Anyone that’s been on a dude ranch vacation or retreat knows how much fun they have to offer. From arena games to family rides to pony rides for the kids, there’s truly something out there for everyone. Still, with all of the fun horse-riding activities and “ranch” related things to do, it’s sometimes easy to forget how many other great activities are offered on America’s Guest Ranches. Here is a list of five activities offered on various DRA Dude Ranches that you may not have known existed, but should make sure not to miss… Western Dancing – While you’re out on the ranch, why not delve into a little dancing? There’s nothing like a sunset hoedown, and there are 51 different DRA certified ranches that offer such shindigs! Next time you’re out on a guest ranch vacation, throw on your dancing shoes and a cowboy hat and let the good times roll. Zip Line – While riding around on the ground can be fun, zip lining through the sky can bring your trip to a whole new level. Guaranteed fun for both adults and kids, there are dude ranches in Arkansas, Colorado and Idaho that each offer zip lines. Get out there, and get ready to fly! Fishing – Take your rec time from the stables to the lake for some good old-fashioned dude ranch fishing. There are 87 Dude Ranches that offer fishing activities, so there’s no excuse not to pull out the hook, line and sinker and catch tonight’s dinner! Yoga – Vacations are all about relaxing, and when it comes to relaxing, there is nothing like a little bit of yoga. Whether you want to start your day with a short session before you head out into the wilderness, or you just want to finish the day off with a nice calming activity, yoga has what you’re looking for. There are fifteen different dude ranches that offer yoga, so if this is something that interests you, you’re in luck! Archery – When you think of a dude ranch you don’t necessarily think of archery, but there are thirty different DRA ranches that offer such activities. Nothing’s more fun for the family then a little bit of friendly competition, and archery is the perfect outlet for this. Take a break from horses and test your skills and coordination, archery can be more fun than you might expect! As far as fun non-riding activities offered on dude ranches, this is a great start, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Bird watching, mountain climbing, river rafting and more are all available at guest ranches across the country. Next time you visit a guest ranch, make sure to take advantage of all the activities they have to offer, and you’re sure to have the time of your life.
Meet Colleen Hodson, Executive Director of the Dude Ranchers' Association (DRA), located in Cody, Wyoming. It is her job to ensure that the more than 100 ranch members of the association provide the most complete and memorable experience possible to guests. From Arkansas to California and all the way through British Columbia, Colleen has traveled to evaluate each ranch, ensuring that guests receive the type of experience they seek.
Equitrekking: You have visited a lot of ranches in your career with the Dude Ranchers’ Association. What’s been your favorite part of the experience and has it made you a better rider?
Colleen Hodson: I have visited over 110 ranches and being able to see the amazing places these ranches’ are located in is probably the best thing about my job. That being said, the ranchers, ranch managers and the entire staff at every DRA dude ranch goes way above and beyond to make sure your stay is exactly what you want it to be. Having horses of my own and riding on regular basis for the past 30 years I thought I would find the riding a little regimented and more geared to just the beginner rider. Well was I wrong! They truly can accommodate any riding level from the most inexperienced to the most experienced. The wranglers at dude ranches are some of the most well rounded, diverse people I have ever been around. You may get a kid who grew up on a cattle ranch working cows since he was 4, or a kid that just graduated from Cornell and was on the polo team, and everything in between. The one thing they all have in common is their love of horses and people. Their ability to take a novice rider on day one of their stay and turn them into a good, if not great, rider by day three is amazing to watch. So to answer your question, yes - I have learned more about riding and the horse in general in these past 10 years than I ever thought I would and that has made me a much better rider.
Equitrekking: The Dude Ranchers’ Association has been around for a long time, since 1926, what is the mission of your historic organization?
Colleen Hodson: The association was started to help promote, protect and preserve not only the western way of life a dude ranch offers, but also to protect and preserve the places and the land that these ranches operate in and around. Our mission has not changed much over the years, we still want to help the ranches stay viable so that people who might not otherwise get the chance to experience the wonders of the west can still do so. The ranches truly do consider themselves stewards of the land. (read more)
A Dude Ranch Vacation is all about YOU the guest. All member ranches of The Dude Ranchers’ Association are committed to making sure you have the vacation of a life time. With our warm western hospitality, our outstanding horses, great food, accommodations and our spectacular locations, we guarantee a vacation you and your loved ones will not soon forget.. Come experience the Original Western Vacation at its Best.
Where will I Stay?
Imagine yourself sitting in a big overstuffed chair with your favorite book by a crackling fire. Now, imagine glancing out the big picture window to a view that simply takes your breath away. No noisy streets, no high-rise buildings, just you, your book and that spectacular view. Dude Ranch accommodations will vary from ranch to ranch from luxurious to elegant rustic to Cowboy Chic. Whether you are staying in your own private cabin or in a lodge room, rest assured you will be sleeping on comfortable beds, in superbly kept rooms with all the amenities you will need.
What will I Eat?
You will discover that dining at a dude ranch will be one of the most memorable parts of your vacation. Whether you are dining around a camp fire, under the stars, enjoining a pool side barbecue or sitting at an elegant candlelit table, the food is simply amazing. The fare will range from home-style cooking to the finest western cuisine you will find anywhere. Ranches offer freshly baked pastries and breads, fresh fruits and vegetables (often grown right on the ranch) and some of the most delectable desserts you have ever imagined. Your dining experience is truly one of our highest priorities; special dietary needs are always accommodated upon request.
What Will I Do?
The pace at all dude ranches can be as leisurely or as active as you would like it to be. While unlimited Horseback riding is the main focus of all DRA ranches the other activities you can experience are endless. Hiking in National Parks and forests, white water rafting, world class fly fishing on private waters, overnight pack trips, trap shooting, golf, children’s programs, evening entertainment, cattle work and much, much more….There really is something for everyone.
Many of our ranches are located next to National Parks, National Forests and monuments. Many are located on or near rivers and lakes all having world class fishing. Some of the many activities included are of course world class horseback riding and fishing, white water rafting, hiking, trap shooting, children’s programs, cattle work, evening entertainment, campfires, star gazing, bird watching and overnight camp trips just to name a few.
After you decide to book a western vacation to a Dude Ranch, you now need Western wear, cowboy boots and western apparel for your trip. I really enjoyed Jamie Pearson’s article where she mentions to bring more clothes and she wished she had brought cuter clothes. I have just the thing! Western Clothing and apparel has to be durable and comfortable and I have picked some items for Men, Women and Children that combine Western fashion and function for your dude ranch getaway. Cowboy hats, Western wear, Cowboy Boots & Western Accessories are some things you want to stock up on. Look great while on your western Dude Ranch vacation! Make sure you have the “cute clothes” Jamie refers to. I’m going to let you know what’s hot in western wear plus durable enough to withstand a day in the saddle. Let’s start at the top:
Cowboy Hats - Although most people think of a traditional felt cowboy hat, if you are going to a Dude ranch in the summer you will want a straw cowboy hat. Charlie 1 Horse Hats (pictured on the woman in this picture) are our best selling womens hats.Want to know how your cowboy hat should fit? Watch our Cowboy Hat Fit Video on Youtube.
Western Shirts - It’s a toss up between a long sleeve shirt to protect against dust, sun or bugs and a short sleeve western shirt to stay cool. I would recommend both – one for hot mid-day and one for evening. Western shirts come in a variety of styles, from traditional western yokes to modern retro cowboy shirts.
Western Jeans - Here is one of the most important decisions you can make directly correlating to your comfort while riding. I've spent many hours in the saddle and I can truly recommend some jeans to keep you comfortable while looking great. Make sure you order them 2” longer than normal to allow for creep while in the saddle and to cover your boots creating the traditional "stacked" look preferred by cowboys and cowgirls.
Top picks for Womens western jeans for horseback riding:
- Wrangler Q-Baby Ultimate Riding Jeans – These fit any woman’s body shape. No gap waistband, minimal seam on inside of leg to reduce friction against the saddle.
- Cowgirl Tuff Dark Don’t Fence Me In Jeans Modern Styling on a cowgirl jean – designed by a barrel racer these jeans look amazing and are comfortable in the saddle. Rise is a bit lower than the previous 2 jeans.
Top picks for Mens western jeans for horseback riding:
- Wrangler Prewashed 13MWZ Original Fit Cowboy Cut Jeans Original Cowboy Cut jeans – official jeans of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association. Enough said.
All of the Kids Jeans from Wrangler, Cinch and Cowgirl Tuff are excellent for riding.
Cowboy Boots - There are so many choices for cowboy boots out there, but you want your feet to be happy on a vacation, so here are some based on comfort, safety and cowboy boot style.
- Tony Lama Men’s Ostrich Cowboy Boots Handsome, supple leather, Made in USA. Square toe – Classy cowboy style.
- Lucchese Cowgirl Collection Ostrich Boots This high quality super comfy crepe sole boot features a bucking bronco for true cowgirl spirit. Pamper yourself in these handmade beauties.
- Ariat Cowboy Boots - Overall, for those new to the game, Ariat is an excellent choice for your first cowboy boot. They are a very versatile boot and most have rubber soles designed to help keep your feet in the stirrups.
- Kids Cowboy Boots in all colors and styles from infant to youth.
Western Accessories - Don’t forget western accessories to complete your look! Many of these western accessories double with your regular wardrobe and look great! I’ve also included some “must haves” for your Dude Ranch trip like stampede strings.
- Western Belts - Rhinestone belts for women, concho and western belts for men.
- Belt Buckles - Belt Buckles for everyone!
- Boot Socks - special to fit perfect with your boots.
- Cowboy Scarves and Bandanas - To protect your face from dust and silk scarves keep you warm in colder temps. or chilly mornings.
Thanks for reading this article and browsing the choices for western wear, cowboy boots and western accessories for your Dude Ranch getaway or western vacation. These items are tested and tried by real cowboys and cowgirls and I’m sure you will like them for yourself. If you are not sure about the fit and style of western wear, please see the Western Wear Sizing Center to help determine what size clothing, cowboy hat or cowboy boots to get. To find a Dude Ranch or pick out the perfect western vacation visit the Dude Ranch Association website. Happy Trails!
Since every ranch is a direct reflection of the family operating it, there are no two dude ranches alike. For our first time guests, we've created a list of basic questions. We encourage you to visit the ranch web sites and The Dude Ranchers' Association web site For guest comments, try looking the ranch up on tripadvisor.com or a similar web site. Call or e-mail the ranches that you are interested in and ask them to help you. If they don't offer everything you're looking for, they will recommend a ranch that does. Association dude ranches work together in a spirit of cooperation to insure that your next vacation is your best vacation, a ranch vacation!
How do we get there? When making your reservations, discuss your travel plans with the ranch. They will gladly advise you. Most guests travel by commercial airlines and have the ranch pick them up at the nearest airport. Ranches are frequently located near regional airports which accommodate private aircraft. For those of you within reasonable distances or wishing to explore more of the West, driving is always an option. (Although, you won't use your car once you get there.)
Where are most ranches located? Member ranches are located in the following 12 Western states and 2 Canadian provinces: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.
Who takes ranch vacations? People from all walks of life enjoy ranch vacations. Because they are a family -oriented, intimate environment, they are perfect for people traveling alone. Staff and guests are quick to include you as part of the group. Families enjoy ranch vacations for the wholesome environment which fosters quality time and valuable learning experiences. Children experience an amazing sense of freedom on a ranch. It's a safe haven where the only people they will come in contact with are staff and guests. Active adults enjoy ranch vacations for all the outdoor activities and the unique socializing. Many ranch guests form lasting friendships and plan their vacations together. The love of horses and the wilderness brings people together from all over the world, to create a unique and diverse group of friends.
Are there ever discounted or special rates? Dude ranches are similar to hotels and resorts in the sense that they have busy periods and quiet times. It is quite possible that you will receive a discounted or special rate if you are traveling during a slow period. If you have some flexibility in your travel plans, be sure to ask the ranch for details. You will often see their "specials" highlighted on their web sites.
When should we make our reservations? Ranches enjoy a large percent of returning guests each year, but you should be able to make your reservations in the same time-frame as any other vacation. Just remember that ranches are small, (compared to most hotels and resorts) and you will want to choose a busy or a quiet time based on your expectations. School vacation periods are typically busy - perfect if you're traveling with children. For more of an "Adults Only" experience, just ask the ranch to recommend a quiet time, or inquire about special programs for adults.
When are they open? You can plan a ranch vacation any time of the year. You'll find the southern ranches are most popular in the winter months and the northern ranches are the most popular in the summer months - some ranches are open year round and some seasonal ranches offer special holiday activities.
What are the rates and what is included? The "all inclusive rate" concept originated at Dude Ranches. Rooms, meals and activities have been included in the rate since the late 1800's. Typical Full American Plan rates are inclusive of food and lodging. With the exception of one or two ranches, the riding program is included as well. You may find extra charges for riding lessons, alcoholic beverages, airport transfers, river rafting, pack trips and cattle drives. But, for the most part, you will find that your rate includes a full day of activities as well as your meals and lodging. Ranch vacations are a great value and make it easy to stay within a budget. Because of the high ratio of staff to guests, a gratuity is usually added to the final bill and distributed to all employees. Rate cards for all ranches clearly state what is included and any additional charges that may apply.