With summer quickly approaching, many people are planning their dude ranch vacations now. Many are surprised to find out that they are behind the 8-ball as most dude ranches tend to fill up quickly and often by spring are very full. With the availability at dude ranches waning and the pressure on, here are some tips on how to pick the best dude ranch vacation:
1) Start early- so you’re only planning your trip in April this year. Don’t give up. There are still some good dude ranches with availability. Find one, grab it and enjoy. And then start planning your next trip so you can book it in the fall!
2) Start with what kind of ranch you want. There are many different kinds of ranches, and from the Dude Rancher’s Association blog, I pulled this breakdown:
- “WORKING DUDE RANCH
These are working cattle or sheep operations. Your horseback riding adventures will be determined by the ranch’s livestock and the work related to them. Be prepared to experience these activities first hand.
- DUDE RANCH
Horseback riding is central to these ranches. The cowboy in you will experience Western riding and a variety of outdoor activities.
- RESORT DUDE RANCH
Horseback riding is featured, and these ranches offer an array of diverse activities and onsite facilities. These are apt to be the larger ranches.”
I would add to this the question of do you want a more luxury experience or a more rustic experience, or something in the middle? Dude ranches ranges from the bare-boned experience you may remember from “City Slickers” to luxury dude ranches that offer fine linens and gourmet meals. Where do you fall in that spectrum? This choice will point you towards either more luxurious accommodations and meals that are like what you find at a fine restaurant or rustic and quaint log cabins and simple meals, or somewhere in between. Your answer to this question will also slide you one way or another along the price point spectrum.
3) What kind of activities do you want? Are you looking for a ride, ride, ride experience or do you want to try a little bit of everything? Some of the best dude ranches offer only riding and some of them offer a full range of activities.
4) Kids. Do you have ’em? Don’t like ’em? If no, then you may want to find a ranch that doesn’t cater to families. Or, many ranches offer times during their season when they are adult-only. At Vista Verde, we set aside September and October for adult-only ranch vacations.
5) Kids. Have ’em, like ’em? If yes, then you get to decide how you want to play out your family vacation. Do you want to spend all your time with them? Do you want to have some times when the kids are watched? Are you hoping to show up on Sunday and not see your kids until the following Sunday? Each dude ranch with a kids program sets up theirs up differently. Decide what feels right to you and then look for a ranch that meets that desire. At Vista Verde, we try to hit it in the middle with an active and engaging kids program, some dinners set aside for just the adults, but then also a lot of opportunities for families to be together and create memories. Also, pay attention to age minimums. Ranches are usually best suited for kids 6 and up, but some do have programs for the little ones.
7) How is the riding program? Do you just want to sit on a horse and enjoy the scenery or is this a learning vacation for you. The best dude ranches have a lot of learning to their riding programs, but maybe you don’t want that? Do they offer clinics or instruction? How big are the trail rides? How often do you ride? Again, taken from the Dude Rancher’s Association blog:
“Choose the riding environment that appeals to you; open meadows, prairies, mountain trails or southwestern desert. The location of the ranch determines the terrain.
Then, choose the type of riding you’d like; working livestock, cattle drives, pack trips, team penning and arena games or daily trail rides.”
8) Size- Do you want to be in a very intimate setting with only a dozen other people, or do you want a larger feel? Smaller ranches (20 guests) are indeed more intimate. Larger ranches (80-100 guests) are less personal but there are a lot of people to meet and enjoy. And the mid-size ranches (~40-50 guests) kind of hit it in the middle. Still personal, but a variety of people to meet and get to know during the course of your stay. Because you will. Dude ranches are not the place for an anonymous vacation, but you very well will develop relationships that last for years and years. And dude ranch guests are usually really interesting, adventurous and fun people.
9) Reviews- Check Tripadvisor reviews of dude ranches. Ask your friends if they’ve ever been to one. You’ll get pointed to the best dude ranch vacation through those avenues.
10) Last, but most important. Trust your gut. I just heard a story on the radio (yep, I do still listen to the radio when I drive) about how a group of people who are given some basic facts about world events do a better job predicting what will happen than an expert who has access to all the classified information. It reminded me how I tell potential guests to just trust their gut when choosing. Yes, it can be overwhelming to choose a dude ranch vacation. But, once you’ve narrowed it down to your top 5, just trust your gut on your pick. The truth is, you’ll probably have a great time at any of the ranches on that list.
Now pack your bags and enjoy! If you want more info on what to do if you chose Vista Verde and then found out we are full, check out this post on planning your dude ranch vacation.