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Colorado Dude Ranch: Five Ways to Choose a Guest Ranch for Your Family Vacation

By Arden Foster on July 3rd, 2015

All-day ride at Rainbow Trout Ranch

All-day ride at Rainbow Trout Ranch

A Colorado dude ranch is a great way to get your family outdoors, hopefully far away away from technology and enjoying some spectacular scenery from the back of a horse. But choosing a guest ranch can be a challenge, especially when each ranch looks more perfect than the last. Here are five ways to help narrow it down to the ranch that fits your family best:

1. Does the ranch have kids’ and/or teen programs?
Many ranches have full kids’ and teen programs and most are optional. While some families do want to spend most of their time together, many families find that having the option to go different ways during at least part of the day is a great way to ensure that everyone maximizes their vacation enjoyment. Most ranches let children six years old ride alone but some ranches do let children as young as four ride alone although frankly this is too young as those little guys can get lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the horse. In addition to riding, children’s programs offer a variety of activities including hiking, fishing, ranch crafts, stick horse rodeos, archery and more, and most have separate teen programs with age appropriate activities. The one complaint parents make is that their kids don’t want to spend time with them because they are having so much fun!

Archery with the teen program

Archery with the teen program

2. Does the ranch offer flexibility in their riding program?

This may seem like a strange question but it is actually a crucial point, especially if your family runs the gamut from beginner to experienced. If there are varied abilities in your family or group, choosing a ranch that allows plenty of choice will literally make or break your week. An advanced rider who is forced to go on “mosey” rides will not be happy whilst a beginner or nervous rider should never be pushed beyond their capabilities or comfort level. Both will lead to unhappy and possibly even injured family members and neither scenario can end well. Look for a ranch that is willing to accommodate different levels of riders and that has enough wranglers that groups are not too big as that can be another danger. Other considerations for riding programs: Does the ranch own their horses? Many ranches lease horses which is not ideal as they may not get the same horses each year from the outfit they use. They may also not be as invested in their care, and the horses may not be as comfortable in their surroundings. While this is not always true, it is something to consider and it certainly adds a level of comfort if a ranch owns and winters their horses; and even more so if they raise some of their own horses, although this isn’t common as it is not cost productive. Another concern is the quality of the riding. It is ideal if a ranch can offer a variety of riding from gentle rides to advanced, challenging rides and everything in between, but that is dictated by the terrain and often by forest service permits as well. Some ranches even have to share trails with other outfitters, 4-wheelers, jeeps etc. Most of this can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction but these are all questions that are worth asking when researching ranches.

Colorado Dude Ranch Swimming

Colorado Dude Ranch Swimming

3. Does the ranch have a pool?
While a pool might not fit the traditional idea of a dude or guest ranch, being able to cool off and relax after a day in the saddle is the perfect way to round off a Rocky Mountain day. High altitude and dry climates are part of that western experience but nothing feels quite as glorious as a refreshing dip at a poolside lunch or after a dusty afternoon of raucous team-penning. And kids always love a pool!

4. Does the ranch offer evening activities?
Although there are definitely nights at the ranch when all you want to do is collapse into bed, often you will find your interest peaked by an after-dinner activity. Many ranches offer everything from dancing (anything from two-stepping to line dancing to traditional waltzes and such), to horse drawn hayrides, western singers, stargazing, volleyball, singalongs and more. Of course there is always porch time with a glass of wine or a book, or a soak in a hot tub if the ranch has one (some ranches even have individual cabin hot tubs), or perhaps just playing cards in the main lodge. But whether you choose to join in or not, if you are at a ranch with your family it is fun to have evening options, especially for those teenagers.

Learning the “Cotton Eyed Joe”

Learning the “Cotton Eyed Joe”

5. Is the ranch family owned?
There are plenty of wonderful ranches that are run by ranch managers but a family run ranch just seems to have that little something “extra.” There is alot to be said for heritage and tradition and there are ranches out there with multiple generations tending to their guests and land each day and year. Having one’s business and lifestyle so closely intertwined can only lead to total investment in quality guest experiences.

Ranches truly do come in all shapes and sizes, from luxurious and fancy to down-home and rustic. With just a little time and research, you will be able to find the right one for your family. And remember to check out Trip Advisor reviews as they are a great way to get an unbiased feel for the ranch from a guest point of view.

Family Owned Dude Ranch

Family Owned Dude Ranch

All-day ride at Rainbow Trout Ranch

All-day ride at Rainbow Trout Ranch

A Colorado dude ranch is a great way to get your family outdoors, hopefully far away away from technology and enjoying some spectacular scenery from the back of a horse. But choosing a guest ranch can be a challenge, especially when each ranch looks more perfect than the last. Here are five ways to help narrow it down to the ranch that fits your family best:

1. Does the ranch have kids’ and/or teen programs?
Many ranches have full kids’ and teen programs and most are optional. While some families do want to spend most of their time together, many families find that having the option to go different ways during at least part of the day is a great way to ensure that everyone maximizes their vacation enjoyment. Most ranches let children six years old ride alone but some ranches do let children as young as four ride alone although frankly this is too young as those little guys can get lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the horse. In addition to riding, children’s programs offer a variety of activities including hiking, fishing, ranch crafts, stick horse rodeos, archery and more, and most have separate teen programs with age appropriate activities. The one complaint parents make is that their kids don’t want to spend time with them because they are having so much fun!

Archery with the teen program

Archery with the teen program

2. Does the ranch offer flexibility in their riding program?

This may seem like a strange question but it is actually a crucial point, especially if your family runs the gamut from beginner to experienced. If there are varied abilities in your family or group, choosing a ranch that allows plenty of choice will literally make or break your week. An advanced rider who is forced to go on “mosey” rides will not be happy whilst a beginner or nervous rider should never be pushed beyond their capabilities or comfort level. Both will lead to unhappy and possibly even injured family members and neither scenario can end well. Look for a ranch that is willing to accommodate different levels of riders and that has enough wranglers that groups are not too big as that can be another danger. Other considerations for riding programs: Does the ranch own their horses? Many ranches lease horses which is not ideal as they may not get the same horses each year from the outfit they use. They may also not be as invested in their care, and the horses may not be as comfortable in their surroundings. While this is not always true, it is something to consider and it certainly adds a level of comfort if a ranch owns and winters their horses; and even more so if they raise some of their own horses, although this isn’t common as it is not cost productive. Another concern is the quality of the riding. It is ideal if a ranch can offer a variety of riding from gentle rides to advanced, challenging rides and everything in between, but that is dictated by the terrain and often by forest service permits as well. Some ranches even have to share trails with other outfitters, 4-wheelers, jeeps etc. Most of this can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction but these are all questions that are worth asking when researching ranches.

Colorado Dude Ranch Swimming

Colorado Dude Ranch Swimming

3. Does the ranch have a pool?
While a pool might not fit the traditional idea of a dude or guest ranch, being able to cool off and relax after a day in the saddle is the perfect way to round off a Rocky Mountain day. High altitude and dry climates are part of that western experience but nothing feels quite as glorious as a refreshing dip at a poolside lunch or after a dusty afternoon of raucous team-penning. And kids always love a pool!

4. Does the ranch offer evening activities?
Although there are definitely nights at the ranch when all you want to do is collapse into bed, often you will find your interest peaked by an after-dinner activity. Many ranches offer everything from dancing (anything from two-stepping to line dancing to traditional waltzes and such), to horse drawn hayrides, western singers, stargazing, volleyball, singalongs and more. Of course there is always porch time with a glass of wine or a book, or a soak in a hot tub if the ranch has one (some ranches even have individual cabin hot tubs), or perhaps just playing cards in the main lodge. But whether you choose to join in or not, if you are at a ranch with your family it is fun to have evening options, especially for those teenagers.

Learning the “Cotton Eyed Joe”

Learning the “Cotton Eyed Joe”

5. Is the ranch family owned?
There are plenty of wonderful ranches that are run by ranch managers but a family run ranch just seems to have that little something “extra.” There is alot to be said for heritage and tradition and there are ranches out there with multiple generations tending to their guests and land each day and year. Having one’s business and lifestyle so closely intertwined can only lead to total investment in quality guest experiences.

Ranches truly do come in all shapes and sizes, from luxurious and fancy to down-home and rustic. With just a little time and research, you will be able to find the right one for your family. And remember to check out Trip Advisor reviews as they are a great way to get an unbiased feel for the ranch from a guest point of view.

Family Owned Dude Ranch

Family Owned Dude Ranch



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