Dude Ranch Job Pay, Benefits, & Perks

If working on a dude ranch doesn’t appear to be a good fit, then you should pursue work in a different industry. Why? Because the rest of the staff will “vote you off the ranch” before you have your suitcase unpacked.

Dude ranch jobs have a set of benefits that are like no other jobs in the world! These jobs will give you an experience that is truly unique.

Main Lodge and Pool at Colorado Guest Ranch

Benefits of Working for a Dude Ranch

  • The experience and memories
  • Friendships
  • Meeting fascinating people who may lead you to new opportunities
  • Lodging and meals
  • An inexpensive lifestyle
  • Pay & tips

The Experience and Memories

The primary benefit of working on a dude ranch is the experience of working on a dude ranch, and collecting memories that may be the best memories of your life. These memories will be active, outside and fun!

One ranch calls this lifestyle an “unplugged” existence:

  • A different sense of time
  • Watching humming birds dive bombing in mating rituals
  • Kittens sleeping on your lap
  • Goats trying to climb on your lap
  • Getting thrown in a water trough
  • Throwing your boss in a water trough
  • Hammocks
  • Riding bareback in the moonlight
  • Telling and hearing ghost stories
  • Galloping
  • Getting dragged out of bed for a sunrise hike – to find it’s worth it!
  • Free time doing things that folks generally can’t do anymore:
    • volleyball
    • softball
    • hiking
    • fishing
    • card games
    • “pictionary” and “Settlers of Catan” competitions, and other board game tournaments
    • rodeos
    • white water river rafting
    • rock climbing
    • jackalope hunts
  • Visiting new and exciting places
  • Practicing the fine art of cowboy poetry
  • Did you notice that this list of experiences does not include
    • television
    • computers
    • computer emails
    • computer games
    • computer anything else
    • cell phones
    • instant messaging
    • instant anything else
    • Although all of these things may be available, they are a very small and insignificant part of your life.


It sounds hokey, but honest, there is a very strong sense of “home” and “family” that is part of a dude ranch job.

Since even the largest guest ranches hire fewer than 100 employees per year, a friendly atmosphere is the norm.

A significant benefit is the friendships that you can make with your co-workers. These are friendships that may last your lifetime. The author of this section of JobMonkey still enjoys friends he met years ago on his first dude ranch job.

Be warned! Some of the friendships have been known to get out of hand! Virtually every dude ranch can list married couples who started as dude ranch staff “friends”!

Networking Opportunities

Dude ranch vacations are not inexpensive. Guests tend to be professional classes. Some of these folks control significant opportunities.

These guests are also often very impressed with the “caliber” of dude ranch employees. The “old west” culture and “cowboy etiquette” that is cherished by dude ranches makes employees “stand out from the crowd.”

Casual conversations can lead to scholarship opportunities and career possibilities.

Lodging & Meals

There are many reasons why summer employment at a dude ranch is hard to beat (hopefully you’ve picked up some already). Here’s more…Virtually all guest ranches provide free food and lodging. Housing arrangements may vary from dorm-style bunkhouses to rustic cabins.

The availability of married housing varies from ranch to ranch. Few, if any ranches will provide housing for unmarried couples.

An Inexpensive Lifestyle

Outside of your deodorant and toothpaste, you will have very few expenses.

Bed linens, pillows, and towels are usually provided.

Washers and dryers are available at no charge.

“Commuting” is usually less than a 5 minute walk.

Pay & Tips

Payroll practices are as varied as the ranches. Some pay bi-weekly, some monthly.

Do not expect to get rich working for a dude ranch. At the same time, because you have few expenses besides your toiletries, you can save a significant amout of money by the end of the season.

Most positions pay in the neighborhood of minimum wage.

Managerial positions, and professional positions such as chefs, may negotiate significantly higher wages.

It is not uncommon for staff to simply not cash their paychecks until after the season ends. They just don’t need to.

It is not uncommon for ranches to have an end-of-season bonus for those staff who complete their contracts.

  • Experience has taught the ranches that some very enthusiastic staff members may not get enough rest in this environments, and as early August rolls around, find themselves exhausted.
  • A surprising number of exhausted staff members have grandmothers die unexpectedly in early August, forcing them to leave early (and forcing others to carry the extra weight of their abandoned jobs).
  • Some ranches require staff to complete their contract in order to collect their end of season bonus. (A successful method of controlling August grandmother mortality rates.)

At this point, it should come as no surprise to you to hear that every dude ranch handles tipping or gratuities differently.

  • Some ranches do not allow tipping at all
    • This policy usually results in the Children’s Wranglers receiving tips
  • Some ranches do not have a policy at all – guests may or may not tip individual staff
    • This policy usually results in the child wranglers making wonderful tips, the wranglers making good tips, and all of the other staff getting nothing.
  • Some ranches allow/encourage guests to tip individual staff members.
    • This policy usually results in the Children’s Wranglers making wonderful tips, the wranglers making good tips, and all of the other staff getting…yup, you guessed it…nothing.
  • Some ranches allowing/encourage tipping, but ask guests to add the tip to their bill, and then divide the tip pool equally among the staff.
    • Some of these ranches divide the tip pool among the staff on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis
    • Other ranches may hold the tip pool to be divided among the staff that complete their contracts. Those who leave early essentially pay their portion of tips to those who carry the extra weight of their jobs in August.

Are you ready to pack for a dude ranch adventure? We hope so! This section on JobMonkey was written by a long-time dude ranch staffer and has given you the inside scoop. Before you start applying, however, check out Alaska employment at wilderness lodges, parks, rafting and adventure travel companies, and science centers. Summer jobs in Alaska offer can offer a similar experience as those found at dude ranches. Check ’em out!


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