Joel W. Rogers  /  © Joel W. Rogers/CORBIS
Horse riders take a trail from a nearby dude ranch through the Pine Butte Swamp Nature Conservancy Presereve in Montana.
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updated 4/18/2006 2:01:44 PM ET 2006-04-18T18:01:44

You've been to the seashore, you've been to those fancy resorts and maybe even on a cruise, and you've probably spent time and money taking in big city sights and shopping. Perhaps it's time to explore something new - or old - where you can get a sense of the Old West, enjoy wide open spaces from the back of a horse and maybe tame a wild trout.

What you're looking for is a dude ranch, also known as a guest ranch. You'd be surprised how many there are and how easy they are to find.

You could just search the Web for "dude ranch" or "guest ranch" with your favorite activity, like as fishing. You would turn up spots such as the Wit's End Guest Ranch at Vallecito Lake, Colo., in the mountains near Durango. Don't worry, you won't be bedding down in a musty old bunkhouse; just check out their lodging section and then click on the photo gallery. Along with extensive fly fishing and the expected trail rides, this ranch's recreation menu includes tennis, hunting and mountain biking.

Search for a family-oriented ranch vacation close to a wilderness area and you might find the Nine Quarter Circle in a secluded mountain valley in southwest Montana, next to the Taylor Hilgard Wilderness Area and near Yellowstone National Park. Maybe not as fancy as Wit's End, but each log cabin has its own bathroom. This is still a working ranch, breeding Appaloosa horses, according to "Activities." It advertises native trout streams and wilderness for trail rides. "Kids will forget TV," they promise in the description of children's activities.

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If you know generally where you want to go, the official state tourism guides can probably help you out.

For example, Texas is definitely ranch country and Texas Travel has a directory under "Search Lodging." Select "Guest Ranch" under "Property Type." If you don't specify a city, clicking on "Search Now" will bring up an error message, but you'll also get a "Ranches" button at the top of the page to click on.

If the Grand Canyon state lures you, the official Arizona Guide has an "Explore Accommodations" menu right on the front page where you can click on guest ranches.

Some states also have ranch associations to help you out. The Montana Dude Ranchers' Association even offers categories of working ranches, where you can get your hands dirty and work up a few calluses, and resort ranches where they call it cuisine instead of grub. If you're not sure what you want, fill out their "General Inquiry Form" and they'll help you choose.

Want more choices? Guest Ranches of North America has entries for ranches in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, where Rancho Las Cascadas advertises privacy and first class service year around. If you don't want to stray too far from the Northeast, their directory includes Ranch4Saisons in Quebec.

There's also a Dude Ranchers' Association which has been around since 1926 and says ranches that want to be members must undergo two years of inspections and approvals.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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