches have some pretty incredible food as well! Traditional ranches are known for their family-friendly atmosphere and home-like feel. Horseback riding and activities for every age are abundant at traditional ranches. Hearty, homestyle meals and comfortable accommodations await you here and these ranches are perfect for any type of traveler: multigenerational family reunions, couples, and solo travelers. If you choose a working ranch you will find this atmosphere will put you right alongside the cowboys that work the ranch! At a working-type ranch, you might move cattle from one pasture to another, ride and fix a fence or gather the eggs from the chicken house all in one day! Working ranches provide the atmosphere that allows guests to live the like the cowboys do, but don’t worry they still offer great meals, comfortable rustic accommodations, and the friendliest service in the West. Whether you want to relax at the spa or work alongside the ranch hands, the DRA has a member ranch to fit your desired atmosphere!

Lone Mountain Cabin Dude Ranch

Lone Mountain Ranch, MT

4. What activities are most important to the group you are traveling with?

This might seem like the most important question when choosing the best dude ranch for your group, and you are right! Knowing what activities, you want to participate in and experience while on your vacation is a must. Compiling a list of activities you are interested in will help you narrow down the list and ensure that your vacation is everything you dream of and more. If you are unsure of what activities are even available at a dude ranch, take a look at the DRA’s activities page. Here you will find some great information and probably learn about things you can do at a dude ranch you did not even know existed!

Three Bars Rafting Lodging Near Glacier National Park Dude Ranch

Three Bars Guest Ranch, BC

The Dude Ranchers’ Association

If you are still struggling to find the best ranch for your vacation, contact the dude ranch experts at the Dude Ranchers’ Association today! They will send a list of recommended ranches to fit your desires and can answer any general questions you may have about dude ranch vacations! Give them a call at 307-587-2339 or send them an email at and start planning today!

Best Dude RanchesBest Dude Ranches