A dude ranch is a ranch which either accepts paying guests, or caters to them, depending on how the ranch is set up. This practice dates back to the late 1800s, with the term "dude ranch" itself dating to the 1920s. People generally visit this type of ranch for the purpose of vacationing, to enjoy the natural beauty of relatively undeveloped regions, and to participate in a range of ranching related activities.
Dude ranching started in the United States, as a natural outgrowth of the romanticization of the West. Wealthy Easterners, known as dudes, traveled to the West to experience ranches, and ranches seized an opportunity and started charging for it. The phenomenon spread throughout the West, and today hundreds of ranches offer dude ranching experiences; the concept has also spread to Australia, another nation which is famous for its ranching.
There are a number of different types of dude ranch. In a working ranch, visitors can stay at an actual working ranch, participating in activities related to the working of the ranch. Some people enjoy visiting working ranches to get a taste of what ranching is like, and to experience the culture of the West. Typically, people who visit a working ranch are expected to work, participating in things like cattle handling and gardening.
A riding dude ranch is a one which focuses specifically on horseback riding. Riding ranches offer instruction to people at all levels of ability. Riders can go on trail rides, work in the ring, and enjoy the natural surroundings of the ranch. Another type of dude ranch, the resort ranch, offers a more resort-like atmosphere which promotes relaxation and offers a range of activities from horseback riding to singalongs. Other ranches offering hunting opportunities, with both native and imported animals.
Because dude ranches are so varied, people who want to go on a vacation at such a ranch should think about what kind of experience they want to have, and seek out a ranch which will meet their expectations. If relaxation is a primary goal, a resort ranch is definitely the way to go. People who like a little work with their vacations might want to seek out a working ranch.