Howdy friends! Hankering for a vacation that will feed your spirit and bring you closer together as a family?
Escape from theme parks, busy cities, and crowded restaurants. Instead, book a stay at one of the 100+ dude ranches around the USA. These hidden venues are one of the few all-inclusive vacations that can be found in the United States and typically offer hearty meals, spacious accommodations, and plenty of activities in the great wide open.
We recently stayed at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona and it was a refreshing and relaxing experience. By the end, we were pink-cheeked and free-at-heart.
Here are my top five reasons why you might want to book a dude ranch vacation of your own. (We will certainly be staying at many more in the coming years! Meet you there?)
Gourmet Meals. Most dude ranches offer three meals as part of a package deal. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner are served up piping hot – often buffet style. A menu was posted every single morning at the White Stallion Ranch and my kids LOVED running over to the dining hall to lick their lips and take a peek. The food was versatile, nutritious, plentiful, and delicious. Most meals had a “theme” (Mexican, Italian, Comfort Foods, etc) and all of the meals ended with a decadent and housemade dessert.
We never had to research restaurants or navigate in an unfamiliar place. It was so freeing to know that meals were already taken care of and decided on – with no dishes to clean up afterward! This amenity alone is a huge perk and not to be understated.
Snacks. In between meals, you can enjoy snacks and drinks at your leisure. If anyone says “I’m hungry,” just head to the dining hall. No need for carseats, cranky car rides, or trips down the Target aisle in an unknown city.
Horseback Riding. Whether you’re brand new to riding or an experienced horseman, you won’t lack for “horse time” at a dude ranch. At most ranches, you’ll be able to go on multiple rides every day if you so desire. Short rides, long rides, mountain rides, breakfast rides, slow rides, fast rides, and everything in-between. You may even get an opportunity to participate in penning tournaments and fun games with the horses. Often, you’re even paired with one particular horse for the entire duration of your stay, which means you have a chance to form a special friendship with your horse. Our 8-year-old was, truth be told, a little teary-eyed when she had to say good-bye to her precious Chia.
Outdoor Activities. You’ve heard the phrase “the sky’s the limit”? That’s an accurate description of activities at dude ranches. Besides horseback riding and spending time at the stalls, you’ll likely have a wide range of other activities to choose from – hiking, fishing, swimming, cycling, zip lining, white water rafting, and/or rock-climbing, depending on the location. Some ranches even have playgrounds for toddlers and game rooms + movie theatres for older kids/teens.
If you’re hoping to connect with other families, summer and spring break are probably your best bets. Or, if you prefer to travel during the off-season (as we do), recruit a few families to come along with you. Dude ranch vacations are truly “the stuff of memories” because they take you outside of your everyday into the great outdoors.
Evening Entertainment. After a day with sunshine dappling your shoulders and the breeze playing in your hair, you’ll be treated to a bit of old-fashioned entertainment. Check the ranch’s schedule, but you’re bound to find campfire singalongs, western dancing, wild critter presentations, history talks, or star-gazing.
TIPS FOR VISITING A DUDE RANCH
- Wear boots. The paths at the dude ranch may be dusty and muddy, not to mention the fact that you’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time on a horse. If you’ve always wanted to get a pair of cowboy boots for yourself or your kids, this would be a terrific excuse. Not to mention the fact that cowboy boots are uber-comfortable (and stylish too!). Not to worry if boots aren’t in the budget; pack a sturdy pair of tennis shoes or other closed-toe shoes and you should be golden.
- Bring a hat. Keep the sun off your face by bringing along a cowboy hat, baseball cap, or other sun hat for everyone in the family. Oops! You forgot! No problem-o! Visit the dude ranch’s gift shop and you’ll likely be able to find a plethora of options.
- Plaid shirts and jeans = yes. There’s a reason why this is the outfit of choice for wranglers and ranchers. Jeans are ideal for riding and plaid shirts are comfy too (plus, they offer sun protection). Some people opt to wear leggings under their jeans for added comfort.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen. Hours outside = FUN…and a sunburn if you’re not careful.
- A flat of water bottles is a good idea. Water, along with other beverages, will likely be provided throughout your stay – but it can be downright handy to have a flat of water bottles in your room too.
WHAT CAN MY KIDS DO AT A DUDE RANCH?
Dude ranches are pretty much a child’s wonderland. Picture it like this. Your child will be outdoors from dawn to dusk – petting and riding horses, meeting critters, watching birds, going on hikes, splashing in the pools, and more. Many dude ranches even have dedicated children’s programs that incorporate arts & crafts, games, and more.
Our four kids (ages 1, 5, 8, 11) never lacked for things to do during our stay – and they loved the bountiful meals! My husband & I had to “trade off” a bit since we had a baby (babies can’t go riding, for instance), but don’t let a baby prevent you from going. Even your baby will enjoy the laidback rhythm of ranch life.
HOW TO FIND A DUDE RANCH IN THE UNITED STATES
Well, that’s pretty simple actually. Visit the Dude Ranchers’ Association website and you can search by state, activity, or amenity.
Dude ranches can currently only be found in 12 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming. The highest concentration of dude ranches are in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana – which have 26, 25, and 22 respectively. Arizona, California, and Idaho are next in line. Arkansas, Nebraska, Oregon, and South Dakota have one dude ranch each.
It’s important to note that not all dude ranches are open year-round. Some are only open in the spring/summer to avoid blizzarding conditions, while others are open in the fall and winter to escape scorching summer temperatures.
That’s about it, y’all! Giddy up to the Dude Ranchers site above and find out more. And just so all you city slickers and cowpokes know…I’m not in cahoots (or being sponsored by) the association. I just really like dude ranches and think you will too!
What about you, friends? Have you ever stayed at a dude ranch? Which one and what was your experience like?