10 Great Dude Ranches for Families

Saddle up at one of these family friendly guest ranches.

Of all the many trips I’ve taken with my family, I get the most questions about our horse back riding vacations.  It turns out I’m not the only one who with a cowgirl fantasy.

When I planned our first dude ranch vacation, I used the Dude Rancher’s Association website (full disclosure: they are now an advertiser of ours). Using their search tool, I was able to browse their 100 member properties by amenity and then compare them side by side.  Here are ten that stood out:

1.  Averill’s Flathead Lake Ranch
Where: Big Fork, Montana
Rates: $342-464
Open: May-October

Is there any image more iconic than kids jumping in a lake?  When you’re not jumping in the lake, you can sail, canoe, water ski, paddle board, kayak, and fish in it too.  Plus, all the usual horse-y fun. You’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of a coming of age film.

The horses at Vista Verde aren’t just beautiful and quick, they’re cuddly too.

2.  Vista Verde Guest Ranch
Where: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Rates: $295-545
Open: January-March,  June-August,  September,  December

Picture this: after an outrageously fun day of riding, learning to herd cattle, or watching your kids compete in a just-for-fun rodeo, you unwind on the porch of your private cabin in your private jacuzzi.  It’s heaven.

We’ve been there — read our review.

3.  Nine Quarter Circle Ranch
Where: Gallatin Gateway, Montana
Rates: $253-362
Open: June-September

Can’t decide between visiting one of America’s western national parks and spending a week at a dude ranch?  With the rustic and wonderful Nine Quarter Circle Ranch (overlooking the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park) you don’t have to.  The owners breed and raise their own Appaloosas and have just the right ride for everyone.

Ready for anything, including vultures, jack rabbits, and gila monsters at Rancho de los Caballeros.

4.  Rancho de los Caballeros
Where: Wickenburg, Arizona
Rates: $202-232
Open: January-May, October-December

This luxury dude ranch in the Arizonan Sonora Desert offers convenient a la carte pricing for families that tend to go in different directions on vacation.  It’s a really great option for multi-generation trips where not everyone rides.  Guests can also play golf and tennis, hike, visit historic Wickeburg, or partake of the spa.

We’ve been there – read our review.

5.  The Home Ranch
Where: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Rates: $275-575
Open: January-March,  June-October,  December

When you imagine a dude ranch vacation, you probably don’t imagine snow.  But guess what?  Winter is a magical place to be at a ranch.  Get ready for sleigh rides, cross country skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding.  And if you overdo it, you can relax in front of a roaring fire or book a massage.  This ranch is wonderful in the summer too, of course.

Chaps look cool, but are totally optional at Black Mountain Ranch.

6.  Black Mountain Ranch
Where: McCoy, Colorado
Rates: $307-369
Open: June-September

If you’re looking for an intimate ranch experience, look no further than Black Mountain Ranch.  With a capacity of just 40, this place is cozy.  If you have a big family (or a lot of friends), you could easily take over the whole ranch!

Animal loving kids will appreciate that this ranch has more than just horses — there are rabbits, chickens, ducks, alpacas, donkeys, dogs, and baby goats too.

We’ve been there — read our review.

7.  C Lazy U Ranch
Where: Granby, Colorado
Rates: $325-525
Open: Year round

If you’re looking for a ranch with a really great kids’ program that will feel like summer camp to them (except for the fact that they’ll have to spend some time with their parents), check out C Lazy U Ranch.  Unlike some of the smaller ranches, this one is big enough that your kids will meet lots of kids who share their age, gender, temperament, and interests.

8.  Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
Where: Solvang, California
$445-680
Open: Year round

A guest ranch in the heart of California’s Santa Barbara wine country?  Yep.  There’s a lot to love about a family vacation at Alisal.  Since it’s easily reached by car from both Southern and Northern California, it’s a great place to meet friends for a few days.  The petting barn and the breakfast ride are both highlights of staying here, though you’ll be spoiled for choice.

We’ve been there — read our review.

On the breakfast ride at Alisal, the only thing better than the scenery is the food.

9.  Tanque Verde Ranch
Where: Tucson, Arizona
Rates: $195-395
Open: Year round

If your fantasy dude ranch vacation features saguaro cactus, roadrunners, and endless sunshine, point your compass south.  The riding at Tanque Verde Ranch is great, but so is the pool scene.  You’ll quickly adjust to the rhythm of the desert — for a lot of the year, that means playing in the morning and at dusk and resting in the middle of the day.  Sounds like a vacation to me.

We’ve been there — read our review.

10.  Burnt Well Guest Ranch
Where: Roswell, New Mexico
Rates: $234-260
Open: Year round

There are some places that I’m longing to visit, but they’re just too far away or remote to justify the trip.  My personal list includes Mt. Rushmore, the Four Corners, and Roswell, New Mexico.  Imagine my delight when I discovered this authentic working cattle ranch within easy striking distance of Roswell and all its UFO fun!  Go for the riding.  If you pick up any alien souvenirs while you’re there, it’ll be our secret.

If you’re looking for a second opinion on ranch vacations, head on over to Writing Horseback where you’ll find reviews of horse-y destinations, ranches, gear and more.

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Comments

  1. says

    If you wish to get away from the family scene with kids, there are several ranches that offer adults only weeks. We, the R Lazy S Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for example, reserve the end of August and the whole month of September for adults only.

  2. B Miller says

    Thanks for these suggestions. Might I also recommend Tumbling River Ranch, about two hours west of Denver. We spent a week there with our 10 and eight-year old sons and had a wonderful time!

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