When you think of dude ranches, you may have visions of "city slickers" and burly cowboys, franks and beans, plus 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

Rocking Horse Ranch Resort - Highland, N.Y.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
1355 Family Reviews
If Disney operated a dude ranch, it would be like 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 kiddie 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. 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).

Sundance Resort - Sundance, Utah

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
137 Family Reviews
Consistently ranked one of Utah's best resorts, Sundance Resort 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 riders at least 8 and older can join a number of six-person trail rides over various terrain (younger kids can sample 20-minute horseback 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 ages 9 to 15 are welcome to sample the Younger Set services, as long as mom or dad is with them (like you need encouraging).

Tanque Verde Ranch - Tucson, Ariz.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
330 Family Reviews
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 ages 7 to 9 and the Outlaws are for kids ages 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.

Texas Ranch Life - Bellville, Texas

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
25 Family Reviews
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.

Triangle C Dude Ranch, Dubois, Wyo.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
44 Family Reviews
Featuring an 8,000-square-foot, rustic log recently remodeled to include a full-service spa, home theatre, library, pool and fine dining, Triangle C 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 Rockies. 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.

Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa - Graham, Texas

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
63 Family Reviews
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, Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa'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, they can hunt for fossils, join a scavenger hunt, bike, hike and canoe.

There's 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 two-bedroom Homestead cottage, Wildcatter's original ranch house, or O.T.'s Cabin, a two-bedroom, two-bath guesthouse with full kitchen, dining room and living room.

Westgate River Ranch - Lake Wales, Fla.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
247 Family Reviews
Florida isn't all theme parks and beaches. Cowboys and cowgirls can enjoy Westgate River Ranch 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, all of which are fully furnished with air conditioning. Plus, pets are welcome, so you can make this adventure a true family affair.

Drowsy Water Ranch - Granby, Colo.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
119 Family Reviews
Less than two hours outside of Denver, the Drowsy Water Ranch has been in business since the 1920's. 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.

The 700-acre Drowsy Water Ranch welcomes children of all ages, even infants. The children's program is unstructured, but comprehensive. Children ages 5 and under in the Buckaroos program are led on smaller horses in a pen. For children ages 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.

Three Bars Ranch - British Columbia

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
69 Family Reviews
This family owned and operated dude ranch is located in British Columbia, just a stone's throw from Montana and Banff National Park. Families will enjoy private cabins and daily meals in a communal setting, where guests enjoy week-long visits together and fast become friends before the trip comes to an end. Daily horseback rides for all levels are available, as well as guided and non-guided hikes, mountain biking, river rafting and more. Each night, guests gather for drinks and dinner with the staff and enjoy games and entertainment as the stars come out and bonfires glow.

The Resort at Paws Up - Greenough, Mont.

TripAdvisor Rating: TripAdvisor Owl
224 Family Reviews
For a luxury dude ranch getaway, The Resort at Paws Up 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.

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