This past summer our family decided to try a dude ranch vacation, and I have to admit I was apprehensive at first. When my husband was a child, his family visited a dude ranch in Colorado and he said it was the best vacation ever.
Our family has many travel experiences under our belts, but this felt a bit out of our comfort zone. Our dude ranch adventure took us out west to Tumbling River Ranch in Grant, Colorado, about an hour outside of Denver. Thankfully, we had nothing to worry about, because all of the fears we had before our visit simply proved to be unfounded. Here are some of the biggest myths about dude ranch vacations and why they simply aren’t true.
Myth #1: There’s nothing to do at a dude ranch except riding horses.
While horseback riding plays a big part of a dude ranch vacation, there’s so much more to do. At Tumbling River Ranch, we had different activity options every day. One day my husband went fly fishing, the kids went rock climbing, and I took a yoga class and had a massage. Another day we went white water rafting through Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River. Every night there was a different activity after dinner from sunset wagon rides to a mountain man telling stories around the fire. If you wanted to ride horses every day, you certainly could, but it was far from the only thing to do.
Myth #2: Kids have to be a certain age to enjoy a dude ranch vacation.
While it is true older children may be able to participate in more activities, young ones won’t miss out on any of the fun. At Tumbling River, children ages 3-11 can participate in the kid’s program, including horseback riding, playing with the farm animals, fishing, swimming, and much more. We had a family during our stay with a newborn and 6-year-old twin girls. The newborn stayed with mom most of the time, but her girls were off and riding horses like pros. They even participated in the family rodeo at the end of the week! So don’t leave the young ones at home, a dude ranch is made for all ages.
Teens won’t be bored either. Our boys had a blast playing ga-ga ball and “capture the flag” with other teens and counselors. They had their own dinners, went hiking together, and even enjoyed an overnight campout for teens and adults only. Our boys didn’t want to leave when it was over.
Myth #3: There will be dust everywhere.
Let me start by saying this was one of my biggest worries. I hate dirt (and bugs), and I was sure it was going to be all over our cabin and everywhere we went. The truth is, there is dirt (it is a ranch after all), but it stays where it should. You take your boots off in the house and wash off before you get in bed. If dust bothers you, I would recommend bringing a bandana to put around your face, because dust does kick up on the trail and around the horses.
Myth #4: Dude ranch accommodation is very basic.
At Tumbling River, we stayed in “The Ranch House,” a massive three-story log cabin. The boys had a floor to themselves with three bedrooms, each with a bathroom, and we had the top floor with a living room, small kitchen, bedroom, and bath. The furnishings were rustic and beautiful. Everything was well maintained and sparkling clean. We had a cabin cleaning staff that came in every day to straighten up (I had to thank them immensely for picking up after our boys), and they would leave the place spic and span. There are several other cabins around the property and those units are just as beautiful and clean.
The property also had a swimming pool area with stunning landscaping, and all of the common areas were spotless. I had envisioned a basic cabin with inadequate heating and water. I was so pleasantly surprised.
Myth #5: Dude ranch food is mediocre.
I can’t speak for all dude ranches, but the food at Tumbling River is downright fantastic. Every morning we couldn’t wait to see what the chef would prepare. We had fajita and hamburger cookouts, an outdoor pancake breakfast, and even a fancy adults-only dinner. Our kids were in love with the cowboy cookies and cinnamon rolls, and couldn’t get enough. The food at Tumbling River is so good, they even have a cookbook they sell, and let me tell you, it was a popular souvenir for many guests.
Myth #6: You have to have good horse skills to visit a dude ranch.
Obviously, most children won’t have very good horse skills. Our youngest had only been on a horse one other time prior to our visit to Tumbling River. Honestly, I didn’t even think about this before we went because I assumed he would be off doing other things if he didn’t want to ride horses. Thankfully, the owners of Tumbling River, Megan and Scott, have hired a wonderful staff. Before you even head out on the trail, you spend an hour or so going over all the basic horse handling and riding skills. Even a novice will feel comfortable riding horses by the end of the week.
Families may think a dude ranch vacation is out of their comfort zone, but I assure you, it is one of the best vacations you can ever take with your children. Not only are they learning about animals, they are meeting other kids, and spending a lot of time outdoors and unplugged. It’s an experience that they’ll never forget.
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