Vacation at a Ranch

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Montana working ranch for my 40th birthday

Jan 2009

Hi everyone, to celebrate my 40th birthday, I want to go to a working dude ranch in Montana over the summer of 2009. I've done some research but wanted to know if any of you have any experience doing this and would have a recommendation.

My dream is to ride horses all day and be involved in moving cattle (yes, like the billie crystal movie). I want peace, quiet, a fun, happy environment, beautiful surroundings, and no TV. If there were a night to camp out, that'd be great. massages would be a nice plus but not necessary. And, of course, great food.

If you have suggestions, please tell me the name of the place, why you loved it, what could be improved, and whether you'd go back. thanks! Cow Girl

I went to the E Bar L Ranch in the early 1990s. It is a working dude ranch - very beautiful, spacious, lots of horses, places to white water raft nearby. You eat your meals in the lodge. People are friendly. I think it's gotten expensive but it was a wonderful vacation. Enjoy! Kate

If Montana doesn't work out for you and you want something closer to home, try Hunewill Ranch near Bridgeport, CA, on the backside of the Sawtooth range. It is a working cattle ranch, family owned and run, very family oriented. The horses are well trained and you are assigned the same horse for your stay (unless it isn't a good fit, in which case they will switch). The riding is spectacular; most of the rides are across meadows and pastures with space for loping, even for beginners. The rides are separated into three levels, sometimes four if there are people who are advanced beginners but not ready for intermediate rides.

The wranglers build confidence in a gentle non-competitive way--they take you easily from walking a horse to loping, without fear. You can also arrange for short private lessons from the wranglers during the lunch break and sometimes the ranch brings in other equestrian teachers. Accommodations are double cabins (can be booked singly but also can be connected for families) surrounding a grass quad--basic but comfortable. No phones or TVs to distract. Two rides per day and evening activities including colt-gentling demonstration, cook-out, hayride, talent show, square dancing, even a gymkana the last day.

During the summer there are 5 and 7-day packages and they also offer a fall color ride into the mountains and the fall cattle drive to move the cattle from Bridgeport to Smith Valley in Nevada. A local masseuse (fabulous) comes in about the 3rd day. Food is good and wholesome, with quite a variety, and their baker is outstanding. Meals are family style in the original 1800s ranch house. Nearby there is fishing, hiking, and Bodie State Park. There is no pool or jacuzzi, which would be nice additions to an otherwise wonderful place. We went five consecutive years and loved it each time. Happy trails

Last summer, we (2 parents and 2 kids ages 5 and 8) went to a dude ranch in Montana. It was a super experience, or as my daughter said ''Best vacation ever!'' I chose this particular ranch based on what we saw on their website. It was sight unseen and nobody we know had been there; we were not disappointed. I should start off by saying that there are 3 categories of vacation ranches: resort, dude and working. A great website for the options in Montana is You'll need to decide which type you want, and this website does a good job of explaining the differences. We opted for a smaller, family run dude ranch called Laughing Water in Fortine, MT. It's about an hour from Kalispell (and the airport). The owner grew up there as a child and turned it into a dude ranch. It is horseback riding oriented and has amazing kid ''camps'' depending on your child's age. The kids camp was a big selling point for us as they allowed my 5 year old to ride and have his ''own'' horse for the week. Many ranches have a higher age limit. It is an authentic Montana experience, but I would not call it a cowboy ranch; these are real Montana people who work there in all their rural glory. Everyone was nice, accommodating, and friendly and the food was great. They do offer cattle drives at different times throughout the year, but that isn't for kids. I think you can get a real feel for the ranch from their website: I subsequently learned that what sets Laughing Water apart from other ranches is that you ride out directly from the ranch; many ranches have you bus out to where they keep their horses. Here, they are kept on property and you ride out each morning to remote locations. We cannot say enough good things about Laughing Water Ranch. We'll most likely return there (as many people do year after year).

Happy Trails!
Honorary Dudette

Oct 2004

Re: Berkeley meets Club Med Family Holiday Place?
If you don't mind paying for it -- Alisal Ranch near Santa Barbara is a beautiful and restful place, with great activities -- hiking, horseback riding (beautiful trails, and hundreds of horses it seems), tennis, golf, hiking, fishing even I think. We met up there this summer with parents and two families with 7 kids ranging from 4 months to 11 years old. The kid activities are, admittedly, better for older kids (crafts, etc) but they do offer babysitting for little ones . And the food is very good -- not a wildly inventive menu, but delicious, fresh and healthy food for a group of pretty demanding eaters. They have a website, you can take a look. anon

Family Reunion at a Ranch?

Feb. 2004

My five brothers and sisters and their kids are coming West this summer, and we want to go somewhere interesting for ages ranging from 3-75. My sister suggested a ranch somewhere. Has anyone gone ''ranching'' for a family vacation, and if so, are there any not so hugely expensive? I looked quickly on the Internet and the prices I saw were 1200$ per adult per week. Gack! Thanks for your thoughts. allison

Have you looked into Coffee Creek Ranch? It's in the Trinity Alps, about five hours drive north of the Bay Area. It's a great place for families. Our family is going back this summer for the third year in a row. We've seen many extended families and family reunion there. it's still pretty pricy (about $1100/adult/week), but that price includes everything--nice family cabin accomodations, three huge and delicious meals a day, activities like swimming, fishing, panning for gold, hay rides, evening activities and dances, and so much more (trail rides are extra during some months). Plus there are counselors for the kids and lots of great, supervised, age-appropriate kid activities. When you add it all up, the rates start to look pretty good. You can see more at Carolyn

Family Reunion at a Ranch?

March 2003

Has anyone had a family reunion at a ranch in any part of the US? We're looking for a place that can accommodate 10 adults and 14 kids ages 2-16. Thanks Wendy

You might wan t to check out Tanque Verde Ranch outside of Phoenix AZ. Adam

Friends of ours went to the Mayan Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas and loved it. Their number is (210) 796-3312. Ann

I've been to conferences at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma County and Alisal Ranch near Solvang. They both have hosted family reunions and were wonderful places to go for conferences... Belinda

My family has gone to the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tucson, AZ. They've got a kids program for kids starting age 4. Kids can eat in their own dining room or with their parents, and have all sorts of activities they can engage in, from riding lessons to tennis to a crafts room. The ranch is primarily a dude ranch, so there is lots of horsey activity for the whole family. They also have a nice outdoor pool, indoor pool, and other amenities. The ranch is pricy, but all food and activities are included in the room price. Oh, and unfortunately the food is very middle America: okay for most guests, but not that wonderful is you are used to Bay Area standards. Carolyn

If you all are interested in outdoor activities, you might enjoy Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tuscon. My family (parents and siblings) has gone there 3 times over the winter holidays and we all have a great time. They have lots of horseback riding and hiking, as well as nature walks, mountain biking, and tennis. They also have swimming pools and hot tubs. There is a childrens program for ages 4-12. The last time I went my son was 2, and we had a nanny come in from town (found through a service) for about 4 hours each day so that I could ride or do a strenuous hike, though I hiked with him in the backpack too. The weather in Tuscon is pretty nice at that time of year, though it's not exactly tropical. Check out their website -- -- or feel free to contact me if you want any specific info. Tara

Jan 2003

Re: Grandparent-Friendly Family Camp
I would encourage you to look at dude ranches. My family has taken grandparents in wheelchairs, teenagers, and kids to ranches in Montana and Wyoming and everyone had fun! Ranch accomodations range from superluxurious to bunkhouse. Here are a few web sites to explore: Connellan