Dude Ranch Vacations Focused on Youthful Hearts
Let’s all make 2021 the summer of the child and get them all back to nature and out of lockdown. There is no better place than at a Dude Ranch to get that done. Multigenerational travel, reunions, weddings, birthdays, it’s all happening this summer. Many children have been under lockdown, not able to attend school or sports, and all have been kept from friends, family, hobbies and passions. This summer is the summer for a child to be free, and enjoy what the world once offered. Forget video games, online school and zoom birthdays. Let children rediscover the best parts of youth in the most scenic places in the West. Whether on horse, crafting, hiking, fishing, rafting, there is an educational and experiential moment for everyone in the family at a dude ranch.
Little Wranglers and Lassoing Teens
The Jackson Hole locale makes for easy transportation to and from the ranch whether via car or airplane. Triangle X is open May through October and can accommodate up to 75 guests. However, it’s their summer season with two different age children’s programs that run mid-June through late August that beckon to youth of all ages.
The Little Wrangler Program allows children the freedom to spend every second of the day outside with peers of the same age. Riding is the main activity for kids and the youth rides are usually broken into three different age groups. Kids are each assigned their own personal mount from a group of very experienced saddle horses. Parents are always welcome to accompany their children on the kid’s rides (if parents think they can keep up).
When not riding, the kid’s wranglers guide the children in swimming trips, horse painting, wildlife spotting, and several other fun destinations in the remarkable beauty of Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Teton Wilderness.
For the teens and young adults ages 13 to 19, there are programs and rides specifically designed including an overnight ride where teens ride out to an old cowboy camp and spend the evening cooking their dinner over an open campfire, followed by a night of sleeping under the stars (camping gear is provided). Supervised by a male and female chaperone, teens are sure to enjoy their night out on the range.
Located adjacent to Glacier National Park, the year-round, 35-person guest ranch is remote, tranquil, and well-equipped to handle the littlest of cowpokes. During summer season, the children can begin to enjoy ranch life as young as three years of age. For the small fries, ages three and under, there is limited babysitting (based on availability) so the adults can enjoy the trails together and older siblings can also enjoy their own programming. Age-appropriate ranch activities and fun are part of the babysitting such as feeding animals, walking (or being strolled) along ranch property, healthy snacks, time with different members of the ranch crew, and most importantly, first dibs on the oven-fresh cookies.
For the cowpokes ages four to six years, the ranch’s official program allows kids to enjoy horseback riding and experience a variety of Montana-oriented activities such as pony rides, arena games on horseback, horsemanship lessons, scavenger hunts, Montana bingo, arts & crafts, and can even become a “Montana Picasso” as children can paint a horse!
For children ages seven to eleven, the Junior Wranglers program gets kids out daily on rides with adults as well as special Junior Cowpokes Rides for any child that does not want to do longer rides with their parents. Junior Wranglers will enjoy miles of trail rides and games in the arena. Lead by counselors, each cowpoke team will also get to swim, fish and explore the majestic Montana country.
Mountains of Activity
Lost Valley Ranch is the closest dude ranch to Denver International Airport, roughly a 45-minute drive. The year-round ranch offers a riding season March through November, and an extremely organized, multi-faceted children’s program that is so captivating, many children yearn to return as counselors and wranglers themselves.
For children ages two and younger, there is one-on-one babysitting services available at a nominal hourly rate. For ages three to five years, it’s time to wrangle up with the counselors. And a daily theme such as cowboys and cowgirls, pirates, superheroes, and more. Activities and crafts are formatted in conjunction with the theme of the day. Children have the opportunity to ride a horse led by their child supervisor. Children who aren’t interested in horseback riding will enjoy supervised activities with counselors including fun crafts, nature walks, playground games and storytelling.
For ranchers ages six to twelve years, it’s time to get into full ranch mode. The week begins meeting the ranch family followed by preparation for their first ride of the week. Children have opportunities to learn how to mount and dismount their horse properly, walk their horse in the corral and receive riding instructions from the staff before hitting the trails for a ride. The little wranglers also get to fish, play games in the field, have a pool party, tube down Goose Creek, hike and so much more.
The older teens have their own program at Lost Valley Ranch. Horseback riding is offered daily and comes with numerous opportunities to receive instruction and therefore, learn and grow in this skill. Classics like capture the flag, volleyball, hiking, fishing, barrel racing and an evening dance on Tuesday night just touch on the authentic, age-appropriate fun.
The only Canadian ranch on this exclusive list, there is certainly a classic approach to their full-service children’s program. While the 50-guest ranch is open late May through the first week in October, it’s the summer children’s focus that is the feature. The kids riding program is rooted in the ranch’s experienced kids horses that have had an incredible life on the ranch and know the surrounding terrain of Banff and Lake Louise and the Waterton – Glacier forests.
Families at the ranch always have the option of riding together, but most youth opt for the kid’s rides, organized based on age and ability. Youth rides often find more interesting adventures than the typical ride such as riding out and building forts, catching frogs, or gold panning all might be a Wednesday afternoon.
While not riding, Three Bars offers many other adventures, such as rafting, hiking, fly fishing, mountain biking, skeet shooting, cook-outs, stunning 7,500-square-foot main lodge, pool, hot tub, tennis, and fitness center. During summer evenings guests are lead in volleyball, campfires, fire engine games, a fun casino night, performance horse demonstrations, and other activities.
The ranch is bordered by a blue-ribbon, fly-fishing river, apt for any fisher or daydreamer. The ranch petting zoo is also a favorite and children have plenty of opportunity to feed the sheep and gather eggs from the chickens, things perhaps their grandparents did when they were younger.
Wonder of Authentic Western Activity
Due to location and proximity to both Tucson International and Phoenix Sky Harbor airports, the year-round 75-person guest ranch has children’s programming during characteristically off-seasons. Not just programming, so much activity and Western exposure, there simply isn’t enough time for the busiest of child to enjoy all the opportunity at the ranch.
Each week, regardless of season, and always age dependent, children will have their choice of horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, learning or brushing up on skills at the shooting range, exploring the desert on E-bikes, basketball, tennis, volleyball, outdoor swimming, peer-challenged Foosball, ping pong, shuffleboard, pool table, air hockey, or board games and so much more.
Come evening, it’s also a fun time to reunite with new and old ranch friends. Classic Westerns are played in the 27-seat movie theatre, a perfect cool down to a sizzling summer day. The petting zoo, hayrides, cookouts, art classes, critter night, western line dancing, cowboy singers, campfires, western entertainers, educational presenters of local history and nature should keep the youth busy and possibly tuckered out. The best part, White Stallion is one of the rare ranches that runs expansive year-round children’s options.
A True Child’s Paradise
Nestled near Yellowstone National Park is the 70-guest person Paradise Ranch, aptly named for its legendary surroundings. The luxury dude ranch operates May through October; however, for the best in activity for 21 and under, ideal times are the second week of June through the second week of August. That is when the ranch truly can capture the best of the natural world and expose children to guided activity.
During typical weeks, children are offered daily horseback riding and instruction, arts and crafts, pony rides, archery, talent show, a fishing derby, kid’s rodeo, and even overnight pack trips, all age appropriate. Paradise Ranch really focuses on the child and understands the needs of various ages. They design to their program to be an honest to goodness brand with flexibility. It is designed so parents can pick and choose time spent as a family and time spent in individual pursuits. The program takes all ages from infants through teens.
This ranch also offers an excellent fly-fishing program with instruction, trout ponds, a full array of guided trips and even a full-service fly shop. Nightly activities include but are not limited to square dance, cowboy swing dance, chuck wagon ride with dinner and a low-pressure family talent night. Paradise is truly recognized for the Young Bucks kid’s program designed to reattach children to the great outdoors and give parents a chance for some solo time to enjoy their own pursuits during the day.
For the Love of the Water
Water-surrounded Flathead Lake Lodge is legendary for their summer program due to the number of children they can accommodate and the abundance of water. The 120-person guest ranch has three distinct programs that include some of the most innovative adventure.
Children ages six years and younger have the option of daily arts and crafts and something just for them, special attention at the stables. The younger kids are able to take pony rides around the barn area led by a family member and wrangler. For children ages six years and older, they may ride their own horse on the mountain trails with the experienced Montana wranglers.
The next level is the Junior Wrangler Program, a great opportunity for children to learn the basics of horse care and handling by learning from the wranglers throughout the week. Every day children have opportunities to help brush, handle and care for the horses.
Teens need their own space and there are daily specific rides for guests 13 to 18 years of age. This allows our teenage guests to get to know each other and spend time together out on the trails. The lakefront is always a popular spot for teens. Many teens enjoy stand up paddle boarding, wake boarding, water skiing, or knee boarding off the ski dock, a great opportunity for experienced or first-time skiers! There is also a pool to lounge on hot afternoons, as are the canoes and kayaks which are always available.
This is the one ranch where the focus is for older children. There is no dedicated children’s program, rather, children ages eight and over ride, dine and do all activities with their parents. The Hideout is a riding ranch where the European-American owners raise and train most of the horses, including a string of Mustangs. Guests have abundant opportunity for all aspects of a working ranch—team penning, cattle games, and real cattle work on the range.
The upscale, authentic working cattle ranch has a week capacity of 25 guests and operates April through November with selective winter riding, photography and clinic weeks. Guests will be awestruck by scenery and proximity to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with easy access from Cody and Jackson Hole.
Everyone, including children, from advanced riders to beginners will be very comfortable and paired with appropriate horse, whether that is high-end horses or safe, willing horses. Most of the staff and horses are year-round on ranch, making them extremely knowledgeable of animal husbandry and geography, which comes in handy, as there are many guests who never see the same trail twice.
The Hideout also offers expertly-guided fly-fishing, trapshooting, archery, hiking, 4×4 tours and an outdoor pool with a gorgeous view of the Bighorn Mountains. We just can’t think of a better way to get the kids back into Nature than at The Hideout Ranch Wyoming.
Wild West for Tween + Teen
One of the few luxury dude ranches in the entire state of Idaho, where kids can get back to nature is the Western Pleasure Ranch which is a family-owned, year-round, 20-guest haven. The children’s program runs during the summer months and is geared for children ages eight to eighteen, and is specifically known for its educational components. The youthful guests truly get a hands-on experience with their horse as the centerpiece of the program.
Upon arriving at the ranch, children receive the ranch’s horsemanship manual to help expand their learning experience. The program starts on Monday morning and is concluded on Thursday evening with a horse show, complete with trophies and ribbons. Children will be responsible for their own horse and equipment for the week where they will learn about horse husbandry skills and equipment care each day building on what they learned the day before. Their horse will become a doorway to experiences and achievements in the great outdoors.
Children, and all ranch guests also have the opportunity for mountain biking, bird watching, cattle work, E-bikes, fly-fishing, hiking, archery, shooting sports, river rafting, additional water sports and much more. What every child wants this summer is to get outside and be a kid again.
Another unique, add-on option is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the ranch to Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort located near Paradise Montana to spend two nights. For more than a century, this scenic resort on the Clark Fork River has provided their guests with relaxation and renewal through healthy leisure. To ensure the maximum therapeutic benefits, their pools are chemical-free and have constantly flowing spring water. They offer both cabin type accommodation or lodge rooms.
Longing for the Luxurious Lodge or Rainbow of Activities
This is one of the most historic, high-altitude adventures in the West! Located outside of the town of Antonito, Colorado, family-owned Rainbow Trout Ranch has one of the most impressive lodges in America! Built in the 1920s, the 18,000-sqaure-foot, wooden masterpiece is now the centerpiece of entertainment for the 55-guest person ranch. The lodge is perched on a hill overlooking the horse pastures and corrals where the ranch breeds and maintains a herd of nearly 150.
Children can begin mounting up at age three and ride around the ranch, but it’s when they turn six years of age, the program truly begins. This is a robust program, run for decades, and broken out weekly into appropriate ages. Wranglers and counselors ride with the children daily and then offer a huge array of activity in the afternoon including swimming in the heated, above ground pool, hiking, fishing, trap shooting, birding, archery, water sports, volleyball, basketball and so much more! See what we mean the summer of the child.
Wait, there’s a completely different teen program that is not as structured as the other. There’s still riding, hiking, frisbee golf and a host of other onsite activity, but teens are also able to choose excursions such as the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Monument, Colorado Gator Farm, discovered abandoned gold mines and much more.
Does the inner child, and your own want in on the most educational and memorable summer experience? What if your favorite ranch is booked, or the dates don’t work out? Every ranch will work with families for the 2022 season to ensure the summer of the child never, ever has to go away again!