by Lisa Milbrand
Rocking Horse Ranch is a little slice of the West, right on the East Coast — just a 90-minute drive from New York City. But this all-inclusive resort isn’t your typical ranch resort. While this family-friendly destination centers on horses and horseback riding, there’s such a wide range of activities available (and nearly all included in the price) that even the most jaded city slicker can have a blast here.
With only 113 guestrooms, Rocking Horse keeps their guest count low. Pair that with the massive slate of activities available and you’ll find that even during the peak seasons of summer and winter, you won’t have to wait in long lines.
The resort is a family owned and run business, which has been managed by the Turk family since it was founded in 1958. Toolie and Gloria Turk bought an abandoned 19th century hotel, Friedman’s Shady Lawn Rest Hotel (a prominent gang hangout during Prohibition), and built the old hotel into a family-friendly resort and ranch, slowly adding new amenities over time including indoor and outdoor pools, snow skiing and water skiing.
Our Editor Loves
- All-Inclusive rates including
- A massive slate of activities sure to keep everyone busy
- Supervised children's programs for newborns to 12 year olds
- All Inclusive Rates
- Horse Back Riding
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
The Rocking Horse Ranch's rooms all have a rustic vibe to suit the surroundings, with faux log furniture and horse-adorned bedding. Lodging is either in the Main Lodge, or directly adjacent in the Oklahoma Building. The rooms can accommodate anywhere from two to six persons comfortably -- and some rooms in the Main Lodge allow for adjacent rooms to accommodate even larger parties. All rooms have electric coolers, flat-screen TVs with cable, free Wi-Fi and daily maid service. The rooms are comfortable and clean, and the resort is about to undergo renovations to revamp the bathrooms, giving them a more modern, upscale look.
The rooms in the Main Lodge are a bit larger than in the adjacent Oklahoma Building. The A Lodge rooms feature a pair of queen-sized beds, while AA Lodge rooms have a pair of queens and a set of bunk beds, sleeping up to six, as well as a second sink and vanity outside the bathroom, making your morning a little easier if you have a crowd. Lodge rooms are the best location for easy access to the restaurant, indoor pool, spa and game room -- particularly in the winter months, when an outdoor walk back to the room from the pool is an unwelcome proposition. The first-floor hallways are well-trafficked, so consider asking for a room on the second floor, especially if your kiddos need an afternoon siesta.
Oklahoma houses a wider range of room types, from small rooms with a queen sized bed, to rooms equipped with two queens and bunk beds. All Oklahoma rooms exit onto the exterior of the building, but since no other amenities are in the building, it's a slightly quieter experience.
We had never been there before, went on the recommendation of a co-worker. We came from a stressful week and a long drive. Frankly I was sort of ready to be disappointed.
Pros-Immediate warm greeting at the front desk. Friendly staff everywhere, clean and attractive appearance. Comfortable spacious, quiet room. We were given a list of all of the activities going on each day (which gave the type A part of me a little angina, because there was NO way to do them all, much less all of the other non-scheduled activities). There was a relaxed, happy, unstructured vibe to the whole place. (Kind of the anti-Disney stress-and-schedule-orama with all of the fast passes and meal reservations you get wrapped up in there). Great kids club-my shy little guy loved it and was only in it twice for short times while we went riding, but each time he saw the sweet girls who worked at it walking around they would run to each other and hug. They took him to activities around the ranch too so he never felt like he was missing out even for the little time he was there. Wide variety of choices and surprisingly fresh and clean buffets, fun and silly evening shows that everyone took part in (David Darwin was hysterical). All inclusive was so nice, want to kayak? pick up a paddle and go. Want to play mini golf, ask for clubs and balls and go. Want to feed the massive lake fish? Here is a loaf of bread. Marshmallow roast? Here is a fire, sticks and marshmallows. So easy breezy. There were open eating times for everything but dinner, and characters even came around for the little kids. There were crafts (some with a nominal fee), insane mountain inner tube slides, marshmallow roast with cowboy campfire songs, haunted house, wagon rides, BB shooting range and one-at-a-time archery. Bungee bounce, rock walls, bounce house, nerf cannons, ping pong, tennis, bocce, peddle-paddle boats, etc etc. The outside pools were closed because it was fall, but the indoor water park was open for the kids. Horse rides for little kids on a lead was available at certain times. We never got to play with the playground or tee-pees because we had bad weather a lot of the time, but it didnt even matter. My kids really loved their horse riding, esp the intermediate level and above.
cons- (not a lot of them) my teen was pretty disappointed, there was almost nothing teen oriented, and the few activities that were-no one came to. I wish some activities like bingo, scavenger hunts, trivia happened at a couple different times, because if you were scheduled for morning rides you missed them. I wish our room (that could sleep 6) had more than 3 small drawers. Like maybe a full dresser, there was plenty of room. Our servers at dinner were not friendly at all either night (honestly the only staff where we ever ran into this), and dinner was not great, and being sit down limited menu meals I expected a little more. I wish mini golf and some of the other things didnt close quite as early, we would have liked to enjoy them after other activities. The "chefs tasting" with signature cocktails or wine tasting was dissapointing, it was little dixie cups of something, and millions of little kids plunging their hands into nicely laid out tasters. (I had hoped it would be a more social, adult time). Because so much of the place was geared to little kids (they even had an unexpected trick or treat set up that the kids loved), we were very surprised to find the extremely well done, but also extremely scary haunted house. My little ones dont scare easily, but even when my youngest and I did a "walk and wave" with one or two other little ones, they kept the screaming torture soundtrack going, and they were all crying. I think it would have been better to warn ahead of the wagon ride that it was VERY scary-or even better, have a mildly scary (no lound screaming soundtrack, etc) time window, and then a full on "full scare" time window, so all guests could enjoy it. (I do have to say that the young staff running the haunted house did everything they could to try to be less scary, even took off wigs and were all very sweet). Lastly the trail rides, at the beginner level could sometimes be waaaay to big, spending so much time sitting on the horses waiting for all the rest that it was frustrating. Every few minutes stopping for a horses "potty break" during the rides too. They should have broken them into multiple different groupings, everyone would have enjoyed it better. The wranglers were very professional and pleasant, and the lady who did the horse assignments was a master at quickly assessing and matching riders to horses.
The Unexpected-the genuinely nice workers, all seemed to really enjoy being there. The level of cleanliness was surprising. Safety, besides all the pleasantly but very carefully managed swim areas, horse rides, and mountain inner tube rides, I even felt safe letting my 10 yr old go off to do some ping pong competition and other sports activities around the ranch on his own. Families were generally very polite and managed their children, manners you dont always seen anymore. Each of my younger kids made gaggles of friends they kept running into and looking out for "hey- there's Preston!! Lets go sit by him for the show". They were each called up on stage to help with parts of shows. There was almost a family type atmosphere. Little kids seemed welcome to tear up the dance floor before the shows started, each trying to out-dance the other, it was a blast to watch.
It was a relaxed, fun escape. None of us wanted to leave. We highly recommend it and would return in a heart beat, any season.
Even if you're not big on horseback riding there are so many other fun activities going on all day and night! Service and food is excellent with very friendly staff. Yes it may seem a bit pricey but for what you get it's totally worth it!!
As the name suggests, Rocking Horse Ranch was built to be kid-friendly, and there's certainly no shortage of activities to keep kids busy. The best part? Even the "premium" activities, like water-skiing lessons and horseback rides, are included in the price.
The children's programs are perfect for scoring you a little "me time," and they're also free for Ranch guests. The Fort Tiny Children's Nursery is for kids 5 and under, while the Wild Buckaroo Day Camp provides fun activities for kids ages 6 to 12. Both children's programs have very low staff-to-kid ratios (one staffer for every three kids in the nursery), and make full use of the facilities, taking "campers" out to the mini-golf course or the playground, making arts and crafts or going for pony rides. The only downside is the kids' programs only run during the daytime, so parents hoping for a night-on-the-town will need to make alternative childcare arrangements.
Horseback riding is the centerpiece of the Ranch, and the property boasts a massive stable filled with 120 gentle horses for riding. For kids 7 and under, pony rides are the name of the game, as a staffer leads one of the senior horses around a small track. For kids over 7, hour-long trail rides can begin -- you can do a simple beginner's ride through the property's woods, or be tested on your horse-handling skills to attempt the more advanced trails. The horse handlers do a fantastic job of instructing riders on how to control their horses; with a small staff-to-rider ratio on trail rides, assistance is never more than a few seconds away if your horse suddenly develops a mind of her or his own. For those who love horses but hate to ride, horse-drawn carriage rides or stable tours let them get in on the action.
Indoor Water Park
The indoor water park is more like a playground if you compare it to the grand offerings at places like Great Wolf Lodge, as it offers only two pools and a single waterslide. The larger "big-kid pool" has an big water feature that dumps mammoth buckets of water on you at regular intervals, and an obstacle course over floating crates. The smaller "kiddie" pool has a few tiny waterslides and plenty of splashing water, and is enjoyed by the bigger kids as well. The 250-foot "Gold Rush" waterslide in the far corner of the complex is ultrafast, but still safe enough for younger riders to attempt. The benefit to the water park's small size is that it's easier to keep tabs on kids running off in different directions, and the extremely attentive lifeguards ease your worry if you take your eyes off your kids while they go ride the slide.
The larger outdoor pool has a gentler slide than the mammoth indoor one, but it lands you in deeper water, so kids need to be better swimmers to try it out. (There's a smaller, 40-foot waterslide attached to the kiddie pool that's right next to the big pool.) The pool deck has plenty of shaded seating, and during the summer, you'll find lots of activity on the pool deck, including games and limbo contests for the kids.
The Ranch's manmade lake offers an array of activities: banana boat rides, water-skiing classes, paddleboating and kayaking, and fishing with provided line and tackle. (You can even get hot dog rolls from the sports shack to feed the fish and the turtles that live in the pond -- an activity that kept my kids enthralled for over an hour.)
During the winter, kids enjoy ice skating on the frozen lake, using a pair of the Ranch's skates. Wintertime also brings the Ranch's Winter Fun Park, with skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing available, and all instruction and most equipment is included (it's BYO snowboard). The Timber Chutes allow snow tubers to twist down 500-foot lanes at thrilling speeds sure to please. Skiers, snowboarders and snow tubers can also enjoy an interesting ride to the top of the "Big Hill" on the Magic Carpet Conveyer Lift and the Ranch's state-of-the-art snowmaking machine ensures that as long as the weather is cold enough, there will be several feet of snow for sliding on.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg for activities at the Ranch. There's a bungee jumping and rock climbing station; a dome with ping-pong tables, a bounce house and a massive climbing house with blasters that let kids shoot foam balls at each other; a shooting range and archery gallery; an indoor arcade with a Wii; and a miniature golf course. There are courts and setups for virtually every outdoor game including tennis, basketball, volleyball, softball, horseshoes, bocce and shuffleboard. The Ranch's playground, located right beside Oklahoma, has plenty of places for kids to climb, slide and burn a little energy.
With the wide range of activities and the comparatively small number of guests, you'll find that even in peak season, nothing gets too crowded -- and in some cases, you'll have an activity all to yourself.
Given the intimate nature of the resort, the onsite dining options are limited to the hotel's main restaurant, which is included in the all-inclusive price, and a few small snack bars, where food costs extra.
The main restaurant has a kitschy-western vibe and a grand fireplace that looks cozy, even during the summer months. The tables each seat more than 10, which means that unless you have a large group, you're sharing the table with someone else. But the Maitre D' has a good eye for choosing tablemates, and seated us next to families with daughters close in age to mine, who became their beloved buddies after just one meal together. (You'll share your table with the same people every night at dinner, but are seated randomly for breakfast and lunch.)
Breakfasts and lunches are mostly served buffet style, with a wide enough variety of foods to please nearly any appetite. Breakfast buffets feature the usual array of hot and cold dishes and baked goods, and if you don't like what is on the buffet, the staff is very accommodating in making eggs to order. Lunch is sometimes served outside in the summer months, with a barbecue theme and red-checked tablecloths. Lunches feature an array of sandwiches and salads, barbecue, and baked goods or ice cream for dessert.
Dinner is ordered off the menu, with a family style salad waiting at the table. The selections change each night, but feature all-American comfort food: pastas, burgers and hot dogs, barbecue, salads, and plenty of options to please picky eaters. (If your kid is going through an all-white food phase, no worries -- the wait staff is happy to bring out something suited to your kid's palate.) My kids found the chocolate fondue station to be the highlight of the desserts, but baked goods and ice cream are also included on the dessert buffet.
Standard crayons and paper were not provided at our meals, but my kids didn't seem to need them -- they were having too much fun talking about the day's adventures and figuring out what they wanted to eat for dessert.
Rocking Horse Ranch's rates include meals and soft drinks. If you want a cocktail, you'll need to buy it a la carte at the bar located outside the restaurant, or attend an evening cocktail party by the pool or at the under-construction Silverado Saloon, where "chef tasting" appetizers are served along with the drinks.
Snack Bar and Grill
There are also a poolside snack bar and a grill in the Main Lodge, where you can order snack foods like burgers in between meals, but we found that the meals alone were plenty to keep us full. (If you're worried, you can always grab a piece of fruit or other nonperishable treat at breakfast to help tide you over.)
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
While the basic, everyday activities could keep your family plenty busy, every day brings a fresh slate of entertainment run by the Ranch's staff. Mom and dad may enjoy morning yoga classes by the pool, and in the afternoons, cocktail parties and chef tastings. And for kids, there are arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, a range of contests from limbo to pie eating, and an evening campfire, complete with music and marshmallows to roast. And every evening, there's a performance in the Silverado Saloon; the resort books top-notch jugglers, magicians and other entertainers to keep kids enthralled well beyond their usual bedtime.
The best part of Rocking Horse Ranch is the staff -- all unfailingly kind and pleasant people who seem willing to go above and beyond to ensure that everyone is happy. During our stay, they ran over to show us another restroom when my daughter was impatiently waiting for the poolside one to open up, brought out off-the-menu dishes galore for guests, and let the indoor water park stay open well beyond hours only because a few people weren't ready to stop riding the slide.
The Art of Smart Timing
It's hard to really find an off-peak season at Rocking Horse -- even when it's too chilly to enjoy the outdoor pool, but too warm for snowtubing and skiing, you'll find plenty of activities to fill in the blanks, like apple picking and spooky Halloween events in October. Rates do drop, though, in the fall and spring, especially on weeknights when school's in session. So if you're willing (and able) to pull your kids out of school, there are opportunities to save money and enjoy the Ranch even more to yourself.
If you're flying in, head to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, NY; it's just 20 minutes away from the Ranch, and they offer complimentary rides to and from the airport with 48 hours notice. You can also take the free shuttle to and from the Poughkeepsie train station, which is served by both MetroNorth trains from New York City and Amtrak trains.
For Mom and Dad
Most of the activities on the grounds are for the whole crew, though you can always send your kids off to the children's programs and enjoy a solo horseback ride, a workout and steam in the fitness room/sauna or a treatment at the spa. The tiny spa is located in a corner of the Main Lodge, and offers the typical range of massages and facials. While the treatments are fantastic, the spa is very basic -- don't expect a plush robe and a fancy lounge with cucumber water. (For a more luxe spa experience, you could head over to nearby Mohonk Mountain House, which has the number-two spa in the country, rated by Conde Nast Traveler.)
Free shuttles run from Rocking Horse to Apple Greens Golf Course, a 27-hole championship golf course, and Walkway over the Hudson, an abandoned railroad bridge that was converted into the longest pedestrian bridge in the world and offers spectacular views of Hudson River. Just 10 miles away is the world-famous Culinary Institute of America, where you can dine at their student-staffed eatery, or take enthusiast classes to hone your culinary prowess. Or consider heading out to tour the local wineries: the Shawangunk Wine Trail is part of the 300-year tradition of winemaking in the Hudson Valley.