Guest and dude ranches Guest and dude ranches have a longer history than most would imagine. In the 1880s, ranchers earned extra cash by hosting and escorting wealthy individuals from the East who wished to hunt, fish and explore the American West. The dude ranch, far from being a modern invention, is a historical part of the Old West.
Many of the modern guest ranches bear little relationship to those that formed the National Dude Ranchers' Association in the 1920s. Early dude ranches were working ranches, raising their own horses and cattle, and taking on guests simply as a sideline. The modern dude ranch is far more likely to be a specialized resort, offering luxury lodging and with scarcely a real, working cowboy in sight. Most buy in their horses, but a few still raise their own mounts.
Modern dude ranches still offer a horseback riding vacation and may or may not give lessons to their riders. Some also do half day and full day horseback riding trips. Wilderness and mountain adventure camping, a staple of the traditional dude ranch is still offered at select locations. Some dude ranches specialize in camping trips. Others specialize in family holidays with some offering the opportunity to work a roundup or a cattle drive. Others focus on nature tours. Many are led by what the vacation market needs. Very few dude ranches are still working ranches.
Dude ranches may also offer retreats and getaways to travelers who do not wish to ride, but only to watch and experience the journey. Most guests will spend much of a trip riding out in groups with experienced guides and wranglers.