Know Before You Go to a Dude Ranch | Top 10 Travel Tips

Do you dream of a dude ranch vacation – with wide-open spaces, horseback riding, and a taste of the Old West?

I’ve always loved horses and loved playing a cowgirl growing up. Seriously, y’all, they are some of my favorite animals ever! I grew up around them and have been riding for years. I’ve dreamt of going to a dude ranch since I was a little girl, to have a real Western experience and ride horses to my heart’s content.

Well, I recently got the chance to do just that, and I’ll tell you more about my adventures later.

But first, I want to share with you what I learned so you have everything you need to know before you go to a dude ranch yourself!

My Top Travel Tips for Visiting a Dude Ranch

I had an incredible time visiting some dude ranches recently, and I learned a lot while I was there! I’m gonna walk you through all my top travel tips to help you have the best dude ranch experience ever.

From what to pack, my do’s and don’ts, what to do while you’re there, and where to stay – I’ll cover it all. Get ready to have a yeehaw good time!

Want to know how I flew to these dude ranches for free? Click below to learn more!

What to Pack for a Dude Ranch Vacation

Most dude ranches are pretty casual when it comes to their dress code, even the more luxurious ones. After all, you’re there to get a little dusty and dirty out on the range or in the corrals. 

Check the website of the ranch you’re visiting for their specific recommendations, but I’ve found you can leave your formal wear at home. And you won’t need to worry about packing riding gear – dude ranches typically provide everything you need to saddle up and explore the trails.

Here’s everything you should consider packing for your unforgettable dude ranch vacation. (Each item is a clickable link with my recommendations!)

Clothing Items

Western Wear:
Kim's western wear for a dude ranch vacation - cowgirl hat, boots, turquoise jewelry, and fringe
Riding Ready:
  • Thick Jeans (Think durability, not bedazzled! Those fancy back pockets will become your enemies on long rides.)
  • Sports Bras (for added comfort and support in the saddle)
  • Leggings or Bike Shorts (to add an extra layer under your jeans and prevent chafing while riding)
  • Good Quality Socks (to wear comfortably with your hiking/riding boots)
Off-the-Saddle Style:

Accessories

  • Sunglasses (a must-have to shield your eyes from the sun, dust and the wind)
  • Bandanas (a versatile accessory to use as a dust mask or keep your hair back)
  • Beanie (for cooler weather)
  • Belt (to keep your wrangling attire in place)
  • Gloves (optional for riding – some prefer the extra grip, but I personally don’t use them)
  • Small Day Pack (perfect for carrying essentials on hikes or adventures)

Extra Items

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Dude Ranch Do’s & Don’ts

Now that you know what to pack for a dude ranch vacation, let’s talk about what you should and shouldn’t do. These are my top 10 tips for having the best dude ranch vacations ever!

Landscape with cacti and mountains in the background at White Stallion Dude Ranch

10 Must-Know Tips Before You Go

1. Rent a car. Most dude ranches are located at least a little ways outside of town, and it may be harder to get an Uber or Lyft. Even if there’s a shuttle service, renting a car gives you the flexibility to come and go as you please for meals and activities.
 
2. Bring cash for tipping. Dude ranch vacations often involve personalized service from wranglers, guides, bartenders, and housekeeping staff.  Show your appreciation for their hospitality by bringing enough cash for tips.
 
3. Bring your own alcohol. While some dude ranches offer bars or lounges,  purchasing duty-free alcohol at the airport can save you money.  Always check the property rules regarding alcohol consumption in specific areas.
 
4. Cover your ankles. Bring shoes that cover your ankles to protect them from brambles and thorny bushes while horseback riding. It will also protect you from scrapes and potential encounters with wildlife like snakes on hiking trails.
 
5. Bring heeled boots. You’ll need boots with a slight heel for horseback riding. They provide a secure fit in the stirrups for better control and a more comfortable ride.  Plus, they add to the authentic cowboy/cowgirl look!
 
6. Pack comfy layers. You’d be surprised how much the weather can change throughout the day and across different elevations. Not to mention the wind! Be prepared with layers that you can easily add or remove as you need them.
 
7. Bring snacks. If you’re particular about what and when you eat, pack some snacks for in between meals. Dude ranches typically have set meal times and more limited menus than you’ll find at a standard hotel.
 
8. Pack extra sunscreen. Bring enough sunscreen to protect your face, neck, hands, and anything else that might be visible while riding or hiking. Remember to reapply throughout the day – it’s easy to underestimate how much you’re burning when you’re having fun.
 
9. Check the activities on your arrival day. You might need to sign up for activities like horseback riding or target practice in advance. Ask ahead of time what’s going to be available on your arrival day so you can make the most of your entire stay.
 
10. Ask for what you want. If there’s an activity you want to do that isn’t on the daily schedule, politely ask if it’s possible to arrange it. I’ve found the staff at dude ranches are very friendly and willing to accommodate you if they can.

Bonus Tip: Plan Ahead

Whether you want to have a laid-back, leisurely trip or a do-it-all, action-packed adventure, it’s best to plan all your activities in advance. Some ranches only have certain activities on specific days of the week, especially things like horseback riding and spa treatments.

You don’t want to book your flights and accommodations only to find out you can’t do your favorite activity during your stay! If there isn’t a schedule of activities posted online, give the dude ranch a call or send an email to find out what’s available and when.

Dude Ranch Activities

What do you do on a dude ranch? Picture yourself surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, learning to ride horses, and embracing the simple pleasures of ranch life.

Dude ranches offer a unique and fun opportunity to experience a taste of the Old West and life on a ranch firsthand. And the activities go far beyond just horseback riding (although that’s pretty amazing, too!).

The activities vary depending on the ranch, so it’s like choosing your own adventure.  Look for a ranch that offers the activities that get you most excited. Below are a variety of activities you might see. 

Which ones are you most interested in? (Let me know in the comments)!

Horseback Riding

Horses are the heart of any dude ranch, especially if it’s a working cattle ranch. After all, most people go to a dude ranch to ride horses! (This is my favorite activity)

If you’re not an experienced rider, that’s okay. The wranglers are there to guide you through your first ride and there are typically options for beginners to advanced riders. If possible, it’s best to pair up with the same horse each time you ride so you’re familiar and more comfortable with each other.

Horses ready for riding with mountains in the background at White Stallion Dude Ranch

Hiking

Dude ranches are often nestled in stunning natural locations, making them a paradise for hikers of all levels. Some ranches offer guided hikes,  perfect for learning about the local flora and fauna, while others provide maps and suggestions for independent exploration.

So, lace up your boots and get ready to breathe in the fresh air and admire the beauty of the ranch’s natural surroundings!

Target Practice

Saddle up for some sharpshooting fun! Many dude ranches offer target practice at an on-site gun range,  providing a safe and fun way to test your skills or learn the ropes. An experienced instructor will guide you through firearm safety, proper handling, and aiming techniques.

And don’t be discouraged if you miss the targets on your first try! I found it much easier once I relaxed and just had fun (safely).

Kim doing target practice at a dude ranch gun range

Participate in Ranch Work

If you’re staying at a working cattle ranch, you might also be able to participate in real ranch hand duties!

From helping care for the horses and moving cattle to mending fences and taking care of the property, you can truly experience authentic life on a working dude ranch. It’s a really cool experience that I highly recommend!

Other Dude Ranch Activities

Depending on the size of the ranch you visit, they may offer other activities, as well. Sharpen your aim with archery lessons. Explore the area with a UTV or take a scenic and eco-friendly e-bike ride. 

Feeling competitive? Challenge your fellow guests to a game of poker by the crackling campfire or at the bar. I learned how to play an old-school game called “faro” – it was a blast!

Or, if you prefer to unwind, take a refreshing dip in the pool or a natural swimming hole (depending on the ranch).

But the real joy comes from the opportunity to meet and connect with others. Many ranches host social events and live music nights, providing the perfect opportunity to mingle with fellow guests and share stories of your day’s adventures.

Live Band at Tombstone Dude Ranch

Choosing the Right Dude Ranch for You

What kind of dude ranch experience are you looking for? Do you want to know what it was like to live in the Old West, embracing a simpler, more hands-on lifestyle? Or would you rather imagine it from a luxurious retreat with all the modern amenities?

The options range from rustic and casual to luxury and everything in between. Whether you want to camp out under the stars or soak them in from a hot tub on your private balcony, there’s a dude ranch out there for you!

Luxury Dude Ranches

Staying at a dude ranch doesn’t have to mean you’re roughing it. Luxury dude ranches offer all the classic ranch activities alongside upscale accommodations and amenities.

Think spacious cabins with fireplaces and en-suite bathrooms, gourmet meals, and on-site spas for post-adventure pampering. Imagine returning from a horseback ride to a massage treatment and a private balcony with breathtaking mountain views – incredible!

Casual Dude Ranches

Casual dude ranches offer a more rustic and down-to-earth experience. Expect more basic accommodations, hearty home-cooked meals, and a focus on the simple pleasures of ranch life.

Think evenings spent around a crackling campfire with your fellow guests, sharing stories and stargazing. There’s something to be said for the more basic things in life. The sense of community and connection to nature can be stronger at casual ranches.

Why not try them both and see which style is your favorite?

open air terrace area at White Stallion Dude Ranch

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Where to Stay

Where to stay on your dude ranch vacation depends on the activities you want to do and the type of experience you want to have (rustic or luxury). I’ve tried both styles and I honestly loved them both!

I had a fantastic time, so I want to share with you the dude ranches I recently checked out in Arizona near the Tucson area.

Tombstone Monument Ranch

Tombstone Monument Ranch is a working cattle and guest ranch about 2.5 miles from one of the most iconic cowboy towns: Tombstone, Arizona. This is the town where the famous gunfight took place at the O.K. Corral in 1881. The ranch itself has been around since the 1880s!

If you’ve always wanted to visit a dude ranch and get a taste of what life was like back in the Old West (but with modern plumbing, thank you), then this is a good spot for some laid-back, casual cowboy or cowgirl living. Book your stay here!

Tombstone Monument Ranch - Old West style Arizona dude ranch with horses

White Stallion Ranch

White Stallion Ranch is located about a 20-minute drive outside Tucson, near Saguaro National Park West. It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery with cacti and two mountain peaks. This area is part of what’s considered the greenest desert in the world.

Looking for a place where your kids can have riding lessons, or are you a group of girlfriends looking for relaxation with a pool, sauna,  and spa treatments along with riding horses? Then look no further than White Stallion Ranch. Book your stay here!

White Stallion Ranch - dude ranch outside Tucson, AZ

Giddy Up, Y’all!

My stay at a dude ranch was everything I dreamed of and more! Dude ranches offer the perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and connection with nature. I hope this post has inspired you to experience the magic of ranch life for yourself.

So saddle up, partner! Dust off your boots and book your dude ranch vacation today. There’s a whole world of Western fun waiting for you.

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