15 Things I Learned Doing Seasonal Ranch Work

Imagine 20 millennials sitting around a campfire with no cellphones in sight: the banjo comes out, singing ensues and life stories unfold under the bright night stars.

Dude ranches can be found throughout the West, offering upscale rustic country experiences. These ranches are staffed by seasonal ranch employees. Seasonal ranch work is popular summer work for college students and college graduates. You make lifelong friends with co-ranchers from all over the world--some workers come from as far as England, Ireland, Scotland and Australia for the western experience. Through a dose of ranch life, you learn what it means to work in all weather conditions, wake up at sunrise, handle a night in the dish pit and how to bear-proof the kitchen.

You also make some serious bank without hardly any expenses: A ranch waitress can make around $5,000 in a summer, plus a hefty performance-based bonus. There are also positions as kid's counselors, ranch hands, horse wranglers, housekeepers, fishing guides and administration. A seasonal ranch staff consists of 5-70 employees, depending on your ranch of choice. At 4UR Ranch, around 30 college-educated folks unwind around the fire after a long day of "building fence" and serving guests. Seasonal ranch positions can be found here.

15. Life's better without cell phone service


Everything you see and do on the ranch is worthy of an Insta-post: bailing hay, fields of horses, mountain views. But instead, due to a lack of phone service, you're forced to enjoy the moment for what it is.

14. The stars at night are big and bright

Flickr/Joe Lipson

Away from light pollution, out in the ranch boonies, enjoy shooting star performances, milky way vistas and night hikes by full moon.

13. Dressing like a rodeo clown isn't so bad


The face paint comes off eventually, and the city-folk guests on the ranch enjoy the photo op.

12. Ranch hiking is real solitude


Ranches, unlike national and state parks, are privately owned and can host extraordinary natural beauty. The trails are yours to explore, and the land is untouched by the millions of park visitors you encounter out on national trails. If solitude hikes and bush-whacking are your thing, apply for a season now.

11. Country song lyrics apply to real life


"You and me go fishin' in the dark," is real. So is "take me for a ride on the big green tractor," and "I'd like to check you for ticks."

10. Critters are out there


Bears break into cars and surprise you on morning runs. Snake catching is a thing, and it's not that hard once you get some practice. Coyotes howl, mountain lions stalk and moose can be found, if you're lucky. "Spotlighting" is a favorite pastime which entails driving down ranch roads at night with a massive spotlight for wildlife spotting.

9. Ranch romances could be a reality TV show and often result in marriage


Ranch romances are half the game. Each season one or two couples make it past closing day, and oftentimes end up at the alter. And those who don't find "the one" can still find a roll in the hay, literally. The quarters are close and the music is right, out on staff row.

8. Themed barn parties 


Once you sweep out the mouse droppings and clear the hay, there's no better backdrop than a big red barn for a good time. Just make sure you don't have the first breakfast shift in the morning.

7. Sleeping in earns you "The Bucket"


Did the barn party win last night? Make sure your bunkmate gets you up and at 'em, or else: a large vessel of icy river water on your face, courtesy of the bossman himself.

6. If you help out the barn, you can ride the horses


Shoveling poop and brushing sweaty horses is what it takes to feel the freedom of a backcountry horse ride. Get on the good side of the head wrangler, and you're home free.

5. Make friends with the chef


You'll also want to befriend the chef for your favorite meals to be served, and a regular flow of chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.

4. The early rising and hard labor is worth it


The guests pay a fortune to stay a week, and you get paid to stay out the summer. Ranch lands hold rustic wonder worth months of intensive labor, early mornings and even clearing out a clogged septic tank.

3. When you only have one day off per week, you make it count


"Let's buy gas station inner tubes and float down the Rio Grande," and "Let's climb every 14-er in Colorado!" 

2. You learn to "Ranch Up"


Whether you refused that shot of whiskey, or you believed you couldn't pull up one more thistle, you will hear "ranch up." And that's what you do. You ranch up. Out on the ranch, boys become men and city-slickers become country at heart.

1. Ranch friends are life friends


These ranch friendships don't end when season closes: get ready to meet your future roommates, travel partners and bridesmaids.

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15 Things I Learned Doing Seasonal Ranch Work