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The dude ranch is the fabled Western experience come to life: daily rides by horseback, cowboy coffee beneath an expansive blue sky, campfire sing-alongs, and homemade food served in rustic lodges. Accommodations are usually in a comfortable cabin or lodge. You need not have any riding experience before your visit; ranch hands are trained to assist even the greenest of greenhorns. For additional information on dude ranches in both Montana and Wyoming, as well as other Western states, contact the Dude Ranchers' Association, P.O. Box 2307, Cody, WY 82414 (tel. 866/399-2339; www.duderanch.org). The best dude ranches can be found in the Paradise and Gallatin valleys in southwest Montana, and in the Sheridan area and the Wapiti Valley west of Cody in Wyoming.

Are You a Dude or a Guest? -- A century ago, it was common courtesy in the West for ranches to feed and lodge travelers who stopped by on their treks across the great empty spaces. Gradually it became acceptable to accept a few dollars from guests, and by the 1920s, a ranch visit was a full-fledged vacation.

When you make your ranch reservations, it's wise to know the difference between a "dude ranch" and a "guest ranch." A dude ranch typically requires a 1-week minimum stay, and they give you the entire package: riding, fishing, trips to the rodeo, and family-style meals. Dude ranchers look down their noses at "guest" ranches, which will take guests staying just 1 night and charge extra for activities such as riding.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.