A dude or guest ranch vacation provides families the opportunity to learn horsemanship in an authentic and scenic setting. Here are five places where cowboys and cowgirls can enjoy the wide-open spaces:
1 Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, Parshall, Colo.: Check into a log cabin on a stretch of the Colorado River or spread out in the ranch house before gearing up for a week of Western fun. Days are filled with riding into the nearby hills, fly-fishing and mountain biking. Guests 13 and older can whip across the river at speeds up to 35 miles an hour on the ranch’s new 1,500-foot zip line. Evening entertainment includes game night, talent shows, hayrides, campfire singalongs and stargazing.
2 Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Jasper, Ark.: Mount up for a day of trail riding through the scenic Buffalo River Wilderness. This northern Arkansas ranch provides riding instruction for children as young as age 3, accompanied by a qualified counselor in a riding arena. Experienced and adventuresome equestrians can access challenging and rugged terrain. Throughout the week, families can enjoy breakfast rides as well as mornings and afternoons on the trail where Ozark meadows, sandstone formations and bluffs provide a fitting backdrop. Other family favorites include zip-lining, canoeing, visiting the petting zoo and wagon rides.
3 Drowsy Water Ranch, Granby, Colo.: You’ll be warmly welcomed by the Fosha family with a “howdy” when you wind your way into the mountain valley ranch where they’ve been hosting dudes since 1977. The children’s program (which includes care for infants) provides age- and experience-appropriate horseback riding, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities for young cowboys and cowgirls. The whole family can learn to trot and lope and practice their skills in the corral and on scenic mountain trails. Come sundown, enjoy a tasty family-style meal, then learn to square dance with assistance from ranch wranglers.
4 320 Guest Ranch, Big Sky, Mont.: Wake to the wide Montana sky and prepare for a day of hiking, horseback riding and fly-fishing on the ranch’s private stretch of the Gallatin River, made famous by the film “A River Runs Through It.” Don’t miss the weekly pig roast or the wagon or horseback ride, culminating in a riverside barbecue. When the snow falls, cozy up for sleigh rides or slap on the skis for a scenic adventure. The 320’s proximity to nearby Yellowstone National Park provides day-trip options or an ideal extension to your ranch experience.
5 Geronimo Trails Ranch, Winston, N.M.: Ride through the same landscape that captivated Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Ponderosa pines, lush meadows and deep canyons of the Gila River National Forest were also home to the man for whom the ranch is named. Today, families enjoy horseback- and hiking-trail time, roping and riding lessons and rodeo games. There’s also wildlife watching, musical entertainment and s’mores at the campfire.