FishingA herd of horses neigh at your approach while the sun gently slips behind the surrounding mountains. The distant clanging of a bell announces dinner. Slightly sweaty but exhilarated and astride your own mount, you challenge your children – or grandchildren — to a race back to the ranch. You have entered the dude ranch zone, a perfect setting for your family’s vacation.

Leave the “wish you were here” postcards at the general store and bring the whole family along. Who wants to read about your vacation when they can experience it first-hand themselves? Perhaps that’s why multi-generational vacations are one of the most popular travel trends today. Families (including this traveling grandmom) are made to cowgirl- and cowboy-up at dude ranches, which offer an outdoor invitation to relax and enjoy an Old West experience with your entire family.

Dude ranches are scattered throughout the West and come in all shapes and size. I can’t think of a better setting for your multi-generational family to kick up their heels or kick-back, dude ranches give travelers a first-hand taste of the good old fashioned outdoors – ranch-style. 

Forget the horse-only dude ranch stereotype. Dude ranches are not limited to horse people, providing multiple activities for those horse-shy family members, such as hiking or fishing. The great outdoors provides tons of activities, although some ranches opt to stock their lakes or Horseback_ridingstreams.


Dip your fishing pole into the lake and work the line together to bring in a 10-pound trout. Sit around the camp fire, poke a stick into the flames and roast marshmallows, arm-in-arm, singing and cementing the family relationship. Take a hike up, up, up into the rugged mountains and see vistas that will be forever imprinted into your memory. Or make it a family day and go to the small town’s rodeo.  All this and more is waiting for you and your family at a dude ranch.

Three years ago, my family (my hubby, 11-year-old-stepdaughter and I) visited the King Mountain Ranch. Located 100 miles northwest of Denver, King Mountain ranch is a full-service guest ranch nestled at 9,000 square feet high in a secluded mountain valley. The ranch is completely surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest . This is one of the ranches that allow you to visit for 1 day or 7 — we choose a long weekend. The experience brought us all closer together — from trail riding atop horses to fishing to gathering around the fireplace. The wranglers were patient with my stepdaughter, who was a bit horse-shy, but when she left, she didn’t hesitate to get on a horse. I can’t wait to take my grandchildren — or the whole family! 

Dude ranches offer all-inclusive vacation packages that bundle a full week of activities, such as trail rides, swimming, fishing and hayrides with fabulous food and comfortable lodging for one low price. Often dude ranch packages can be more affordable than a six-day theme park vacation. Many ranches also offer “Kids Stay Free” and even “Grandparents Stay Free” weeks; so if you plan your trip right, you can save even more. Some even offer shorter stays.

For more discounts, take a look at your winter vacation. Some dude ranches cater to the snow-lovers, offering sledding, cross-country or downhill skiing, snowshoeing or ice fishing.

To read more about dude ranches and my top suggestions, click here.

Photos taken at King Mountain Ranch 
Photo credits:  ©Diana Rowe