There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a dude ranch. Grassy plains unfold for hundreds of acres underneath wide-open blue skies, while mountains or rivers (and often both) vein the surrounding landscape. Dude ranches have opened up the traditional American ranch lifestyle to tourists by converting working cattle ranches into vacation destinations, complete with accommodations, dining, and opportunities to interact with the animals that live on the ranch.
The best part? Dude ranches are perfect for the entire family. Many U.S. dude ranches offer activities to engage all ages, including trail rides, ropes courses, zip-lining, rock climbing, art programs, nature walks, and so much more.
“Dude ranches are perfect for family vacations, reunions, and multigenerational events,” said Sally Black, founder of Vacationkids Travel Agency and director of the Family Travel Association. “It's the perfect way for a family to disconnect from the everyday world and reconnect with what's important -- each other.”
Here are some great U.S. dude ranches that are fun for the whole family, from city slickers to country dwellers, grandparents to young kids, and everyone in between.
1. Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, Bigfork, Montana
Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Montana, is no stranger to family travel. In fact, the ranch has been owned by the Averill family for three generations. Family time is one of the pillars of the Flathead experience, and the ranch offers plenty of programs for the entire family.
For one, the ranch is home a unique children's program, where kids are free to roam the property and participate in kid-focused activities, including arts and crafts, water activities, rodeos, organized games, and a junior wrangler program.
The ranch also provides activities that families can do together, like barn dances and team penning (a horseback event where family members compete in an arena game that tests horsemanship and cow-wrangling ability).
Families can stay together in one of the luxury lodge accommodations that overlooks the lake. Keep in mind that while the rooms are equipped with Wi-Fi and are cozy, comfortable, and beautifully decorated, there is no television.
2. White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, Arizona
Unplug and hit the trails in the beautiful Red Rock Country just outside of Tucson, Arizona. At the White Stallion Ranch, owned and operated by the True family, families reconnect with each other and disconnect from outside stressors.
The family activities available include horseback riding, swimming, tennis, rock climbing, and chess. Families can also hike, play volleyball, ride fat-tire electric bikes, or hunker down in the 27-seat movie theater. Evening activities include art classes, line dancing, cowboy singers, campfires, and more. Another perk? Kids under five years old stay for free.
The ranch has 43 guest rooms, as well as the luxurious Hacienda, a five-bedroom, three-bathroom home that’s perfect for large families or reunions. Every guest room at the ranch has a private patio with views of the gardens, mountains, or corrals. Some rooms have patio fireplaces.
The ranch's Full American Plan rates include lodging, three meals daily, horseback riding, evening entertainment, and airport transfers.
3. Greenhorn Ranch, Quincy, California
Greenhorn Ranch is a working dude ranch in California's Lost Sierra. Established in 1962, it caters to greenhorns from around the world, giving families a genuine ranch experience including guided trail rides, horseback-riding lessons, demonstrations by expert wranglers, fishing, and more. The ranch sits on 600 acres and is home to more than 60 horses trained for family riding.
Greenhorn is also a place where cow wranglers in training can kick up their boots at the end of the day and relax. While the lodge has 12 rooms that accommodate two adults each, the creekside one-bedroom cabins offer a little more space and privacy for families. These rooms accommodate four to six guests each.
The ranch is located just a few hours from the Bay Area, Sacramento, and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. It offers an all-inclusive option that includes horseback riding, fishing, chuck-wagon dinners, mountain biking, all meals, a pool, a saloon, and more.
4. The Resort At Paws Up, Greenough, Montana
Raw, rugged wilderness meets five-star amenities at The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury Montana dude ranch. Surrounded by 37,000 acres of working cattle ranch, this elegant family-friendly getaway mixes sophistication and style with an unbridled experience of western Montana.
The Resort at Paws Up is family-owned itself, so it recognizes the importance of family time. The resort offers activities for the whole family, no matter the size or age range, including horseback riding, fly-fishing, river rafting, rappelling, and paintball.
Families can choose to stay at one of the resort’s luxury homes or beautifully appointed glamping tents. Adults will love the luxurious amenities, including the fine dining and spa services. Families also are entitled to discounted rates on accommodations with a five-night minimum stay. All-inclusive rates start at $681 per person per night.
5. The Red Rock Ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Close your eyes and picture an idyllic dude ranch. What you’re likely imagining is somewhere in Wyoming -- specifically in Jackson Hole. With Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the distance, an endless prairie, and shockingly blue skies, Wyoming is where dude ranches shine.
The Red Rock Ranch, just outside Jackson Hole, is a family ranch that has been in operation for more than 40 years. It’s a traditional dude ranch with modern amenities for a nature-meets-nurture kind of stay. Families can expect horseback riding, an engaging children’s program, wonderful homemade cuisine, and modern, western-style log cabins with fireplaces.
As part of the children’s program, kids will learn the ins and outs of horseback riding, care for their own specially chosen horses, swim, and play volleyball, horseshoes, and more. Teens can go on trail rides with the adults or form their own riding groups. And families with young children can hire the additional babysitting services provided at the ranch.
6. Vista Verde Ranch, Clark, Colorado
Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is a great family ski town, but when the snow melts, it makes a fantastic family summer destination as well. One of the more memorable ways to experience the area is to spend a family vacation at Vista Verde Ranch in nearby Clark, Colorado. This luxury resort has plenty of creature comforts, but it’s also a great place for people who love to be outside. The ranch offers everything from horse programs to fly-fishing and hiking. The indoor folks won't feel left out, either, since the ranch offers cooking classes, yoga, and a spa.
Whether they spend the whole day together or split up based on individual interests (only to regroup later for a family dinner, of course), families will have a ball at Vista Verde.
7. Crossed Sabres Ranch, Cody, Wyoming
Travel back in time to the Wild West with a stay at the Crossed Sabres Ranch in Cody, Wyoming. In the late 19th century, the ranch was only a group of wall tents. As interest in dude ranches grew, the accommodations evolved into something more sophisticated. Today, visitors can experience western-style ranch living with one- or two-bedroom cabins and jaw-dropping mountain views. The lodge, the heart of the ranch, is home to a gorgeous dining area, a saloon, a ranch store, a kitchen, and a reading room.
Activities on offer include trail riding, fly-fishing, a tour of Yellowstone National Park, clay shooting, rafting, archery, hiking, and the Cody Nite Rodeo. To make things easy, rates are all-inclusive and include airport transfers and three meals per day (as well as a bottomless cookie jar). A children’s program, evening entertainment, and special events are also included. Keep in mind that there is neither cell service nor Wi-Fi at the ranch.
8. French Broad Outpost Ranch, Del Rio, Tennessee
Take in the majesty of the great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with a stay at the French Broad Outpost Ranch. This frontier-style dude ranch, located on the banks of the French Broad River, is perfect for families who want to bond in the great outdoors. With five horseback-riding trails (and two trail rides daily), whitewater rafting, pioneer games, a children’s rodeo, horse painting, square dancing, cattle drives, and more, this is an action-packed getaway for the entire family.
Each lodge room can accommodate a family of four. There is also the Lone Star Hotel, a 19th-century-style building with seven rooms. The building can accommodate up to 21 guests. Large family groups tend to book the hotel so that everyone can be in the same building.
9. Red Reflet Guest Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming
At the base of the Bighorn Mountains is a dude ranch steeped in American history, recognized as the site of many battles between Native Americans and settlers in the days of westward expansion. The land is mesmerizing, with endless mountain ranges, bottomless canyons, mountain streams, and reflective lakes.
The dude ranch is the Red Reflet Guest Ranch, owned and operated by Bob and Laurence Kaplan, two world-traveling pilots with a passion for ranch life. Guests at Red Reflet become part of Bob and Laurence's family, and the couple creates a wonderful atmosphere for families to reconnect. The two host almost all the meals, take part in the activities, and promote inclusion and friendship.
A stay at Red Reflet Ranch is all-inclusive and offers unlimited activities, from horseback riding and cattle activities to ATV exploration, cooking classes, and more. There is also fishing, a fitness center, yoga, stargazing, and much more.
The accommodations are comfortable and feature western-style décor. The ranch house has been recently remodeled and sleeps up to 14; it is best for large families or groups and includes a yard, pond, and tree house. There are also three separate chalets for smaller groups.
10. C Lazy U Ranch, Granby, Colorado
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, C Lazy U is one of Colorado's top luxury guest ranches. It is easily accessible from Denver, though still a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors to the ranch can explore the rich traditions of the American West and bond over a little family adventure. The core programming is anchored in horsemanship and horseback riding. The family-owned dude ranch also offers a children's program, nightly entertainment, Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing, swimming, tennis, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, a zip-line and ropes course, archery, Ranger jeep tours, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and more.
There are 40 guest accommodations, including individual rooms and private cabins. All the rooms have been renovated over the last few years. The cabins have refrigerators, L'Occitane products, robes, Keurig coffee makers, and more. Some rooms have fireplaces.
Photo Credit: The Red Rock Ranch
Photo Credit: Vista Verde Ranch