Many families these days are headin' over to the ol' corral for dude ranch vacations, to enjoy a holiday in the Great Outdoors with the added attraction of horseback riding, which is fun for youngsters and parents too.
What Can I Expect?
Many guest ranches are real cattle ranches that accept paying guests, so style is "rustic"; still, the level of comfort and amenities offered at dude ranches in general has been steadily rising. Some ranches still keep it simple but others aim to be more of a "ranch resort", with pools, hot-tub, a spa etc. Rancho de los Caballeros, for example, in Arizona, has both spa and golf.
Even with some modern amenities, however, most places still put the emphasis on the Great Outdoors plus old-fashioned hospitality and home-cooked meals. Guests will often find rustic lodges with big fireplaces, cookouts under the stars, family dances, country western dance lessons, and hay rides. Sometimes sports activities such as volleyball, tennis, and mountain biking are offered in addition to horse-riding.
some dude ranches are open year-round, but in areas where winter means cold temperatures and snow, dude ranches may be open only in summer-time. In Arizona, meanwhile, the winter is prime-time, and ranches are closed during the hot summer months.
Pricing generally includes meals and some activities, and quite often does not include horse-riding, though packages with horse-riding are typically available and bought by most guests.
If you're after kids programs, a handy chart at Ranchweb shows what's offered at many places. Ranchweb.com also makes it easy to zero in on places with kids' camps, or resort-style amenities, or other features.
Finding a Dude Ranch
- Ranchweb.com, noted above, lists dozens of places by region and is also good for focusing on a particular type of dude ranch, such as places with kids programs
- If you're hankering for a ranch in the "Centennial State", see Colorado Dude Ranch Vacations
- Not all dude ranches are "out west": see Rocking Horse Ranch in New York state
- See more websites for finding dude ranch vacations
- If you're driving, get detailed directions on how to find the place. We once visited a dude ranch in BC... would've been nice, with three young kids in the car, to know that the last 30 miles would take an hour and a half over a washer-board road.
- Ask about the meal schedule, and don't expect that round-the-clock eats will be availabe, as they are at an all inclusive resort. Consider if you need to bring some granola bars or other snacks along.
- Check what's included. Drinks, outside mealtimes? Mid-afternoon snacks? Horse-riding?
- Check the thermometer. Even in summer, temperatures can be cool at night at higher altitudes, on a mesa or in the mountains. Ask what temperatures to expect.