Photo of cowboy hat and rope: why is it called a dude ranch

Dude ranches have long been a place for visitors to experience the authentic appeal of the Wild West. But have you ever found yourself wondering, “why is it called a dude ranch in the first place?” Wyoming Dude Rancher’s Association is here to answer that question and give you a bit of history on ranching at the same time! 

Dude Ranch Definition

The word ‘dude’ has taken on many meanings and definitions throughout the decades. The variation of dude used in dude ranch refers to the slang popularized in the late 1800s, meaning “urbanite” In short, dude was synonymous with urbanites from the Eastern metropolises who first traveled and vacationed in the west.

A Brief History of Dude Ranching

The history of dude ranching began in the late 19th century when ranchers began opening their homes to visitors from the East. Ranching became popularized when president Teddy Roosevelt visited the Custer Trail Ranch to spend his time hunting, fishing, and riding. Roosevelt’s accounts of ranch life inspired curiosity, and the fascination with the west began!

As the railroad expanded, dude ranches spread across the west. By the 1920s, the cattle industry was facing financial difficulties, and many ranchers had to shift the focus of their business. Hospitality services began to be their main supply of income, and the Dude Ranchers Association was born in 1926.

The Dude Ranchers Association History

The Dude Ranchers Association’s first official meeting included ranchers, railroad officials, and national park officials. They agreed upon five objectives to create a mutually beneficial future for ranching and railroads. They joined forces to standardize the ranch experience, discuss transportation, and create advertising. Nearly 100 years later, the DRA continues to promote western ranch vacations and support the member ranches that put hospitality at the forefront.

Experience Dude Ranching in Wyoming Today

Now that we’ve answered “why is it called a dude ranch,” we invite you to experience the Wild West for yourself. The core principles of the DRA remain the same, focusing on the six H’s: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty, and heart. Ranches that carry the WDRA seal of membership have demonstrated their unwavering commitment to providing an authentic western experience. Wyoming Dude Rancher’s Association can’t wait to welcome you to one of our member ranches!