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Visit a Dude Ranch this Fall

Heyyyyy Duuuuuude!

If the theme song of the old Nickelodeon TV series just popped in your head, then you’ve probably been exposed to the American West as much as I have. While my impressions of the wild wild west are relegated mostly to heartthrob Ted’s antics at Bar None Dude Ranch, travelers can experience the western culture without turning on the tele or retiring their city slicker badges. Just check out a dude ranch this fall.

What do you mean by ‘dude ranch?’

In short, they’re guest ranches that romanticize the American West. Dude ranches began to spring up in the 1800s as a throwback to the traditional western frontier and horseback riding is the cornerstone of these ranches. Travelers should know, however, that not all dude ranches are created equal. Unless you want to end up chasing down cattle like Billy Crystal in City Slickers, you should do your homework to find out what type of ranch is right for you. There are three types of dude ranches:

  • Working Dude Ranch: Be prepared to experience ranch activities first hand! These are working operations, and your activities are determined by its livestock.
  • Dude Ranch: Travelers experience a variety of outdoor activities at all skill levels with horseback riding being central to these ranches.
  • Resort Dude Ranch: This is glam-ified ranching! Horseback riding is featured, but these ranches offer an array of activities including spas and fine dining.

Can you recommend a few dude ranches?

Even though you can find dude ranches as far east as Arkansas, most of them are located in the western half of the United States and Canada with Montana, Wyoming and Colorado boasting the highest number of ranches. Here are a few favorites:

The Resort at Paws Up, Montana: A working cattle ranch, this resort offers activities such as trail riding, chuck wagons and cattle drives, but it’s also known for its luxurious accommodations, including posh “glamping” tents and vacation homes. Explore Montana’s pastoral countryside or enjoy a spa treatment.

320 Guest Ranch, Montana: Dating back to 1898, this 112 year old homestead located along the Gallatin River gives its visitors a chance to peek into historical times. Activities include fly fishing, horseback riding, hayrides, hiking, snowmobiling and wildlife viewing.

Spotted Horse Ranch, Wyoming: Situated in an idyllic setting, this ranch gives travelers a chance to explore the wilderness surroundings through a float trip, horseback ride, overnight trip or hike. Enjoy hearty home-cooked meals and a quaint saloon that hasn’t changed much in the last several decades.

The Home Ranch, Colorado: An alternative to the typical fall foliage trip, a getaway to this ranch during early October is prime time to witness peak autumn colors. Horseback riding through the golden aspen groves is a fall highlight. Take a guided hike or go fly fishing on the Elk River throughout the season.


My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!

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