How to Choose a Montana Dude Ranch

Feel in the shadows and the hillsides the spirits of the heroes of the west with their lariats and saddles working on the trails.

With so many great options, how do you choose a ranch? We’re convinced that each Montana ranch has something special to offer. The key is finding which ranch is right for you. Here are some things to consider:


Since horseback riding is the primary emphasis for activities on a dude ranch, choose the riding environment that appeals to you. Do you want to ride in the mountains, on the open prairie or on a ranch that is the foothills? The location of the ranch determines the terrain. Some ranches are close to a national park, many border national forests or wilderness areas, while others may be large ranch properties that have been in the family for generations. Ranchers love to share the history and flavor of the area. Off the beaten path or closer to the night life, location is something to consider.

Type of Riding

Are you a beginner who would like to spend time learning horsemanship skills to become more comfortable, or are you an experienced rider who wants a challenge? Most ranches offer horsemanship instruction for the beginner to the experienced rider, but ranch programs do differ. Some ranches have mostly scenic trail rides with limited trotting or loping, others have terrain that allows for more. There are working cattle ranches where guests can help with ranch chores and then there are vacations where you are never obligated to work! Some ranches offer overnight pack-trips or cattle drives, or maybe just focus on riding in breath-taking country. Whatever you are looking for, there are ranches to meet your needs.

Size or Guest Capacity

The number of guests that a ranch can host is something to think about. A guest ranch that hosts ten guests is quite a bit different than a ranch that serves sixty. Larger ranches often offer an organized schedule of activities and entertainment while smaller ranches tend to have more personalized activities where you become part of the family for a week and can be less scheduled.

Season or Time of Year

In the West, snow conditions mean that ranches open later in the spring and close in the fall; however there are ranches that offer “off-season” packages or are open all year but have different activities to fit the season. July and August are typically the high season, but most ranches are also open in June and September. Many offer early and late season specials.

Other Activities

Some ranches concentrate mostly on horseback riding, while others include fishing, guided hikes, side trips to local attractions, rafting, pack-trips and much more. If you have children or teens, you may want to select a ranch with organized activities for kids. Single adults may prefer a ranch that is more adult oriented or has specific adult weeks.


Ranch atmospheres range from rustic to luxurious, and everything in between. Ranches are always extremely clean and comfortable, but can vary from lodge rooms to private log cabins. If you need hair dryers, TV’s, Jacuzzi tubs, a daily massage or wireless Internet, choose your ranch accordingly.

As you narrow your choices down to a couple ranches, call and explain to them what’s most important to you – they’ll help you make the best choice. Good luck in your search and have a wonderful ranch vacation.