There are some folks that drive across their home state or province to visit a dude ranch. Others make a trans-Atlantic journey and don’t speak the same language as their hosts. Colleen Hodson, Executive Director of the Dude Ranchers’ Association says Western dude ranches (found throughout the plains, deserts and mountains of the US and Canada,) have mass appeal. In fact, it seems they cross cultural barriers. “I would say about 10 to 20 percent of our dude ranch guests are European, with folks from The UK and Germany representing the largest share,” notes Hodson.
What is the tremendous lure of the Western dude ranch? For starters, there’s the call to adventure, exhilarating freedom instilled by the wilderness, definite experience of place, sociability and camaraderie. For more than a century, these are a few of the elements that have enticed visitors from around the globe and keep them coming back year after year.
The opening of dude ranches in the American and Canadian West to paying guests has a long and illustrious history. Media reports on the Western adventures of Teddy Roosevelt followed by the “Western” movie and prime time television shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” fueled the public’s fascination in the US and abroad with ranching and cowboys. In 1926 the Dude Ranchers’ Association was formed to represent the interests of the rapidly growing industry. Today the organization remains strong. More than 100 ranches in the Western US and Canada are members of the DRA, as it’s often called.
Each DRA member ranch has its own distinct character and charm. Before selecting a ranch visitors are encouraged to contact the DRA for suggestions of ranches matched best with their own style and preferences. There are several factors to consider including the classification of the ranch into one of three broad and sometimes overlapping categories
First is the Dude Ranch, centered on the horse and horse related activities. Guests can ride to their hearts content and try their hand at wrangling, barrel-racing and may even perform in the weekly ranch rodeo. People who prefer this category of ranch tend to love horses and other rugged outdoor activities. The Resort Dude ranch includes riding as an activity along with many other pursuits and a variety of onsite facilities in addition to the stables. These ranches are generally larger, able to accommodate more guests at one time and often appeal to the traveler who opts for a vacation with more luxuries. Finally, there’s the Working Dude Ranch. These ranches are working cattle or sheep operations, with the riding adventure dictated by the work schedule surrounding the livestock. Visitors of these ranches are immersed in the life of a working cowboy.
The decision upon which ranch to visit is a personal one. But it’s highly recommended the ranch selected is a DRA member. This guarantees visitors from near and far that it meets the highest industry standards in quality, safety, and authenticity. (Not all ranches that apply for DRA membership qualify. In fact 30% do not meet the strict standards!) Ranches accepted for membership are on probation for two years. Every DRA ranch is inspected on a regular basis to ensure high DRA standards are maintained.
No matter how far folks travel to reach their DRA ranch vacation destination and no what language they speak they can be reassured knowing a quality vacation experience awaits them.