Kid Friendly Dude Ranch Vacations

October 17, 2012

Looking for a kid-friendly dude ranch vacation? Tips on how to find ranches where you can bring the kids and they can get introduced to horses, learn to ride and a whole lot more on a family ranch vacation. Plus, top-rated ranches for kids.

by Darley Newman

Dude ranch vacations are a great way to get out of the city or your normal, high tech environment and get back to the great outdoors. While traveling with children can be a challenge, many dude ranches and guest ranches are set up to accommodate parents and kids of all ages, making them a comforting travel choice for a family vacation.

Tarryall river ranch

An apple a day at Tarryall River Ranch in Colorado.

While some dude ranches offer kids camps, others also offer baby-sitting, children's riding programs and more, so your child can actually start to learn to ride. Having been given riding lessons and spent time around horses at a young age myself, I know that this is an invaluable gift. While some ranches incorporate a lot of riding into their programs for children, others have a mix of riding with other fun activities.

Some frequently asked questions from parents and grandparents looking to travel with kids to a dude ranch include:

At what age can kids ride at a dude ranch vacation? 

Some ranches, including Wilderness Trails Ranch in Colorado, introduce kids as young as three and up to age seventeen to horses with special youth programs. A popular Wyoming dude ranch, the T Cross, starts actual riding lessons at six. It all depends on the dude ranch or guest ranch and their policies. I started riding at age seven, which was a good age for me. Every child is different.

kids camp at wilderness trails ranch

Kids learn to ride at Wilderness Trails Ranch, a Durango dude ranch.

What types of activities will my child or grandchild experience on a dude ranch vacation?

Hay rides, pony rides, painting, fishing, bonfire sing-alongs, tennis, biking, crafts, scavenger hunts, canoeing, marshmallow roasts and more. It's like going to camp and many ranches do in fact have "camps" for kids.

Where can I search for a kid-friendly dude ranch vacation?

We've compiled a listing of dude ranches and riding vacation destinations that are child-friendly. Check the Equitrekking Vacation Guide's easy search function  to find kid-friendly destinations, as well as riding vacation spots with golf, beach riding, polo, spas, cattle drives, places where you can bring your own horse and more. Top20Ranches.com has great family friendly picks and EquitrekkingTravel.com also has a trip finder to search for kid-friendly riding vacation destinations.

What questions should I ask and what should I consider when booking a family ranch vacation?

Think about what type of dude ranch you want to experience. Do you want a large ranch or a small, intimate setting? Are amenities like a gym, Wi-Fi and a spa important to you and your family? If so, you might want to look for a resort dude ranch. If you want to really get away from it all, choose a more classic, down to earth dude ranch.

Think about your budget. Many ranches offer all inclusive week-long programs, making it easy to budget for your time away. Some have a la carte options or have extra costs for baby-sitting or additional actvitiies. Make sure to ask ahead and add it up to get the most value.

Consider your child's food needs and make sure to ask about any special dietary requirements. Find out about the formality of ranch meals to see if it suits your family's style.

Think about the ranch's location and how easy or hard it is to get there. Is your family into road trips and scenic drives or do you want a short commute to the nearest airport? Some ranches are convenient to airports and others are further afield. Think also about other attractions in the area, as you may want to add a trip to a national park or the Grand Canyon into your dude ranch getaway.

Find out about evening or early evening entertainment. Are there family friendly and kid-friendly options? Many ranches have cowboy singers, campfires, dancing and other quintessentially "ranch" entertainment that your family may enjoy.

What are some top-rated dude ranches for kids?

There are lots of great dude ranches for kids, but here are a few that stand out from the crowd.

The Resort at Paws Up in Montana - For parents looking for a luxury ranch experience and a great place for kids, this high-end ranch offers everything from horseback riding to nature education, paddle boats to kayak excursions and mountain biking for children ages 5 to 12. Activities are chosen based on the child's age with creative excursions including map reading and learning how to read a compass like Lewis and Clark and playing cowboy or cowgirl by painting your own cowboy hat, rope tying and lasso techniques.

Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona- For kids who want a real horse experience, Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson offers a 7-night horse camp for kids. If you want to see if your child is ready for the responsibility of at home riding lessons or taking care of their own horse, this is a great camp for your kid. With the help of counselors, kid campers are in charge of grooming, bathing, feeding, and saddling their own horse each day. Kids also enjoy learning to horseback ride, and fun riding games, like team penning and barrel racing. 

Drowsy Water Ranch, colorado

Campfire fun at Drowsy Water Ranch in Colorado.

Drowsy Water Ranch in Colorado- Ranked #1 Best Dude Ranch for Families by the "Family Vacation Critic" in 2011, this Colorado dude ranch has a popular Rangerider program, for kids 6 through 13. Kids get instruction in an arena before taking off on area trail rides. In addition to grooming a horse and learning to lasso, kids also gain other skills, including learning archery. There's also a program for kids under 5 and parents are welcome to join their kids on activities or ride off on their own. At only two hours from Denver, this is a convenient pick for many parents.

T Cross Ranch in Wyoming- This longtime Wyoming dude ranch offers extensive children's activities, including a Kids' Wrangler program, teaching children the basics of riding and roping and fun games on horseback, called Gymkhana. Innovative activities for kids include sagebrush golf, mud soccer, tubing and the classic s'mores around the campfire. With close proximity to Yellowstone National Park, this classic ranch is a popular pick for lovers of the great outdoors.

There are lots of things to consider based on your family and their needs, but with a little research, you can find a ranch to match your dude ranch dreams.


Check out more great kid-friendly ranch vacations in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide to great dude ranches, guest ranches, cattle drives and horse riding vacations and peruse Equitrekking's Top 20 Dude Ranches at Top20Ranches.com.

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