Guest ranches arose in response to the romanticization of the American West that began to occur in the late 19th century. In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner stated that the United States frontier was demographically, "closed." This in turn led many people to have feelings of nostalgia for bygone days, but also, given that the risks of a true frontier were gone, allowed for nostalgia to be indulged in relative safety. Thus, the person referred to as a "tenderfoot" or a "greenhorn" by westerners was finally able to visit and enjoy the advantages of western life for a short period of time without needing to risk life and limb.
The Western adventures of famous figures, like Theodore Roosevelt, were made available to paying guests from cities of the East, called "dudes" in the West. In the early years, the transcontinental railroad network brought paying visitors to a local depot, where a wagon or buggy would be waiting to transport people to a ranch. Experiences varied. Some guest ranch visitors expected a somewhat edited and more luxurious version of the "cowboy life," while others were more tolerant of the odors and timetable of a working ranch. While there were guest ranches prior to the 20th century, the trend grew considerably after the end of World War I, when postwar prosperity, the invention of the automobile and the appearance of Western movies all increased popular interest in the west. In 1926 the Dude Ranchers Association was founded in Cody, Wyoming to represent the needs of this rapidly growing industry.