How Dude Ranches Work

Types of Dude Ranches

Horseback riding is a popular activity at dude ranches.
Horseback riding is a popular activity at dude ranches.
Seth Joel/Getty Images

The rich history of the dude ranch means that many ranches have been kept in the family for several generations, which has allowed the overall experience to remain intact for a very long time. Although the basic mission of the dude ranch hasn't change much, various forms of the dude ranch and dude ranch activities have evolved over the years. The activities you'll participate in will depend on the type of dude ranch you choose to visit.

There are three basic types of dude ranches:

  • Working dude ranch: These types of ranches are working cattle or sheep operations. Horseback riding excursions are limited to those directly related to the ranch's livestock work. The working dude ranch is the most authentic ranch experience, so be prepared for some hands-on activities and perhaps even menial labor. If you're staying on a working dude ranch, you might be put to the task of mucking out a stall or assisting in herding some cattle.
  • Dude ranch: At a basic dude ranch, the emphasis of your experience will be on horseback riding. You'll learn to ride like a cowboy and you'll also experience other Western outdoor activities like lassoing and helping to move cattle to new pastures.
  • Resort dude ranch: These establishments are a little more upscale as far as accommodations go. You can expect rooms, food and entertainment to be similar to what you'd find on a cruise. Resort dude ranches offer a more diverse array of activities and facilities and they are usually larger ranches.

At all dude ranches, riding is an important activity. All ranches in the Dude Ranchers' Association (DRA), the governing board of the North American dude ranch industry, provide riding instruction for those looking to improve their skills. To become a member of the DRA, a ranch must be located west of the Mississippi River, be horse-oriented (that is, it offers riding instruction and provides riding equipment), be inspected for high standards of cleanliness and guest comfort and be in operation for at least two years.