You might have heard the term “dude ranch” when talking about a western guest ranch or discussing an adventurous vacation. But what is a dude ranch exactly?

It certainly has nothing to do with today’s younger crowd referring to each other as ‘dude’. It’s also doubtful that they coined the name after anything connected to a guest ranch. So where did this ranch classification come from? As it turns out, credit is due mostly to Theodore Roosevelt and people like him.

How Theodore Roosevelt Became the Most Famous Dude

Back in the late 19th century, Theodore Roosevelt went on many adventures in the Western United States. As a kid, he’d been a sickly child who’d had to stay home most of the time because of his asthma and his physical weakness. All that time at homemade him a rather bookish young man and an avid student of zoology and natural history. As such, he was fascinated by the West.

Like many Easterners with a romantic vision of the West, the Harvard-educated Roosevelt eventually headed to the frontier, where for a few years he operated a cattle ranch in the Dakotas. That was what made him a “dude” — he was a well-born Easterner not accustomed to the rough life of the West.

Back in Theodore Roosevelt’s time, the word “dude” wasn’t used in a very friendly way by Westerners. In essence, “dude” meant an ostentatious and ignorant man who could barely survive outside his comfort zone in the big city back East. Cultured socialites, arrogant and rich, were called “dudes” when they came out West to see what life was like for the “other half.”


“Guest Ranch” is Putting it Politely

Guest ranches in the Old West quickly earned the nickname dude ranch to refer to the type of patrons they attracted. The early visitors at dude ranches were generally wealthy Eastern men who came to the West to play at being a cowboy without having to face the genuine risks that real cowboys had to face on a daily basis.


Dude Ranches Today

As the American West gradually tamed itself, dude ranches also became more tame and “dude” was no longer used as a derogatory term. Today, dude ranches like Colorado Trails offer some of the best all-inclusive family vacations in the world. Offering a chance to get out in Mother Nature, relax and enjoy activities that aren’t everyday experiences. Dude ranches are still offering people a chance to get to know the Wild West, an attraction that is timeless and ageless. People of any age will love the dude ranch experience.

In fact, guests will have the chance to enjoy the same activities that cowboys (and cowgirls) indulge in each day.


Dude Ranch Activities

All dude ranches will have their own unique take on the “western experience” for anyone looking for an escape to nature. They also share many of the same activities including:

  • Horseback Riding
    • Explore beautiful mountain ranges, lush rivers, and scenic meadows from the unique perspective of riding by horse. It is an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family, even if you have never ridden a horse before.
  • Fly Fishing
    • While horseback riding takes the spotlight for one of the main activities of a dude ranch, fishing is also a common activity among many ranches open to guests. Many ranches will include a private section of water, so you won’t have to worry about running into anyone else during your relaxing experience.
  • Western Dancing
    • What better way to spend an evening than with some line dancing and entertainment? Dude ranches will often host entertainment nights including live music and special dance routines. Make sure you bring your cowboy clothes!

While these are some common activities found at a dude ranch, many will have more activities that make for an exciting and adventurous vacation. At Colorado Trails Ranch, we offer thrilling activities that are unique to our area like whitewater rafting, archery, and power tubing.


Dude Ranch History: The “First” Dude Rancher

While Theodore Roosevelt is credited to be a pioneer in kicking off the dude ranch industry, it was a man named Howard Eaton that is responsible for being one of the first dude ranchers in the West. In fact, it was a letter from Howard to a friend in New York that prompted Mr. Roosevelt to first visit the area.

In 1879, at the age of 28, Howard started building a ranch in Medora, North Dakota. After starting the ranch, his two brothers soon joined him to live the Western lifestyle. It was then that he established the Custer Trail Ranch in the Dakota Badlands. A lover of nature and the outdoors, he began to share his love of the West to out-of-state tourists.

He would entertain many hunters from the East looking to hunt Bison in the area and would often take guests on pack trips to Yellowstone National Park.

In 1903, Howard and his family moved their ranch to the east slopes of Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains mainly due to the lack of Bison and other wildlife in North Dakota. They continued to entertain wealthy families from the East with horseback riding, fishing, and hunting in a secluded mountain setting.

This paved the way for the dude ranch industry and set the standard for the Western activities and hospitality that is expected today.


Is a Dude Ranch Vacation right for You?

Are you interested in your own cowboy vacation? Colorado Trails Ranch is in the perfect setting for a secluded mountain getaway with the whole family.

Located north of Durango in Southwest Colorado, the ranch has everything for an all-inclusive trip including horseback riding, trout fishing, whitewater rafting, and modern cabins for a relaxing and comfortable evening (if you aren’t up dancing with us in the barn).

We would be happy to tell you all about the cowboy culture and what you can expect from a dude ranch vacation. Give us a call at (970) 247-5055 or send us an email and we will be in touch.

See you out on the saddle, “dude”.