Vacations on a Dude Ranch
Dude Ranches have at their roots, the public’s ongoing fascination with the American Cowboy and the “wild West”. With hundreds of Dude ranches located in almost every imaginable terrain, and with variable activity and lodging offerings, the choices can seem daunting. In considering a dude ranch vacation, it is in your best interest to understand the differences in the ranch offerings so that you can make a selection that most closely suits your needs. Rather than starting off with a long list of ranches, locations and ranch details, we offer the following “introspective survey” to help you identify your needs. As ranch owners ourselves, we surely hope you can join us, but most importantly we hope you can select the ranch that most closely matches your ideal dream vacation.
For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to define 4 types of ranches and then lead you through an evaluation to identify some best-fit ranches.
DUDE RANCHES: The riding program is the defining point of a dude ranch. You will have morning and afternoon rides. You might also have multi-day pack trips, possibly faster ride options, arena games and riding lessons, and private riding lessons with or without upgrade fees. Some additional activities and amenities may be offered, but the riding is the signature activity.
GUEST RANCHES : While the riding and cowboy experience are still central to the theme of the ranch, there will be more diverse activity offerings. White water rafting, kayaking, fly fishing, sporting clays, climbing, along with the more traditional ranch events will serve groups that may not want the entire vacation to be seated in the saddle. Guest ranches are great at serving groups that have divergent activity interests and abilities.
WORKING RANCHES: These are ranches that are still actively involved in cattle and livestock as the primary business focus. The guests or “dudes” on the ranch will have first hand experiences in cattle drives, sorting cattle, and other operational aspects of the ranch. The focus here is on participation in the traditional ranch lifestyle.
RESORT RANCHES : These are often larger ranches that are frequently located closer to metropolitan areas. While horse riding is still featured, there tend to be more developed on site facilities such golf courses, day spas, tennis courts, large pools, water parks and nearby shopping. Lodging options may also include amenities such as TV, phones, and internet services in the rooms.
Answers to the following questions will help you decide which of the four types of ranches best suit your needs.
1. Does horse riding define your ideal vacation? If the horse riding defines your vacation, and other active outdoor adventures are less important in your party, you may want to consider a dude ranch or a “working ranch”. Working ranches will also allow you the opportunity to participate in operational aspects such as cattle drives, and round-ups. If you must have rides that include faster gates, you will need to choose from ranches that are based in more open and level terrain. The geology of the ranch site will be a foundation for the available riding options.
2. Do you prefer a smaller, more intimate setting or do you prefer larger groups? The larger guest ranches are often better categorized as large resorts and may handle 80 to 400 guests at a time. The larger guest ranches also tend to be closer to major metropolitan cities to facilitate logistics for large groups. Some come complete with championship golf courses, day spa facilities, tennis courts, phones, TV in the rooms, and nearby shopping. The dining and social experience is going to be remarkably different if you are part of a group of 24 versus a group of 240 guests.
3. What atmosphere do you hope to find at your prospective dude ranches? Are you looking for a lively bar scene? Are you looking for a singles week filled with other available singles? Are you traveling with children? Answers to these questions are a little harder to assign to a specific type of ranch, but the flavor of the ranch as it relates to your desires is an important point to investigate. Generally, more adult oriented facilities might be found at working ranches and resort ranches, while families may be better served at guest and dude ranches that have several different activity options for the kids and formatted “buckaroo” programs.
4. What climate and setting do you hope to find? Dude ranches can be found in the open Arizona deserts, the vineyards of central California, and just outside of large cities! The geography and location of the ranch will impact the season of operation, the kind of riding available, and the options for other activities such as rafting and fishing. horse riding vacation
Once you have identified the ranch type that fits your interests, you can select several options that might fit your needs. We suggest using a good dude ranch directory to create a list of possible ranches. Then, start a dialogue with each ranch and answer the following questions.
1. Dude ranch vacations – what exactly is included? Most dude ranches have a base price, but charge extra for private riding lessons, a rafting trip, wine at dinner, sporting clays, or fly fishing. Since “all inclusive” means different things at each ranch, you are best served if you have a clear understanding of what your fare is covering as you evaluate the different ranches.
2. Are the owners on site and involved in the operations? Hospitality, quality control, public relations and risk management are likely to be better if you have selected from ranches that have dude ranch owners involved in the routine operations. Does the manager of your dude ranch vacation site have a vested interest in it’s success equal to an owner?
3. Have you checked the reviews? At a minimum, we suggest you read the reviews of your prospective dude ranch vacation at independent travel review sites such as Trip Advisor, Yahoo Travel, and Yelp. Testimonials posted from selected favored clients and even at the dude ranch associations are less likely to be as objective as unsolicited voluntary reviews such as on Trip Advisor. Brutal honesty only helps you, the travel consumer.
4. Do your prospective dude ranches have safety as a prime directive? Find out if there is a preliminary riding skill screening prior to assignments to a horse. Are riding helmets made available or required? How long have the wranglers been employed at the ranch? Are they certified with First Aid and CPR cards? Some ranches tend to dilute the authentic flavor of the American West by hiring seasonally employed foreign wranglers (counselors) working to gain their own Western experience. Exactly who is in charge of your care?
5. Dude Ranch Vacations – What is the cuisine like? All dude ranches, guest ranches and resorts are going to claim excellence in the cuisine. Some questions you might ask are: Can you give me a sample menu for a day? Who is the lead chef and what are they noted for? Is the lead chef culinary trained? Where does the produce come from? Is there fresh produce coming from your ranch? Can you handle vegetarian or other dietary restrictions?
6. Who operates the off site events? Outfitting the rafting, fish guiding, shooting range and other off-site events may involve transfer of your care to a third party vendor who is not directly controlled by your contracted dude ranch vacation provider. You may also be required to spend long hours in a shuttle vehicle to reach the event site. If possible, look for ranches that staff and operate these other events under their own permits and operating plans. The chain of responsibility for your personal care will be much clearer if this is the case.
7. Dude ranch vacations – When are you traveling? The season of your traveling will restrict some of your choices. Ranches in Southern latitudes will likely have prime seasons in the Winter months, and the dominant season for a Northern ranch will likely be Spring through Fall with Summer as the prime time.
8. What level of accommodations do you hope for? Quality dude ranch vacations are not defined by the comfort level of their accommodations. To get an accurate understanding of what you are purchasing, ask about the details of facility age, shared bathrooms, heating and air conditioning, TV (if you want it), and internet service or other amenities important to you.
We hope this has helped you to evaluate some of your needs and desires in selecting which dude ranches and guest ranches best suit you and your group. We at Marble Mountain Ranch welcome your e-mails and phone calls about dude ranching in general, and hope you can join us far a Western vacation and riding holiday that you will cherish forever.
“My grandson and I had the vacation of a lifetime at Marble Mountain Ranch. It far exceeded our expectations. We are excited to make a return trip in 2010. We miss all the staff and will continue to keep in touch with guests we met this past summer. Louise Duren”