Dude Ranches conjure up images of the open range, the bunkhouse and the chuck wagon – which is both fairly accurate and a long way from reality. However you imagine a dude ranch, it’s a great place for a reunion.
What exactly is a dude ranch? Basically, they’re ranches that take in paying guests – that’s why some are called guest ranches. The term “dude ranch” was coined early in the last century, when dude meant “city person.”
Today’s dude ranch is a place where groups can get out into the wilderness, but it’s not a one-ranch-fits-all proposition. Like hotels, ranches exist on a continuum from basic accommodations – the stereotypical bunkhouse or tent situation – to five-star luxury that just happens to be in a rather remote setting. Some dude ranches are like resorts that focus exclusively on hosting guests, others provide a more agritourist-like experience (where guests help out with ranch activities), and others provide a mix of lodging, food and traditional activities (e.g. horseback riding, hiking).
Why Have My Reunion at a Dude Ranch?
While a memorable reunion can be had just about anywhere, a ranch reunion offers some very special advantages. Your group can:
Unplug. Convenient as they are, our devices often get in the way of connecting with the very people we’ve come to see. At a ranch reunion, this problem can easily be remedied: Not only is the beautiful scenery apt to distract from screen time, many resorts only offer wi-fi (or get phone signals) at designated locations.
Have the place to yourself. Depending on the venue, groups as small as 10 people can book the entire property for themselves. Other ranches may be able to offer groups semi-secluded areas for their reunion.
Simplify planning. By hosting your reunion at a dude ranch, there’s less transportation and outside activities to organize. Plus, food is usually part of the package.
Enjoy the view. Dude ranches specialize in natural, unspoiled beauty.
Interact with animals. Dude ranches – even those that skew more toward resort and less toward working ranch – often provide animal-themed activities. Horseback riding is a popular draw, while others offer a chance to groom, feed, and care for a multitude of other species. Some even allow you to bring your own four-legged friends along.
Get a feel for the past. Traditional dude ranches gave guests a taste of cowboy life – serving authentic grub, singing old folk songs, and even providing a sample sized portion of cattle herding. This is still very much available, and it’s a fun and manageable way of bringing family or group history to life.
Top Five Things to Do on a Dude Ranch
With so many things to choose from, it can be hard to winnow down the list of dude ranch activities. Here are a few classics – and a few that might be a surprise:
Let the kids camp out. Sure, everyone can camp out all reunion long if they want to. But sometimes it’s more fun to send the younger ones off on a (safely supervised) adventure.
Get horsey. Horses have always been an important part of ranch life. Groups can watch exhibitions of team penning, gymkhana, and other horse-related skills, or they can have their own carriage or sleigh rides, riding lessons, and trail rides.
Get outside. Sports like tennis, fishing, shooting, hiking and mountain biking are all pretty common offerings. Some ranches also have facilities for golf, skiing, rafting, and boating. Of course, simply relaxing in a comfy spot is also a great way to get outside.
Pamper yourself. Most ranches aren’t the strictly “life-on-the-range” type. They also provide thoroughly modern and indulgent activities like massages, spas, yoga, and swimming.
Take a class. There’s more to a ranch reunion than horses! Some offer art, cooking, fitness, photography, and yoga classes. Many provide kids’ programs, too.
Dude Ranch Reunions Tips & Tricks
Schedule well in advance. Experts recommend a minimum of six to nine months out. A year is better for large or complicated reunions. The larger your group, the more time you should give the ranch to prepare for your arrival.
Summer is peak season. but spring and fall can be lovely. Some ranches are nearly inaccessible once snow falls; others turning to winter wonderlands.
Consider the available lodging and activity options and how they’ll fit with your group’s needs. It’s not unusual for one ranch to offer a large lodge, several cabins, and some other structures (yurts, tents, tipis, etc). If your group wants to stay in the same building, make sure this is something the ranch can provide. Also, make sure your choice of ranch hosts (or can partner with local providers for) all the activities your group is most interested in.
Dude ranches are usually all-inclusive, but double-check before you book.