Amie O’Shaughnessy, editor of Ciao Bambino, has visited many countries, but some of her most memorable and amazing vacations have been spent in her own backyard in the western United States. She shares her top seven reasons to choose a family ranch vacation this summer.
Many parents fear that a vacation with kids means more work in a new location instead of a relaxing and refreshing holiday. The beauty of the ranch experience is the long list of amenities and services provided in a single place; guests don’t have to worry about the details and logistics of day-to-day meals and activities.Moreover, there is a huge range of ranch options to choose from—with thoughtful research, families are likely to find the “perfect” ranch that fulfills their specific needs.
1. Varied Activities
Ranches offer a huge range of activities for every age group. Some focus heavily on horseback riding, while others offer complete resort amenities like swimming, tennis, fitness centers, and spas. This infrastructure is available without getting in a car, and best of all, every family member can choose the individual activities that they want to do. Alternatively, the whole family can choose to experience an activity together.
One of the reasons why ranch vacations work so well for multi-generational trips is that it’s easy to satisfy a variety of interests and abilities. Families are generally so scheduled in their daily lives—it’s nice to have a break from the daily grind while on vacation. That said, guided activities are often the most memorable. Ranches make it easy to experience a bit of everything each day.
2. Kid’s Programs
Most of the truly family-oriented dude ranches offer organized kid’s programs, particularly Western riding instruction—a great opportunity for kids to learn to horseback ride. This enables children to get outdoors and interact with kids their age in a supervised environment.
Meanwhile, parents get some alone time. I love this!
Of course, not all kids programs are created equal, but the good ones are a blast and parents don’t need to worry about feeling “guilty” that they are dumping their kids. Note, age minimums vary greatly and some ranches do not have programs for toddlers (only babysitting). If you have young kids and want them to have fun in a group environment, understand exact age range requirements ahead of time.
3. Evening Activities
Many properties offer fun activities at night like campfires, music, and dancing. You can always opt out, but it’s nice to have something to do at night other than eat and go to bed. Plus, what kid doesn’t like a good campfire and s’mores?
4. Accommodation Options
Independent cabins generally work well for families as they offer private indoor and outdoor space, so many properties offer this set up. The majority of properties I’ve seen incorporate family dining in and as a consequence, many guest units do not have kitchens.
However, there are a few higher-end properties that offer fully equipped condos or homes like Spring Creek Ranch (www.springcreekranch.com) in Jackson, Wyoming and The Resort at Paws Up (www.pawsup.com) in Greenough, Montana.
It probably goes without saying, but many ranches are located in spectacular mountain settings and the focus for guests is experiencing and interacting with nature. This is a fantastic opportunity for kids to appreciate the environment, animals, and outdoor activities in general.
Eating can be a big part of the ranch experience. Some properties offer gourmet food and wine, while others focus on family-style, hearty meals. Regardless, the benefit for families is the fact that someone else is managing logistics for you, i.e. no groceries or menus to plan.
On the surface, this accommodation category appears expensive, but keep in mind that many properties are all-inclusive. When you look at all you are getting for the daily or weekly rate—meals, activities, housing, personalized service—ranch properties can be a good value.
In this economic environment, many properties are offering more flexibility in terms of minimum stay requirements and promotional pricing. Also, there are some properties that work on an a la carte basis; this gives guests more control of spending.
Some people actively seek a “real”, i.e. rustic, ranch experience. If this is not for you, there are posh options too. Make sure you read reviews to get a sense of the ambiance and atmosphere to ensure it matches what you want to experience.The following is a list of ranch options from the Ciao Bambino portfolio. For complete reviews, visit www.ciaobambino.com.
Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch, Quincy, CA
This is a true “cowboy” guest ranch with a great kids riding program. The property is family-oriented with a range of activities including onsite fishing ponds. We all loved our experience as there is something to do for every age group. We still talk about our adventure riding a mustang in a lake—bareback!
Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch – Stanley, ID
There are few views more spectacular than the one from the porch of the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch – the dramatic peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains dominate the setting. The 80-year-old ranch is authentic on the outside, but modern and comfortable inside.
Redhorse Mountain Ranch – Harrison, ID
The range of activities, including horse back riding, mountain biking, kayaking, challenge courses, camp fires, archery kept us busy. The ratio of staff to guest was excellent and the ranch host was eager accommodate us and to customize our vacation to meet our needs!
Smith Fork Ranch – Crawford, CO
Guests feel well taken care of with private services and gourmet food/wine, although the accommodations and facilities are “rustic’” enough to make it feel like a real ranch. There is less structure here then at other guest ranches—a nice combination of independence and group activities.
Spring Creek Ranch – Jackson, WY
Amazing views, incredible wildlife, casual but luxurious accommodations. Many family-oriented activities including horseback riding, swimming, spa, and tennis. Guest accommodation options include individual houses with in-house chefs.
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch – Tucson, AZ
The property has a laid-back ranch atmosphere—not too extravagant, but not too simple either—a nice balance. Close to Tuscon, but since the property borders public land, it feels secluded as well.
Some states have their own associations and resources such as the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association,(www.coloradoranch.com), Wyoming Dude Ranchers’ Association (www.wyomingdra.com), and Idaho Guest and Dude Ranch Association (www.idahodra.com).
By Amie O’Shaughnessy for PeterGreenberg.com. Amie is the editor of www.ciaobambino.com, a family travel blog and a worldwide guide to the best hotels and resorts for families.
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