Ranches have been a vacation destination for over 100 years. They date back to the 1880s when the Eaton Brothers started their ranch in North Dakota, and their friends and family wanted to come 'work the ranch' and 'live the life of a cowboy.'
With an overwhelming flow of friends and family wanting the wild west experience, the brothers decided to start charging room and board.
And in 1926, they made the business practice official by creating the Dude Ranchers' Association to preserve this unique way of life.
95 years later, the tradition of hosting families on working ranches continues with the Association's 93 ranches in 10 different U.S. states and one Canadian province offering all-inclusive vacations for the whole family.
It makes sense, because as the Dude Ranchers' Association Executive Director Bryce Albright puts it, "Dude ranch vacations are perfect for families as there is something for every member of the family no matter their age."
Another fun fact, Dude Ranches only west of the Mississippi River can be part of the Association as it isn't considered an authentic western experience if it is not in the west!
Here are some additional reasons a Dude Ranch Vacation makes a great family vacation…
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
While horseback riding is the central theme on the ranches, you'll find so much more to do. There's hiking, fishing, swimming, bird watching, zip-lining, white water rafting, rodeos, stargazing, and western dancing. You can even experience a traditional western cattle drive on some ranches.
Many even have kid's programs, including educational programs where they'll learn about everything from geology to wildlife. Some even have gold panning!
And you don't need to have prior horseback riding experience. There are programs for beginners up to experienced riders.
PERFECT YEAR-ROUND ENVIRONMENT
You can visit a Dude Ranch any time of year. Experience the Rocky Mountains in the summer or head to New Mexico, Arizona, or California in the winter.
You're spending most of your time in the great outdoors with fresh air and no crowds. Kids can literally roam free.
"It's just a great environment to be in. The kids love the horses and the other kids that are at the ranch. By the end of the week, they don't want to leave," says Bryce.
UNPLUG FROM THE BUSY DAY-TO-DAY
One of the benefits of the ranch remote locations is that they don't have cell service and have limited wifi, so it's an electronics-free vacation by nature of the environment.
Everyone can disconnect from the busy and reconnect with nature. There's family time from riding horses to meals to relaxing by the campfire at the end of the day. And everyone can explore activities on their own.
You can even explore National Parks as part of your Dude Ranch Vacation as there are many near the Grand Tetons, Glacier, and Yosemite.
Most ranch vacations are all-inclusive, with meals, lodging, and most activities are included in one price for each person. The idea is to make the experience simple to plan and provide you with a great package deal.
Not only is everything included, but it's also planned for you. No research is needed about what to do or where to eat. It's all taken care of by the ranch.
A RANCH FOR EVERY VACATION STYLE
From pampered to put-to-work, there are many types of ranches to choose from.
The Dude Ranchers' Association classifies its members into three categories.
- Working Ranches: These are actual working ranches where you expect to help out with the work. They are hands-on, and you see the agricultural side of the ranch.
- Traditional Family Ranches: Horseback riding is central at these ranches. They have a great family atmosphere, lots of activities, and accommodations big enough for families. This is the most popular family vacation type.
- Luxury Ranches: At these ranches, you'll find kids programs, spa & wellness programs, and an even more extensive list of activities. They are higher-end with nicer accommodations and gourmet food but still have a family atmosphere.
You have lots of choices when it comes to a Dude Ranch vacation. There is a destination that will match the time of year you want to travel, locations all across the west of the Mississippi River, a wagon-full of activity choices, and a variety of atmospheres from roughing it to treated like royalty.
Giddy up! Adventure Awaits!