What is a Dude Ranch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dude ranch is a ranch which either accepts paying guests, or caters to them, depending on how the ranch is set up. This practice dates back to the late 1800s, with the term "dude ranch" itself dating to the 1920s. People generally visit this type of ranch for the purpose of vacationing, to enjoy the natural beauty of relatively undeveloped regions, and to participate in a range of ranching related activities.

A dude ranch holiday gives guests a taste of ranch life.
A dude ranch holiday gives guests a taste of ranch life.

Dude ranching started in the United States, as a natural outgrowth of the romanticization of the West. Wealthy Easterners, known as dudes, traveled to the West to experience ranches, and ranches seized an opportunity and started charging for it. The phenomenon spread throughout the West, and today hundreds of ranches offer dude ranching experiences; the concept has also spread to Australia, another nation which is famous for its ranching.

Visitors to a dude ranch often have the opportunity to work directly with livestock.
Visitors to a dude ranch often have the opportunity to work directly with livestock.

There are a number of different types of dude ranch. In a working ranch, visitors can stay at an actual working ranch, participating in activities related to the working of the ranch. Some people enjoy visiting working ranches to get a taste of what ranching is like, and to experience the culture of the West. Typically, people who visit a working ranch are expected to work, participating in things like cattle handling and gardening.

A riding dude ranch is a one which focuses specifically on horseback riding. Riding ranches offer instruction to people at all levels of ability. Riders can go on trail rides, work in the ring, and enjoy the natural surroundings of the ranch. Another type of dude ranch, the resort ranch, offers a more resort-like atmosphere which promotes relaxation and offers a range of activities from horseback riding to singalongs. Other ranches offering hunting opportunities, with both native and imported animals.

Because dude ranches are so varied, people who want to go on a vacation at such a ranch should think about what kind of experience they want to have, and seek out a ranch which will meet their expectations. If relaxation is a primary goal, a resort ranch is definitely the way to go. People who like a little work with their vacations might want to seek out a working ranch.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The term "dude" can refer to a city-dweller, but also may originate from the German word for "fool." Although now it is seen as a teenage term of address, it was originally used primarily by adults, stemming from a high-class art movement in 19th century New York City. So it is natural that a dude ranch would be a ranch full of agriculturally ignorant city dwellers.


Two years ago, my husband and I decided that going to a dude ranch for a couple of weeks would be a great experience. We took our two teenage children. What an experience it was! At first, the kids hated it because they actually had to do some work! We did everything from moving herds and mending fences to hauling hay and feeding the livestock.

After about 3 days, the kids were amazed at the beauty of it all. Horseback riding through the mountains and watching the Montana sunset cannot be topped. I would highly recommend this to anyone.

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