When you think of dude ranches, you may have visions of "City Slickers" and burly cowboys, franks and beans, and hard work in the saddle. But dude ranches and guest ranches are a far cry from the movies. Promising a vacation in the Great Outdoors, dude ranches and guest ranches are centered round horses and provide families a chance to explore parks and trails on horseback. More rustic, true dude ranches will have you doing nothing more than riding a horse by day and sitting around a campfire by night. Others take the glamorous route and may feature five-star accommodations and luxurious spas. Of course, there are plenty of places in between, meaning every member of the family can find a way to entertain their inner cowpoke.

Written by Diana Lambdin Meyers and Lissa Harnish Poirot
Featuring an 8,000-square-foot, rustic log recently remodeled to include a full-service spa, home theatre, library, pool and fine dining, this dude ranch provides a home-away-from-home while enjoying the ranch. But, forget the luxury and enjoy the ranch's Pack Trips that provide a true sense of the working cattle in the Wild West. Following wranglers on trails on horseback, days end at campsites where you'll gather around the fire for dinner. Back at the resort, kids may prefer the programs geared for ages 2 to 12, including nature-based crafts, sleeping in a tepee and learning the ropes in a junior wrangler program.

Read our review of the Triangle C Dude Ranch.

In Texas, nothing is done small, and this 1,500-acre ranch in Hill Country is big on wide-open spaces. In operation since 1856, the ranch's history has been featured in "Lonesome Dove." Of course, the ranch is all about horses and provides group and private rides for riders of various skill levels. Sticking with a Western theme, families can play horseshoes, enjoy wagon rides and watch Western flicks. Or, hunt for fossils, join a scavenger hunt, bike, hike and canoe.

No need for tents at Wildcatter. Sixteen luxurious suites that include stone fireplaces are available in its Cabin Suites, as are rooms aplenty in the ranch's hotel. For a more unique experience, rent out the 2-bedroom Homestead cottage, Wildcatter's original ranch house, or O.T.'s Cabin, a two-bedroom, 2-bath guesthouse with full kitchen, dining room and living room.

Read our review of the Wildcatter Ranch.

Florida isn't all theme parks and beaches. Cowboys and cowgirls can enjoy this authentic dude ranch in Central Florida and ride horses throughout the property and its trails, improve horseback riding skills and enjoy championship rodeos on Saturday nights. Old-fashioned hayrides, trap and skeet shooting, a petting farm, and catch and release pond are also featured. Other exciting activities include zip lining, rock climbing, miniature golf and air boat rides. BBQ facilities are available if you feel like grilling out over an open fire, or enjoy the ranch's Smokehouse Grill and River Ranch Saloon, where the family can stomp their boots while line dancing. Accommodations range from a one-bed guestroom to a two-bedroom suite that can sleep up to six. The ranch also has 10 “glamping” tents onsite that are fully furnished with air conditioning. Plus, pets are welcome, so you can make this adventure a true family affair.

Read our review of the Westgate River Ranch.

Less than two hours outside of Denver, the Drowsy Water Ranch has been in business since the 1920s. About 100 head of horses, primarily quarter horses and paints, make their home at the Drowsy Water. Nine individual cabins snuggled beside the creek offer lodging for families or the Horse Thief Den Lodge provides the same accommodations for singles or others traveling alone.

The 700-acre Drowsy Water ranch welcomes children of all ages, even infants. The children's program is unstructured, but comprehensive. Children five and under in the "buckaroos" program are led on smaller horses in a pen. For children 6 to 13 in the Range Riders program, rides are held twice a day. The kids are allowed to walk, lope and trot according to trail conditions and their comfort level on the horses.

Read our review of the Drowsy Water Ranch.

Join a ranch that has been in operation since around 1907 at this 100-plus-year-old, family-friendly ranch in the Rockies. Spend the day horseback riding, working with wranglers, learning the ropes of rodeo, hiking or fishing. Kids will enjoy a number of programs geared specifically around getting them closer to nature, including overnight pack trips, kid's rodeo and kid's fishing derby.

Log cabins provide one- to four-bedroom accommodations and feature full baths, kitchenettes, washers and dryers and decks. "Three squares" are provided daily in the dining hall, where you'll sit elbow to elbow with other city slickers.

Read our review of the Paradise Guest Ranch.

For a luxury dude ranch getaway, this family-owned Resort in Montana provides "camping" vacations in what Paws Up calls "Glamping" (Glamorous Camping). Basically luxury hotel rooms under a tent, oversized tent accommodations come complete with beds, chairs, tables, trunks and drawers. Paws Up then provides wildness adventures on horseback, with kids' activities that include wagon rides, pony rides and a "Kids Corps of Discovery" kids' camp with programs for children ages 5 to 12.

Read our review of The Resort at Paws Up.

Imagine if Disney offered a dude ranch and you can picture Rocking Horse Ranch. First opened in 1958, its owners wanted to skip the rustic and provide a dude ranch with family fun. Not only does the ranch offer unlimited horseback riding, trail rides, hay rides and pony rides, but it features Wild West Shows, bonfire sing-alongs and marshmallow roasts. Oh, but that's not all. Enjoy the indoor water park, an outdoor heated pool, a heated kiddies pool, a lake with Big Banana water rides (fishing, kayaking and water skiing, too), mini golf, tennis, beach volleyball, a game room, Wii... the list goes on and on. So, maybe it's not providing the unique Wild West experience, but it does give a little taste! This ranch is also open during the winter months for exciting cold-weather activities, like skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing.

Western-themed rooms are found in the motel-style Oklahoma Building or the main building with two queen-sized beds, bunk beds or a six-person sleeper. Children's programs for infants to kids age 12 include camp-style activities like crafts, hikes, sports and games. Babysitting and a children's nursery are also available (for an additional fee).

Read our review of the Rocking Horse Ranch.

Consistently ranked one of Utah's best resorts, the rustic yet elegant surroundings of Sundance includes suites, lofts and mountain home rentals to accommodate families of all sizes. In the summer, Sundance's 10 miles of hiking trails and 25 miles of biking trails can be explored, while rides are least 8 and older can join a number of six-person trail rides over various terrain. (Younger kids can sample 20-minute horse rides at Sundance Stables.) Fly fishing, whitewater rafting and nature programs are also featured.

For kids, the Nature Center provides hikes and arts and crafts daily, while the Art Shack gives both kids and parents a chance to try their hand at pottery printmaking, and jewelry making classes. Elegance includes a luxurious spa, and kids 9 to 15 are welcome to sample the Younger Set services, as long as mom or dad is with them (like you need encouraging).

Read our review of the Sundance Resort.

Consistently recognized by the Travel Channel as a "Top Ten Family Resort," Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona is one of those dude ranches with a spa and tennis court, mountain biking trails and other activities in addition to horseback riding. The Buckaroos children's program is for kids ages 4 to 6, the Wranglers are for kids 7 to 9 and the Outlaws are for kids 10 to 12. All programs include riding lessons and daily trail rides, educational nature programs and more. Parents are welcome to accompany their children for activities or retreat to the resort's Sonoran Spa, play tennis or just relax. Families work together in the "Ride and Seek" scavenger hunt that covers the entire 630-acres of the ranch property. Discounts are given for in-state residents visiting Tanque Verde.

Read our review of the Tanque Verde Ranch.

Texas Ranch Life, situated in Bellville, Texas, just an hour west of Houston, is actually three ranches in one, totaling about 1,800 acres. This is a working ranch with fewer coordinated activities for children, but an authentic experience if the time of your vacation includes moving cattle from pasture to pasture or other seasonal needs of livestock. The ranch has a huge herd of Texas Longhorns as well as bison and quarter horses. The land has 15 fully stocked lakes and ponds, but you have to bring your own equipment. Deer, dove and quail hunting are also offered. Accommodations are historic cabins or homes relocated on the ranch.

Read our review of the Texas Ranch Life.

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10 Best Dude Ranches for Families
Triangle C Dude Ranch Reviews
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Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa Reviews
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Westgate River Ranch Reviews
wichypoo1231 - Mar 18th, 2014

We were attending a wedding weekend being held at the River Ranch. When we called to make the room reservation, about 6 weeks prior to the event, we were told the time to book for the discounted wedding rate was expired and if we wished to come, it ... read more
jbartlett - Aug 7th, 2013

We arrived approx. 2:45 pm and they said our room was not ready so we signed away all our rights to anything and everything (the paperwork was unbelievable)and we came back at 4 o'clock. According to the reservation check-in was at 4pm. Well, at ... read more
Westgate River Ranch reviews
Drowsy Water Ranch Reviews
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Paradise Guest Ranch Reviews
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The Resort at Paws Up Reviews
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Rocking Horse Ranch Reviews
dwyerjandr - Jun 10th, 2014

luv it! luv it! luv It! luv it! luv ! luv it enough said? seriously though- found it when my younger 2 were 6 mo old and my oldest was 4- they will be 5 and 8 later this month. The staff- is amazing!! They remember our family when we come ... read more
William1976 - Sep 1st, 2013

Just got back from RHR and it was a great trip. Total value for dollar. Staff was ever so friendly, and the place was very clean. Our 3 and 5 year old were never at a loss of things to do as this place was exceptionally well run, we'll organized ... read more
Rocking Horse Ranch reviews
Sundance Resort Reviews
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Tanque Verde Ranch Reviews
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Texas Ranch Life Reviews
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