Hey, dude! Have you ever considered a dude ranch for your family? Get a TravelingMom’s take on the dude ranch vacation experience at White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Take a peek at the dining, horsebacking riding, and amenities you might not expect. Plus, learn why your kids may be ready for a dude ranch family vacation sooner than you think.
Why a Dude Ranch Family Vacation?
Like many travelers, dude ranches were not exactly on my family travel radar. Not because I was unaware of them, but rather because I thought that my kids (ages 8 and 4) were still too young for a dude ranch family vacation. After a serendipitous visit this fall to White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, however, we are officially hooked.
White Stallion certainly gets most of the credit for turning us into ranch converts. It is set up well for family travelers while still serving other visitor demographics like solo female travelers and couples too. It has a long and storied history as a guest ranch under the stewardship of the True Family who made us feel like family too.
With lots of activities around the ranch beyond riding, kid-friendly comfort food served at every meal, and a welcoming atmosphere, our kids felt at home while testing the waters on brand new adventures.
And we felt better knowing that White Stallion Ranch is the top-rated accommodation in Tucson on TripAdvisor for 6 years running. With a 65% returning guest rate, it seems many other guests agree.
What Works for Families at White Stallion Ranch
- Family suite accommodations that sleep up to 5.
- A wide variety of non-riding activities for kids, including a game room, movie theater, petting zoo, playground, and pool.
- Kids as young as 5 can trail ride (many ranches have a higher minimum age for riding).
- Kids under 5 stay free.
- Proximity to other family-friendly activities and outings in Tucson.
- Kid-friendly evening entertainment, including a cowboy singer, line-dancing, and art lessons.
- Unplugged time together as a family (but not too unplugged, as WiFi is available all over the ranch when you need it!)
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- The 7 p.m. dinner hour may be a bit late for tired kids worn out from riding and swimming.
- No kids club or childcare for families with children too young to ride. Adults will need to trade off caring for younger kids – one rides while the other stays behind.
Overview of the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson
White Stallion Ranch is located on the north side of Tucson, Arizona adjacent to Saguaro National Park. As a result, it is more accessible than many dude ranches that are far removed from civilization. With young kids, we appreciated the reasonable travel time getting there.
White Stallion is the dude ranch equivalent of an all-inclusive resort. It offers an American Plan that includes lodging, activities like riding, and three meals a day. Kids under 5 years of age stay totally free. The ranch consists of a cluster of Southwestern adobe buildings that blend seamlessly into the landscape.
As with many all-inclusive resorts, you can stay on property for an entire week and find plenty to do. Many of the ranch activities are centered around riding, but not overwhelmingly so for beginners like us. The ranch ultimately has the flexibility to allow families to build a daily activity program that works for them. You can also leave and explore Tucson as we did on Sunday, the horses’ day off.
White Stallion Rooms & Suites
White Stallion Ranch has a wide variety of 43 guest rooms and one 5 bedroom guest house to fit every kind of traveling family. Rooms and common areas are all decorated in a luxury Southwestern style that embraces the ranch theme without overdoing it. With no TVs or phones, the rooms give families time together without distractions.
My family stayed in one of the newer family suites. Six of these families suites are available and each sleep up to five people. The suites have a master bedroom with a king bed and an adjoining second bedroom with two twin beds as well as a twin daybed. The setup is ideal for families who need separate spaces to accommodate different bedtimes (or just for personal space and perhaps sanity).
The bathroom attached to the master was spacious enough for all four of us to maneuver around each other to get ready. It had ample counter space as well as a separate room with the bathtub/shower and toilet.
There were several small touches in the rooms that stood out for family travelers. The mini fridge was ideal for keeping snacks and drinks cold for our kids who were ravenous after activities. I particularly appreciated the number of drawers and shelves in the room. I found that I could unpack the whole family into them with space to spare, a rarity in most hotel rooms. Our family suite also had a patio with tables and chairs to sit outside on cool mornings and take in the scenery from the fascinating cactus garden adjacent to the room.
Amenities at White Stallion Ranch
As with all dude ranches, the most obvious reason to come is access to horseback riding. Every ranch does their riding program a little differently. My family loved how White Stallion’s process ran like a well-oiled machine.
Guests sign up nightly for their choice of rides the next day, classified as either slow or fast. Kids can join slow rides as young as 5 and fast rides after passing a riding test at age 8. There are a few adults-only rides as well, such as the afternoon “Beer & Cheetos” ride my husband enjoyed (a wine and cheese ride is available too if you are classier than he is). Most rides are 1-2 hours long so you can build a full day’s slate of riding or just one or two excursions, depending on your interests.
At ride time, guests line up by the barn and the wranglers bring out the horses quickly and efficiently already saddled up to go. Guests are assigned the same horse the entire time they are there for continuity. Within 5 minutes, the entire group is mounted and sets off into the desert for the ride. We loved that there was so little waiting and so much organization, which meant we really maximized our riding time.
Our 4-year-old son was too young for the trail riding program, but we arranged a special pony ride for him one day. The barn staff put him on a horse, and a wrangler led the horse down the road so he could play cowboy for a bit.
Other Activities & Amenities
While many ranches are focused entirely on equestrian activities, White Stallion has quite a few activities beyond just the horses. There’s no supervised kids club but the game room was undoubtedly a major highlight. It had an air hockey table, Pac-Man video game, pool table, foosball table, board games, Legos, and more. Next door to the game room is the ranch’s “movie theater” where guests can load up a DVD on demand to watch in movie theater seating.
Just outside of the game room is a small playground with swings and slide. Even though we experienced near 100-degree heat in early October in Arizona, my son was determined to spend quite a bit of time there. Behind the game room are sport courts with basketball and tennis. A petting zoo is even available as well as a gift shop with plenty of Western attire and gifts for the entire family.
No vacation to the Arizona desert is complete without a pool. White Stallion’s pool is basic but just what my kids needed on hot afternoons. There’s also a wooden planked hot tub that looked like something out of a Western movie and made everyone smile. While my husband and I didn’t have time to make a spa appointment with young kids in tow, the rates for massages and other treatments at the on-site spa were quite reasonable for parents able to indulge in some pampering.
Last but certainly not least is the evening entertainment. White Stallion Ranch has an activity of some sort every evening after dinner that helps guests mix and mingle. In our three evenings there, we went line dancing, listened to old country tunes from a cowboy singer, and painted spirit animals with a local artist.
Dining at White Stallion Ranch
With so many activities, we found that everyone in our family worked up a healthy appetite. Luckily, White Stallion Ranch had plenty of hearty food to satisfy us. If you are expecting fine dining, however, some expectation adjustment is probably needed.
While the ranch is fairly luxurious, the food is down-home cooking served buffet style. For families with little picky eaters like ours, dishes like pasta and Mexican quesadillas worked well. For guests looking for a foodie or culinary adventure, it won’t quite fit the bill.
Breakfast at the Ranch or on the Trail
My family’s favorite meal of the day was breakfast. Breakfast includes a small buffet with made to order hot breakfast options. My children enjoyed ordering giant pancakes and plates of bacon while my husband and I opted for a breakfast burrito or eggs and sausage to start our day.
On some mornings, a breakfast ride is available where meals are served out on the trail. The ride was a favorite of my daughter and me who took part one morning during our stay.
Lunch and Dinner
Lunch is served at 12:30 pm and contains hot options as well as sandwich fixings. Because riding lessons are at 1:00 every day, lunch is a speedy affair for many. The buffet-style options, however, make a quick bite possible.
Dinner is available at a single seating every evening at 7 pm. From 6 to 7 pm beforehand, guests gather in the lobby to socialize and have a pre-dinner snack and drink. We loved the self-service honor bar in the lobby where we could grab a (reasonably priced) soda, beer, or margarita. We looked forward to the evening ritual of socializing while playing pool or sitting at the bar, complete with saddle bar stools that our kids adored.
With our younger child, we did find the 7 pm timing (meant to maximize daylight riding hours) to a bit challenging. On the first night, exhausted from travel and an afternoon in the pool, he fell asleep in my arms by 7:15 at the dinner table. Our 8-year-old, however, managed just fine with a later dinner hour thanks to the pre-dinner snacks.