Dude Ranches are a super family vacation destination. But what if one of your family members is just not that into horses? Relax. In addition to trail rides, dude ranches offer a wide range of appealing activities. Give archery a try or perhaps take a cooking class. Maybe you just want to curl up with a good book before a nap. Optimism TravelingMom Cathy Bennett Kopf shares some of the activities available at a dude ranch that don't involve a horse.
Flyfishing is an activity offered at many dude ranches, such as Rawah Ranch in Colorado. Photo: Allison Bean Taylor/Family Vacations US.com
What if my knee flares up?
Booking a dude ranch vacation for my family is something I plan to do. In fact, we schedule biennial reunions for 20 of us and, on our last trip, we all voted for one that involves horseback riding.
I voted “yes’ reluctantly.
For the past few years, my left knee gets swollen, creaky and very painful. Despite my relatively young age - cough, cough - the orthopedist says it’s arthritis. Rest, Aleve and gentle movement usually make it go away. But the bouts occur without warning.
My fear is that we’ll book our dream dude ranch vacation and just as I’m about to mount my steed, my knee will buckle and I’ll be consigned to the bunkhouse for the duration of our trip.
Dude ranches are set in some of the prettiest spots in North America. A great alternative to horseback riding is to simply relax and take in the view like this one at Latigo Guest Ranch. Photo: Diana Rowe/TravelinginHeels.com
6 Great Dude Ranch Activities Beyond Horseback Riding
Not to worry, the experts at the Dude Ranchers’ Association say it’s possible to have a fantastic dude ranch vacation without ever going horseback riding. Say what? For those of you who have allergies, or kids too small to ride or arthritic joints, here are the best things to do at a dude ranch if you don’t ride horses.
1. Practice your Photography
Dude ranches are set in the prettiest landscapes in North America. I’d really enjoy getting up in the predawn hours, sneaking out of the bunkhouse and shooting sunrise photos of the mountains in Montana or Nebraska’s Great Plains.
And, even if I’m not horseback riding, animals make great subjects for photos. Sweet Grass Ranch in Montana offers 3-day workshops with an award-winning Western photographer to practice your skills and help you capture ranch life for your Instagram feed!
I could spend hours shooting photos during a dude ranch cattle drive like this one at Zapata Ranch. Photo: Dude Ranchers' Association
2. Listen to Traditional Music
The sights of a dude ranch are the first things that come to my mind: horses, low-slung bunkhouses, cattle pens. But there’s a sound, too. Think of traditional folk music with fiddles, guitars and an upright bass.
The Home Ranch, a luxurious Relais & Chateaux property in Colorado, features nightly entertainment for guests and a weekly barn dance. With a caller telling you how to dosado (or perhaps you prefer do-si-do?) and promenade your partner, it’s great for people like me who don’t have moves like Jagger.
3. Try Something Completely Different - Glamping!
When I think dude ranch, I envision bunkhouses with rustic beds, a big ole fireplace and a large kitchen table for card playing at night. Just like the places where cowboys stayed in every Western movie I’ve ever seen.
However, Bull Hill Guest Ranch in Washington State has two glamping tents available for guests. I would book one of these in a heartbeat. Maybe not for a family trip, but if it was just hubby and me or we were dude ranching with friends, a glamping tent would be so much fun to try. They’re decorated in comfy luxury and let you be outside in the great outdoors without the discomfort of sleeping on the rocky ground.
4. Relax and Unwind at a Dude Ranch Spa
If you choose not to go horseback riding during your dude ranch vacation, spending a day or two indulging in spa treatments might be just the cure to fix what ails you. Or if you do take daily trail rides, you might need a massage to work out the kinks after you dismount.
Arizona’s Rancho de Los Cabelleros features a full-service spa comparable to those you’d find in a luxury hotel. They feature a Bourbon Bubbler Body Scrub because even cowboys like a pampering now and then!
5. Dine and Wine
If you think you’ll be eating franks and beans during your dude ranch vacation, think again. Cattle wrangling is hard work, even if you’re sitting on the sidelines watching all the action. Many dude ranches feature gourmet meals, prepared with locally sourced meats and produce. Who knew there was such a thing as a cowboy foodie?
And nothing pairs better with great food than wine. The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort is located in the heart of wine country in Solvang, California. They’ve arranged complimentary tastings at a number of nearby wineries for ranch guests.
6. Tour Area Attractions
North American dude ranches stretch from Arkansas to California and north into British Columbia in Canada. You may choose one that’s in an isolated region. Or, your dude ranch may be located in an area worth touring.
Dude ranches offer tours of area attractions such as Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Photo: Shutterstock/amadeustx
For example, the Triple R Ranch in South Dakota is a great base to explore the state’s attractions. During a weeklong stay, guests have the opportunity to hop in a ranch vehicle and see the famous Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony, check out the Dakota badlands and visit the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Of course, you may choose to spend your entire dude ranch vacation horseback riding. It’s an amazing opportunity to experience a way of life that’s completely different than the one most of us city slickers live each day.
But, when you dismount, or, if you’re just not that into horses, there are plenty of activities to keep a cowboy or cowgirl entertained.
Author: Cathy Bennet Kopf, TheOpenSuitcase.com