Don’t fence me in! Being a scenery starved city dweller, I always want to answer the call of the wild when I’m on vacation. I dream about hiking in the mountains and kayaking crystal clear lakes. What I don’t dream about is schlepping and setting up camping equipment.
Not wild about working on vacation, either? Dude ranches are a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of America’s West, without ever having to roll up a sleeping bag! Many dude ranches are set in or next to national parks, like Wyoming’s Lost Creek Ranch with its breathtaking views of the Grand Tetons.
Kids as young as six can go out on rides. And if you have family members of different ability levels, riding instructors will bring your little ones out on a beginner group ride, while you can enjoy a more rigorous outing.
When we were done horsin’ around, we’d head over to the pool, with its postcard-perfect view of the surrounding mountains. The adjacent tennis court and basketball court were a fun place for my teens to hang out as well. Every day from 4 – 6pm Lost Creek hosted the kids in a kids club, which would often turn into a fun pool party. My daughter couldn’t wait to go each day. Needless to say her parents couldn’t wait for the downtime each afternoon! A two hour window to read a book… I’ll take it!
Think dude ranches will be serving up franks-n-beans? Try elk osso bucco and fresh salmon! Although they did have a good old-fashioned cookout one night, complete with a cowboy crooner and a campfire sing-along.
Lost Creek has plenty of activities for every age. The skeet shooting lessons were right on target with my teens. Not the sort of thing we usually get to do in the big city where we live! Friendly, expert instruction made it another great memory of our visit out West. They even let the kids try their hand at branding that night… not on horses, but on their own belts and boots, a great souvenir! Other activities include stargazing with a visiting astronomer, a weekly river rafting trip, line dancing parties and a visit to the Jackson Hole Rodeo.
Not all ranches are created equal. Some are more rustic, others have older age limits for children and minimal childrens’ activities. The Dude Ranchers’ Association, representing more than 100 of the best dude ranches in the United States and Canada, will steer you in the right direction. Its website, duderanch.org, allows you to search ranches by size, location and activities.