Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

Ranch vacation planning for Moms

Searching out the right ranch for your kids can be a little daunting, thanks to an amazing range of choices. And you can’t just Google up the perfect spot for your family. Fortunately, there’s a lot of help out there. Our partner website, offers several special features to help narrow your choices.

With moms, finding the ranch that makes the kids happy often means they’ve found the ranch that will make everyone in the family happy. First, profile your kids: perhaps your child has a love for the outdoors and wants to learn something about nature by spending time on a ranch. Or maybe their idea of fun is learning how to fly fish, draw, take photographs, swim, practice archery, identify birds, or, yes,  ride a horse. And maybe Mom just wants to give her kids a chance to put down the Gameboy and have some quality time with Mom and Pop.

Okay, so how to find that ideal ranch? First, ask yourself some key questions. Are you interested in a child-oriented ranch or one where child care is provided? How important is the kind of riding program available (and how much of your visit do you want to spend in the saddle)? Then, if finding a focus on learning fishing, nature walks, photography, or other sports are on the family’s list, you’ll want to scope out each ranches’ level of offerings in those activities.

One question every kid will ask his parents about the ranch they choose to visit is: ‘Will there be any kids my age there?’ Just ask. The ranch will be able to tell you right away. There are some ranches that are designed especially for families with kids. And has a section listing those ranches with special facilites, menus, and programs designed for kids.

Remember, you can’t push a kid into a program, just give them choices. Finding people who really enjoy working with kids is the secret to success at any ranch. Try to find out how the ranch works in hiring young staffers—from wranglers to baby sitters— who have a passion for working with children and teenagers. But be careful what you wish for—your child could try his hand at a little fly fishing with a ranch guide and end up wanting his own waders and angling gear!

And if there’s a kid who just can’t unplug from the Internet or cell phone, you’ll want to check out the ranch connections (they’re not all as remote as you think). Whatever you want, there’s sure to be a dude ranch perfect for your needs, and it’s just a click away!

Ranchweb’s exclusive Space Availability Finder & Dude Ranch and Guest Ranch Search Engine lets you find ranches and lodges that meet your preferences (for example, choose by price range, ranch activities you want, or whether or not you will be traveling with children). Narrow the list by selecting a specific state, province or country, then click one of the resulting ranches or lodges to find details on activities, accommodations, rates, food, kid’s programs and more, plus photographs.


Top travel websites for booking, planning, dreaming


Kiplinger’s Magazine recently did a story titled “24 Best Travel Sites to Save You Money: Find the best deals online for plane tickets, hotel rooms, vacation packages and car rentals, both at home and abroad.” They divided it into categories like airfare (tops:, lodging (tops:, vacation packages (tops: and so forth. They could have also added Dude Ranch Vacations (tops:

We like Kiplinger’s 24 picks (Read more: ). But we and the ranchers we talked to have our own faves.
For booking:,,,,, But don’t miss these less well known sites:,,,,, andUniversity Hotel Network.
For planning/dreaming:

Try, Family Travel
And of course when you’re dreaming of  that perfect ranch vacation, we like (but then, we’re biased)!

For specialty ranch vacation info:

At, you’ll find details on sites specifically designed for:

FlyFishing Ranches and Lodges

Luxury Ranch Real Estate
Dude Ranch Jobs
Arizona Dude Ranches
Colorado Dude Ranches
Montana Dude Ranches
Wyoming Dude Ranches

Details: find links to all of these sites at:




Whether your idea of a family getaway is outdoor adventures under a warm sun, or cozy digs in a snowy landscape, guest ranches from Arizona to Colorado are inviting families to pack up and head for the corral this spring break. Gene Kilgore, the legendary expert on guest ranches, has compiled a list of spring break vacations that cater to every taste. From horse-drawn sleigh rides in the Rocky Mountains, to cow penning contests in the desert, families can select their desired adventure and climate.

With over 30 years’ experience, Gene Kilgore knows that ranch vacations go hand in hand with family values: “Ranches are the quintessential family vacation: a safe and welcoming environment, plenty for every family member to do, healthy activities, great food and an enhanced appreciation of nature.”

Ranchweb is an easy to navigate travel guide (also available in print) that helps families to choose the ranch that’s right for them. Choose by location, activity, and type – there are working ranches, cattle ranches or ranch resorts. Scour the guide for handy tips on what to bring, what to wear and other essential lists and, whether your preference is sun or snow, be sure to arrive prepared. HERE’S A SAMPLING:


ELKHORNElkhorn Ranch. Desert and mountain riding at a southern Arizona guest ranch. Ride on Elkhorn Ranch-raised horses in Sonoran desert country rich in unique and abundant birds and wildlife. Enjoy hiking, heated swimming pool, tennis court, rifle range, ping ping, horse shoes, and well stocked library. Nutritious home cooked food. Accommodates 32 – 40 people, 20 cabins. Comfortable for singles, couples and families. Family owned and operated.

White Stallion Ranch, Tuscon, AZ : Kids five years old and over can join a trail ride without an accompanying parent, before hitting the swimming pool, sports courts or petting zoo – the freedom goes on and on. Families return to White Stallion generation after generation as everyone find something they love – even teens can be found socializing at the recreation centre or shooting baskets on the sport court. Spring rates from $211 US per person per night, inclusive of all activities and meals.

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, Tuscon, AZ: The full-day camp, designed for children aged 4-12, has kids trail riding, mountain biking, and fishing, while Mom and Dad can saddle up for a trail ride, play tennis, or visit the spa. Come dinnertime, families come together for fireside cookouts to recount their adventures. And best of all, with the ranch’s all-inclusive program, from $225 US per person per night, these activities are all included.


The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, Solvang, CA: Round’em up, move ‘em out!   The Round Up Vacation package wraps a horseback ride, golf, fishing and tennis into the daily room rate of  $515 US and up. Valid September to May.


Vista Verde Guest Ranch, Steamboat Springs, CO: As they say on the ranch, the fun doesn’t stop when the aspens lose their leaves. Indeed, trail riding through the snow, riding on a one-horse sleigh, as well as back-country skiing, are why families keep coming back to the ranch. From mid-December to mid-March, parents and children ages six and up stay for $1,005 US per person (for three nights).VistaVerde_3

Coulter Lake Guest Ranch, Rifle, CO: At 8,100’ above sea level, Coulter Lake is a winter playground – a shuttle gets you to this rustic ranch by snowmobile, so arriving is part of the adventure. Other off-piste activities include sledding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, and cross-country skiing. With no cell-phone or email contact, Coulter Ranch enables guests to disconnect for $50 US per person per night.


320 Guest Ranch, Gallatin Gateway, MT: At this year-round guest ranch, a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park,  families will love the sleigh ride under the stars pulled by Percheron draft horses, and authentic western dining at the 320 Steakhouse and Saloon. The Sleigh & Stay Package runs throughout the winter season for $220 US per night for two people, $90 US for each child 12 and under.

To find the perfect ranch for your family visit or lasso a copy of Ranch Vacations Travel Guide.


Yoga + riding at Colorado’s C Lazy U Ranch


A relaxing yoga session sounds great anytime, but it’s even better in a setting as lovely and peaceful as a dude ranch. And since horsemanship is at the crux of Colorado’s C Lazy U Ranch experience, C Lazy U is offering for the second year its unique combination: A yoga and riding program. It’s called The Julie Goodnight riding and yoga retreat for women (that’s Julie at right).

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River and in the shadow of Rocky Mountain National Park (just two hours from Denver International Airport), C Lazy U is a true retreat from the stresses of everyday life.

In cooperation with Julie Goodnight, the riding and yoga clinics take place May 18-21 and October 19-22, 2012. The internationally-respected trainer and clinician, Julie Goodnight, teaches riders how to be their horse’s leader and master their equestrian skills through understanding horse behavior. C Lazy U’s clinic is developed for riders of all levels, from beginners to advanced riders.

In tandem with the riding program, attendees will also enjoy yoga from instructor Ellen Mesaros, teaching Anusara yoga. In their free time, participants are encouraged to indulge at the “Lazy U” spa for world-class massages, facials and more.

The ranch will also offer a ranch riding adventurefor adult riders of all levels September 21-24, 2012, also in cooperation with Julie. All three weekends feature discounted rates for world-class accommodations with programming, riding, and yoga (during the yoga weekends) included. Some participants will bring their own horses and others will work with one of the Ranch’s 175 horses.

A sample itinerary 7:30 Breakfast, open seating; 9 Group One: Riding lesson; Group Two: yoga; 10:00 Break  10:30 Group One: Yoga / Group Two: riding lesson; 12:00 Lunch 1:30 Group One: riding lesson; Group Two: trail ride or free time;3:00 Group One: trail ride or free time; Group Two: riding lesson; 5:00 Yoga stretch for everyone;  6:30 Cocktails;  7:00 Dinner is served!  8:00 Horse talk around the campfire.

Details: C Lazy U offers a selection of 38 rustically-elegant cabin accommodations. All guest rooms boast beautifully-crafted western and southwestern style furnishings, and most feature stone fireplaces, refrigerators, sitting rooms, balconies, and some, a jetted tub. For more on C Lazy U, visit Ranchweb.


Ranch chic: what to pack for a dude ranch trip


Summer vacation’s coming up faster than a freight train. Got to plan in order to pack right. What should Mom, Dad, and the kids wear to the ranch? And do you need to do any shopping first?

Well, a guest ranch vacation is different, and requires a fresh set of expectations and plans. And that takes a little planning. We polled a number of ranchers and compiled their ideas below.

Of course, you’ll know where the ranch is located and what the elevation is there, so you can then check local weather forecast (thank you Google). Remember that whether you’re going to be in mountains or desert, the weather can change quickly and dramatically. Of course, the sun is stronger at higher elevations, and parents will want to remember that little ones need extra help against sunburn. See the little guy in our photo, above? He’s dressed perfectly, including the coat of sunblock you can’t see.

First rule: layer, layer, layer! Whew. Glad we got that off our chest. Packing is easy if you remember that they’re always casual at the ranch. Whether you wear simple jeans or khakis or a full-on cowboy getup is up to you. But some ranches are more upscale than others, however, and casual there might mean ‘cruise casual’.

Of course you and the kids need sunblock and SPF-rated lip balm; hats are de rigeur as are kerchiefs. I like the SPF-rated shirts and pants you can get a sporting goods stores like REI. The best clothes are hand washable and drip dry (because, let’s face it, if you’re really having fun you’re going to get a little dirty).

For riding, you want comfy jeans (be sure and pre-wash them with fabric softener), extra socks, and boots with about a ½” heel. One of Gene Kilgore’s favorite secrets to a comfy week of riding: wearing a pair of panty hose underneath your jeans to prevent chafing.

Throw in shorts, t-shirts, swimsuit, and hiking boots and gear for any other special activities in the area or on the ranch. You’ll want some nice slacks for evening meals or special events (like square dancing). And bring a jacket, against possible sudden rainshowers and those cool, star-filled mountain or desert nights. And pack a few of those little extras that can make a vacation go smoothly: bug spray, Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Band Aids, and the like.

A lot of ranches have small gift shops where you can pick up emergency items like rain ponchos, hats, and so forth (ask ahead).  Some high-end ranches have goodie baskets in your cabin, stocked with spa products, robes, and even coffee makers, but again, ask ahead. Ask what you’ll need for any planned overnights, rafting trip, jeep tours, or pack trips. And of course, check to see if the ranch has Wi-Fi, or a computer available to guests.

Packing list
Baseball cap or cowboy hat
Camera (and batteries or charger)
Cool looking shades (and a holder to make sure they stay on your face)
Day pack
Flip flops
Heeled boots for riding
Hiking/ walking shoesJacket
Long sleeved shirt (with SPF rating)
Pre-washed jeans
Slacks for evening
Socks-lots of extra pairs
Sunscreen/ Lip Balm (SPF 30)

Those are our suggestions. What do you think folks shouldn’t forget to take to a dude ranch vacation? Write us a comment or post to our Facebook page!


A special spring at Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch


You know TripAdvisor, that popular travel website where guests can comment on their lodging experiences? Listen to TripAdvisor’s comments about Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch: “Perfect family vacation” – 5.0 of 5 stars (Expatriat2012   March 27, 2012)”… an absolutely amazing week at Elkhorn! If you enjoy being in nature, this is your place. Beautiful nature with mountain and dessert…” And then there’s this: “Must be best small riding ranch in Arizona.” –5.0 of 5 stars (Griffon_10   December 12, 2010). “The Elkhorn Ranch, south of Tucson, is outstanding … If you enjoy riding, hiking and ranch life, this is for you…”

Elkhorn Ranch, located in the rugged Baboquivari Mountains southwest of Tucson, Arizona, is a traditional family owned and operated guest ranch offering horseback riding and comfortable living for about 32 guests. The Miller Family has owned and operated Elkhorn continuously since 1946 and enjoys the friendship of many returning guests and crew.

I talked to co-owner Mary Miller recently about what makes Elkhorn so special.  “We are fundamentally a riding ranch. We have a swimming pool, ping pong, tether ball and a tennis court, but we’re a small, traditional riding ranch.We really tailor rides to your needs and abilities.”

It is family owned and operated, so you get that feeling of family hospitialty, too. which may account for all those rave reviews. “We have a lot of loving return folks,” Miller notes, “and people enjoy the comraderie of friends they make and return to visit here. But its wonderful to get new guests, too!” Miller adds.

Elkhorn_5And about that riding focus? “All of our rides are guided. Our horses are ranch raised and trained and only used here. They have summers off and we have a large variety of horses (and saddles) to match people’s abilities,” Miller contends. And rides here are kept small, with each one arranged for your needs and what you want to do.

“We talk to everybody before each ride and design rides accordingly,” Miller says, “so the emphasis shifts with the people we have here. At Elkhorn Ranch, they  have a lot of country to ride–open deseert for loping rides and mountain and valley for scenic rides. “You’re well away from the city and you get really big views–that’s not easy to find these days.”

“It’s been a lovely spring,” Mary reports. “The cactus flowers are blooming and the mares should be foaling toward end of the month.” But don’t wait too long to decide to visit. “We close at the end of April, so call soon to hold your spot or try for next season (from mid-November to end of April)!” Thanks for the update, Mary!

Details: Elkhorn Ranch’s twenty cabins and Long House where you gather for meals are tucked amidst the mesquites of Sabino Canyon, surrounded by mountain views and the wide open Altar Valley. The cabins provide comfortable living for singles, couples or families, each with a private bath, electric heaters, good reading lights, a sitting area, and your own birdfeeder with unlimited birdseed. No phones or televisions in the cabins. Daily housekeeping and nightly bed turn-downs. They’re happy to take care of special needs. Check for details.