Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

What to know before you go to a dude or guest ranch: details

Sure, you did your homework when you picked your guest ranch and booked your vacation, and a lot of key information is available on the ranch website. But it never hurts to make a quick call to brush up on some ranch facts before you go. Here are some of the details you should ask about.

-Before you go, find out how many kids of your own children’s ages will be there at the same time; the answer may determine whether your child will need to bring that Gameboy or not.

-About check- out and check-in times—they’re different from most hotels. Often, you’re okay to check in at 2 PM and asked to check out by 10 AM (exceptions are made individually).

-What is included in the rate? Usually, rates are all-inclusive, covering meals, horseback riding, all facilities, children’s and teen supervision, special programming. But sometimes extra options—spa treatments, trap shooting or fly fishing school—is extra.

-What activities beside riding, hiking, and fishing will you need special clothes or shoes for? You may want to add a skirt or your dancin’ shoes for that square dancing evening.

-Find out if the ranch has a liquor license and, if not, what their policy is about guests bringing their own bottles. Some ranches will let you bring your own bottles but ask you not to consume it in the public areas, in order to preserve a family atmosphere. Check ahead.

-Medical needs are an issue for some guests. Ask if their staff is Red Cross First Aid certified and where the nearest hospital emergency room is located and how long it takes to reach. If your family members have serious medical issues, you may want to select a ranch that’s fairly handy to a major city.

-If you’re a smoker, be sure to ask about the ranch’s smoking policy. In Colorado, for example, a new law restricts smoking in public places so you’ll be asked to step outside before you light up. Many ranch cabins are non-smoking now, as well.

-Those who need to stay connected should ask about cell phone and internet service; both are possible at more and more ranches now, but be sure to confirm your ranch’s availability.

-Plan to bring a pet? Ask what the ranch policy is first. Many ranches prohibit pets, as their safety may be at risk (among the cattle, herd of horses, and ranch dogs).

We thank our friends at the Lost Valley Ranch for their help in compiling this list. And stay tuned for What to know before you go (part 2): what to wear!


What to pack for a dude ranch vacation: 13 essentials

Remember, you’re going to a guest ranch, so casual dress is in style at all times.  Comfortable clothes and casual shoes or boots work best; you’re there for adventure and activity, so several changes of clothes are desirable.  If its an upscale resort ranch, then you’ll want some nicer clothes for evening (cruise casual describes it best). For more details, be sure and check with your selected ranch.

Light waterproof jacket with hood
T-shirts and long sleeve shirts
Softened jeans for riding (up to 3 pairs)
Shorts and bathing suits
Riding boots
Hiking boots, sneakers
Socks  (at least 3 pairs)
Fleece pullovers or sweaters
Tevas/water shoes/old shoes that can get wet
Sunglasses and a hat
Sunscreen and bug spray
Gloves for riding (for morning rides)
Backpack or fanny pack

Going to the mountains: The weather can change quickly: temperature can range from the 80’s during the day to the 40’s at night. Bring a light jacket, sweater or sweatshirt to wear in the evenings and for layering; occasional passing showers means you’ll want a waterproof jacket with a hood. To the desert: Protect yourself (and the kids) from over-exposure to the sun, so you don’t “lose” a day to sunburn. Cover that tank top with a light, long-sleeved shirt; wear long, lightweight pants for riding, shorts for hanging out, and carry a sweater for the evening. Oh, and for any climate: a hat with a ‘stampede string’ that knots at the neck, so you won’t lose it on a ride.

Boots: You must have riding boots for horseback riding. It just isn’t safe to ride in sneakers or hiking boots—your foot could slip through the stirrup or get stuck in it. But if you don’t have any, don’t feel that you must buy new ones; some ranches have spare pairs of kids and adults’ boots for you to borrow while at the ranch—be sure to ask ahead.

Riding helmets: most ranches recommend wearing a helmet while riding, especially for kids. If you own a riding helmet fitted for you, you bring it, but most ranches have a supply of helmets available for your use.

Toiletries: Yep, you’re gonna need bug spray, sunblock, toothpaste, etc. Some ranches have little ranch stores with some of those items, but don’t rely on it unless you ask.

Extra activities: for hiking, use a pullover made of synthetic, wicking material (in the mountains, the weather can change quickly and the synthetic fabrics like fleece, and Coolmax will keep you warm and dry better than cotton). For fishing, ask what the ranch loans out; often waders, boots, rods and reels are all there for you.

Nice extras: slippers–it’s kind of nice to have some slippers when you’re cruising around the cabins.

Laundry: Ask about laundry services; some have self-serve facilities, others do it for you (yea!) with a 24-hour turnaround.

Final thoughts:
Pre-trip, wash the jeans with fabric softener so the kids (and you) can avoid saddle sores from the rubbing of a thick, stiff jeans seam. Most ranches have washing machine/dryers available but if you don’t want to spend vacation time doing laundry, bring extra jeans, socks and tee-shirts for all. Bring that great book you’ve been wanting to catch up on because you’ll actually have the time to read while the kids are having fun.

Bring some Advil/ ibuprofen because ‘some guys aren’t able resist trying out everything there is to do and, being a guy, he won’t hold back and will be super sore!’ says Stephanie of Vista Verde.

Our thanks to Stephanie at Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch, who sent us some great ideas for this list. And she offers one other suggestion: “With airline travel what it is these days, you could well arrive at the ranch before your luggage.  While it invariably arrives within 24 hours, you could nevertheless have an uncomfortable first day.  Accordingly, we suggest you pack some overnight items or a change of apparel in a carry-on.” Good idea, Steph!

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-park series, since packing for children/toddlers takes a whole different list. Stay tuned for: Packing with kids in mind.


5 tips for getting a dream ranch job

We just heard from Dan Morin of Colorado’s Sundance Trail Ranch, who saw our blog asking ranchers for their thoughts on how dude ranch job seekers can increase their chances of snagging that dream job. Here are some of his suggestions to job seekers:

1. Have skills that I need – these are all people skills. I can teach you to cook, clean, even ride a horse; I cannot teach you how to delight my guests and keep them safe.

2. Don’t tell me how good the job would be for you. I am interested in

the welfare of my ranch, guests and staff, not that of an applicant I have never met. Tell me how good you will be for my ranch operation.

3. Have flexible dates.

4. Research the ranch, study the web site, address correspondence to me by

name (Dear Mr. Morin…), and don’t ask questions already answered in the website.

5. Cowboys and cowgirls have a code of ediquette. Learn it. Refer to us

as “sir” or “ma’am,” not “you guys.” 

All good thoughts, Dan. thanks for sharing. For more on Sundance Trails Ranch, click here.