I am just tickled when anyone asks me my opinion about… anything! So sit back, and get comfortable. This may take a while…
1. First and most important. Don’t panic! Planning your family vacation should be fun! Ellen and I enjoyed ranch vacations on a wide variety of dude ranches and guest ranches before buying our own. In all of those years we had only one bad experience, in a state far from here.
2. What time of the year do you want your ranch vacation? The Arizona guest ranches run from October through May. This may be a perfect winter ranch get-away! The Montana, Wyoming and Colorado dude ranches in the more northern states generally run May/June through September.
3. Start with a list of dude ranch vacation activities that you might enjoy. Be ready to change that list as you study ranches. For example, everyone starts with a swimming pool. Not once when we vacationed on dude ranches did we ever get in a pool or see anyone else get in one. In the mountains the air is too cool, and we always walked around the pool to get to the Jacuzzi. So when we built our own ranch we put in a big Colorado Jacuzzi.
5. Horseback riding should be very near the top of your list of activities. Does the dude ranch limit their horse riding to nose-to-tail riding, or do they provide instruction that leads to faster gaits (jogging and loping). If their literature does not specify, then call them and ask. We believe that a guest ranch should teach horseback riding.
If at all possible, limit your choices to dude ranches that have Wrangler Safety Certification. There are a number of certifying associations, the CHA, the American Association of Horsemanship Safety and Dude Ranchers Association are three. Here at the Sundance Trail, Dan is a certified instructor in the Dude Ranchers Association Wrangler Safety Certification Program. All of our wranglers are certified in horseback riding safety.
6. Limit your search to ranches that belong to their state dude and guest ranch associations (like the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association) and/or the national Dude Ranchers Association. This will assure you that you are looking at ranches that are inspected and that meet standards for safety and cleanliness and authenticity. Better yet, limit yourself to those ranches that belong to both state and national inspections. Of *course* I’m saying this because we belong to both!!! (and I want you to visit our website chuckle chuckle!)
7. There should be at least 6 or 7 dude ranches in our Colorado Dude Ranch group that will leave you delighted. (Also probably quite a few in Wyoming and Montana, but we haven’t vacationed up there yet; maybe next year.) There is probably not one perfect ranch but a whole handful.
8. Consider location. How difficult is it to get to the ranch you choose? One of my favorite dude ranches in the world is in Durango. My wife is a paleontologist when she isn’t a nurse/cowgirl and she loves to crawl through Mesa Verde. It is her passion. But getting there is an all day affair and costs us two extra days of vacation. (Yes, we vacation at dude ranches!) We, on the other hand are easy to get to, only 2 hours from Denver International, but we have nothing to tickle her archeological funny bone.
9. Look at (or ask about) the children’s program. Some are all-day comprehensive programs. Adults and kids have two different ranch experiences and literally never see each other. Some families need this. Other ranches, like us, prefer to help families play together – a “family dude ranch vacation.” Both approaches are valid. It depends on what you need.
10. Consider the expense. Some dude ranches are “bargains” so that larger families can afford them – maybe a bit rustic, maybe the menus is based on “hamburgers and beans.” Some ranches serve on linen with silver and crystal – you will not see hamburger anywhere. Most of us are in the middle somewhere.
11. Quality dude ranches will offer you a “package price” for lodging, meals and all activities included. Unlike Disney, you will not have to pull out your wallet every meal. Nor will you faint from discovering hidden charges.
12. Size. Small dude ranches are very flexible and personable and relaxed (that’s us) with lots of individualized attention. Larger ranches, however can afford to offer you amenities that we cannot – we have no heated swimming pools, no tennis, and no water skiing.
13. Being pet friendly might be important to you. Yup! Sundance Trail Guest Ranch is pet friendly!
14. Consider visiting an association website (coloradoranch.com or duderanch.org) and play with their comparison charts – the coloradoranch.com chart sorts for you, so you can play around to compare ranches. Decide on what ranch vacation activities are most important, such as cost, sort the list and pick six ranches in the middle (of course you should find us in the middle!). Then look at just these six ranches’ children’s horseback riding programs or locations or whatever.
15. You like two or three? Then call them. Tell them what you are looking for in your vacation on a ranch. See how they make you feel on the phone.
Oh oh, Clyde is kicking the water trough – I need to get some chores done.
Feel free to call with questions. If we don’t fit your needs, I’ve got some good Colorado ranch neighbors who might.
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch
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