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5 reasons to love a dude ranch vacation + 5 tips from our visit to Rawah Guest Ranch

Sitting in the lodge, listening to an old cowboy strumming guitar, and gazing out at the wilderness mountains, my heart was full. In the moment, I couldn’t process all the elements that were coming together there at Rawah Guest Ranch, a luxury dude ranch resort in northeast Colorado.

But on the evening of our last night, out on our cabin’s front porch, under a sky littered with stars, I reflected back on our family’s visit to Rawah. Taking inventory of the events of our stay, it became obvious that we had fallen in love with so much more than we had expected. There would be so many things to miss when we left for home.

 
Considering a dude ranch vacation? There is so much more to a dude ranch vacation than just riding horses! Check out 5 things we loved on our stay at Rawah Ranch in northeast Colorado, plus 5 tips for your first time on a dude ranch! #duderanch #openwidetheworld
 

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Rawah Guest Ranch for partnering with us in this content creation.


Dude ranch activities

The most obvious aspect of a dude ranch vacation that we’ll miss is the one we knew to expect: the activity list.

Daily horseback rides, fly fishing, archery & shooting, and hiking were all part of our Rawah experience. No prior skill required, as Rawah has an amazing staff who seem to thrive on sharing their passion for their sports.

Horseback riding is an obvious highlight on a dude ranch vacation. But we were surprised how much we all enjoyed fly fishing, too! Guide Zeb helped Mag catch her first  three  fish ever! The Laramie River, Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Horseback riding is an obvious highlight on a dude ranch vacation. But we were surprised how much we all enjoyed fly fishing, too! Guide Zeb helped Mag catch her first three fish ever! The Laramie River, Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Dude ranch activities tip

Decide before you go if you’re interested in a working ranch or a guest ranch style dude ranch vacation. We opted for Rawah’s guest ranch approach, but for those interested, some ranches do offer the opportunity to drive cattle and tend the horses.


Dude ranch history

We live in a suburb. And suburbs have only truly existed since about the 1950s and ‘60s. So we suburbanites typically live in communities lacking a strong sense of history. Cities offer a bit more history than suburbs. Even so, it can take some effort and research for city dwellers to feel connected to their city’s story.

So part of the draw to a guest ranch vacation, for us, was to connect with an interesting and beloved part of American history: the Wild West and the iconic cowboy era.

Interestingly, before arriving, we had thought that a visit to a dude ranch would offer a sort of fabricated link to history, where wranglers were almost like docents, trained in sharing a lost history through contrived interactions. And we were okay with that, because any glimpse into history is better than no connection to it at all.

What we didn’t expect is that we would meet a whole world of people whose modern lives are still intimately connected to that past. It was a thrill and a joy to hear Ben (pictured below) recite modern cowboy poetry. And equally intriguing to listen to Wrangler Cierra’s stories of dodging lightning while tending horses and mending fences, among other modern cowboy exploits.

Rawah doesn’t re-create a historic period; it immerses guests in its modern iteration!

Cowboy songs and poetry presented by Ben, a lifelong local, brought history to life via a medium not encountered many places. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Cowboy songs and poetry presented by Ben, a lifelong local, brought history to life via a medium not encountered many places. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Dude ranch history tip

To feel more deeply connected to your experience, take in some history before your dude ranch visit. Check out our cowboy history basics. And maybe even mix up a historic cowboy cocktail while you’re at it! (recipe coming soon)


Dude ranch topography, geography & wildlife

Much of our country’s former beauty is now dissected by streets and roads, interrupted by developments and construction. Resultantly, countless native wildlife and flora populations have disappeared, particularly from urban areas.

Rawah Guest Ranch, sitting within the Rawah Wilderness —75K acres of federally protected land—, provided an opportunity to leave city and suburb behind and experience the beauty and grandeur of glacier-carved peaks, a rare south-north running river (the Laramie), moose, endless groundhogs, and countless bird species. Bears and mountain lions also live in the region, but we were just as happy to not see them.

Wrangler Colby guides our day-one horseback ride at an elevation of 8,400 feet, through a valley of wild sagebrush, toward the Medicine Bow range in Rawah Wilderness. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Wrangler Colby guides our day-one horseback ride at an elevation of 8,400 feet, through a valley of wild sagebrush, toward the Medicine Bow range in Rawah Wilderness. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Dude ranch elevation preparedness tip

Rawah Guest Ranch, and presumably many other dude ranches, sits at a higher elevation than most of us live. Train physically, at least a little bit, before your trip so you don’t lose any of your time to elevation adjustment issues. A strong focus on hydration leading up to and during a high elevation trip can also be helpful.


Dude ranch pace of life

Suburb and city life are all about busy-ness. Our peers recite their frenzied schedules as if they’re a badge of honor. It would seem that whoever gets up the earliest to spend the longest in traffic, stays up the latest to finish projects, and shuttles the most kids to the most activities is the winner. Winner of what? I don’t know. But everyone around us seems to join the race.

Now it’s true, dude ranch days can start early, too. And might run as late as city life, depending on circumstances. But the flow of the long day revolves around a simplicity that allows for connecting with the land. And with others.

Mealtimes are true breaks in the day, where guests connect and families reconnect over healthy portions of home-cooked food. Conversation abounds, and music and storytelling complete a full evening.

Rawah’s morning coffee and pastries, delivered right to our cabin, helped us to linger longer on our front porch each morning, savoring the mountain air and each other’s company. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Rawah’s morning coffee and pastries, delivered right to our cabin, helped us to linger longer on our front porch each morning, savoring the mountain air and each other’s company. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Dude ranch relaxation tip

Remind yourself how few chances in life you’ll get to truly disconnect. Then lock the phone away and embrace this one! You can always post your dude ranch IG pics when you get home.


Dude ranch diversity

Some suburbs are diverse, some are not. Ours is not. Which is particularly disappointing as a multicultural family.

Guests on our ranch visit, on the other hand, varied widely in terms of political leanings, religious affiliations, relationship orientation, and nationality. 

What a perfect way to remember that cowboys were a mixed bunch themselves!

Historians estimate about 3 in 10 cowboys were Black, Native American or Mestizo, and 1 in 10 cowboys was actually a cowgirl! Cowboys didn’t —or perhaps just couldn’t afford to— discriminate. They rode, ate and slept under the stars with anyone willing to work together for long hours in harsh conditions. Much like the guests we shared our visit with.

Before our trip, I thought I wanted it to be a family-only type of bonding experience. It turned out that interacting with an amazing group of Rawah staff and guests enhanced our trip and created memories I know we will cherish forever. Here, staff and guests share a toast on our last night at the ranch. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Before our trip, I thought I wanted it to be a family-only type of bonding experience. It turned out that interacting with an amazing group of Rawah staff and guests enhanced our trip and created memories I know we will cherish forever. Here, staff and guests share a toast on our last night at the ranch. Rawah Guest Ranch, Colorado

Dude ranch community building tip

Don’t fear community-style dining; embrace the opportunity to meet people you never would have met outside of the ranch. Some might become lifelong friends!


Have you been to a dude ranch or a guest ranch? Do you dream of going?

We’d love to hear about your experience! Tell us about it in the comments!


Want to know more?

How much does a dude ranch cost?

How much does it cost to stay at a dude ranch? Find Rawah’s rates here.

What do you do at a dude ranch?

Rawah’s got a list full of fun and exciting activities and events!

 

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Considering a dude ranch vacation? There is so much more to a dude ranch vacation than just riding horses! Check out 5 things we loved on our stay at Rawah Ranch in northeast Colorado, plus 5 tips for your first time on a dude ranch! #duderanch #openwidetheworld