Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saddle Up...and Let's Ride, by Christina Cole

As we near the end of summer, I've been thinking a lot about traveling. It's not too late yet to head out west and enjoy a bit of old-fashioned cowboy fun. And what better place for it than a "dude ranch".

For history buffs, let me say that the word "dude" has quite an interesting meaning. It's been around since the days of "Yankee Doodle" who stuck a feather in his cap, as you might remember. Ever wonder why he called it "macaroni"? Well, just so you know, macaroni was the precursor to today's bling, and a "doodle" was a fellow who didn't keep up with the latest trends in fashion. Eventually, doodle turned to dood and soon both dood and its alternative spelling, dude, came to refer to any fellow who didn't have a clue -- such as those "city slickers" who thought they could run a ranch.

Now, of course, dude is used to refer to anyone of the male persuasion, and dude ranches are friendly places where anyone can saddle up, ride out on the trails, and find out what the ranching life is really all about.

I've done quite a bit of browsing, looking for some of the best dude ranches in the west, and I've come up with information on how to plan a dude ranch vacation, what to expect, and how to make the most of the experience.

What You'll Get

The ranches I've checked out -- in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming --- all provide many different activities to enjoy. In addition to food and lodging, you can take part in daily horseback rides, and on working ranches, you can actually ride out with the ranch hands and participate in their activities.

For more "vacation" and less "work", most dude ranches also provide opportunities for fishing, trap-shooting, swimming, boating, rafting, and canoeing.

Special Events and Programs

Many ranches offer special programs for guests as well as the daily routine activities. Children and teenagers can take part in special educational programs, and ranches sometimes also provide overnight camping expeditions, evening entertaining, and even real cattle round-ups.

You'll want to plan on spending a week at a ranch, if possible. If you can't get away for an entire week, some ranches will arrange for shorter stays. Of course, every ranch is different, so you'll want to be sure you choose one that's right for you, for your family, and for your expectations.

Ranches range from rustic to luxury. Here's a quick breakdown:

  • Rustic ranches are the least expensive to visit. These don't have fancy accommodations and luxury rooms, but are usually working ranches with traditional ranch amenities. If you're looking for a true "hands-on" experience, a rustic ranch would be ideal.
  • Guest ranches are designed with a bit more comfort in mind. These cater to tourists and usually feature family programs, such as trail rides and family-friendly entertainment. 
  • Dude ranches also focus on kid-friendly, family-friendly activities, but with more luxury accommodations -- and for a higher price. If you're looking for comfort as you learn about "the ranch life", a top-of-the-line dude ranch will offer all you desire. They cater to their guests and strive to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Regardless of what type ranch you choose for a vacation, you'll want to consider the total number of guests it can handle. Smaller ranches will handle 10-12 vacationers; large ones might accommodate as many as 60-65 guests. You'll find hospitality a staple in all the old west ranches, but a different atmosphere from one to another. 

Before you embark on a dude ranch vacation, of course, you'll want to get first-hand information, browse the various locations, and see what most appeals to you. Are you looking for scenic views? Wanting a taste of old-fashioned life? Do you want to spend more time on horseback? Or do you want more time to explore and enjoy all the ranch has to offer?

Here are some of the online sites I've found that will help you choose the perfect ranch vacation:

For an up-close look... check out this video from the Wyoming Dude Ranch Association.

Happy trails! See you next month...Christina


Unknown said...

What fun. If I wasn't frightened to death by childhood experiences and horses, I'd consider saddling up. Does stradding the broom and gallopping around the room count? :) I was always great at that.

Christina Cole said...

I loved my stick horses. I could ride them in places where real ones couldn't go. Do they still make stick horses? I don't recall seeing any in the toy aisles.

Unknown said...

I've never thought about going on a dude ranch, I think it would be a good place to read a good western romance or two. You could fall in love with a cowboy and learn a few things. Thanks for helping us learn a few things. You're a doll.

Sandra Nachlinger said...

GREAT blog post. I'd love to visit a dude ranch. Thanks for links to more information.