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.

What to wear at the ranch

Children-riding-at-White-Stallion-RanchTIPS FROM THE RANCHERS

Riding into the mesquite. Fly fishing in a rushing mountain stream. Mountain biking down an alpine slope. Getting a mani-pedi in the spa by the pool. Whether you’re planning a dude ranch vacation that includes lots of lounging or lots of miles in the saddle, you’re going to have to pack accordingly. Yep, a guest ranch vacation is different, and all of those options require a little planning, and we at Ranchweb have talked to lots of ranchers to get the best packing list.

First, understand that you’re going to be outside. A lot.

So know what kind of climate and elevation you’ll find and check (and double check) local weather forecast. Arizona dude ranches can be in mountains or desert (or both). Colorado, Montana and Wyoming ranches are often at high altitudes. At any of these locations the weather can change quickly.

All of which means: layering, hats, and sunblock. If you’re traveling with children, you have to think about protecting their tender skin from sun with long sleeves, hats, and jeans (like the children shown above). Packing is easy if you remember that they’re always casual at the ranch; jeans, khakis, sweaters and wind and rain-proof jackets are all good. But some ranches are more upscale than others, however, and casual there might mean ‘cruise casual’.

For sun, choose a higher-rated sunblock and SPF-rated lip balm; hats are a must as are kerchiefs (especially if you’re riding the last horse in the string). Bring a daypack for those trail daytrips. And sorry, guys, but a ballcap doesn’t offer the protection of a wide-brimmed hat.

If you can bear the added expense, SPF-rated shirts and pants (found at sporting goods stores and even Costco) are worth the price. Choose hand washable and drip dry (if you’re really having fun you’re going to get a little dirty).

For riding, Gene Kilgore has a favorite tip for to a comfy week of riding: wear a pair of panty hose underneath your jeans to prevent chafing. Of course you want well broken-in jeans (pre-washed with fabric softener).

You’ll be on your feet a lot (if you’re having fun outdoors-that’s a given), so broken in hiking boots, tennies,  and for riding, boots with about a ½” heel. Throw in the flip flops for when you want to give your feet a break. Shorts, t-shirts, swimsuit, and extra socks are a must.

Find out what kind of evening activities the ranch offers (you may want some nice slacks/shirt for that square dancing party).

Pack a jacket for sitting out beside the campfire, and don’t forget the just-in-case items: aspirin, Band Aids, bug spray, Pepto, and the like. And if you forget your camera, to record all the precious memories you’re making, you’ll be kicking yourself for years.

But at the end of the day, don’t stress it: a lot of ranches have small gift shops where you can pick up emergency items.

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


A day trip ranch in the Bay Area


Near Fairfield, California, Rush Ranch stretches across 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland. For most of its working life, the ranch was operated by the Rush family, and they had great respect for the land. Unlike other landowners next to the Suisun Marsh, the Rush family did not dike or significantly alter the tidal action on their property.

Photo credit: Karen Vittorio.

Photo credit: Karen Vittorio.

Why is that important? Because with most tidal marshes in the United States managed or filled, their decision to leave the marsh to natural tidal ebbs and flows has proven to be an important contribution to tidal marsh science as a premier tidal habitat and in protecting plant and animal species of the marsh.Today, the ranch is owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust, so Rush Ranch is now open space and an important habitat for fish, bird and plant species.

And it’s open to the public, so if you want to get a low-commitment look at an early ranch that’s close to the Bay Area, you might stop by. Whether you’re a child or an adult, a hiker, birdwatcher, biologist, teacher, photographer, poet or painter, or just out for a picnic, this Solano Land Trust jewel will win you over. Within its boundaries are portions of the Suisun Marsh, one of the best examples left of a brackish tidal marsh habitat in the United States.

What’s special about a ‘brackish tidal marsh’? Well, first it is an important habitat for fish, bird and plant species, including many that are threatened and endangered (such as the Delta smelt, California clapper rail, Suisun song sparrow, and the American white pelican). Bird watchers have spotted some 230 different species of birds throughout the marsh and grassland habitats, and plant communities range from spring wildflowers to native bunchgrass and marsh-adapted vegetation.

Bring the family for a daytrip. There’s plenty to see: an historic blacksmith shop, a display of antique farm equipment, native plant garden. Perhaps the most interesting artifact is the visitor center itself–housed in a Sears Roebuck & Co. kit house. Ordered from the Sears catalog by the Rush family in 1932, it was delivered to the ranch on flatbed trucks and “assembled” at the very spot it stands today.

Coming up in April is the 23rd Annual Rush Ranch Open House. On Saturday, April 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. guests can enjoy a celebration of nature, art, music, dancing, and traditional crafts at Rush Ranch.  Family fun activities include guided marsh discovery hikes, live music, square dancing, weaving and spinning, flint knapping, local Native American culture, horse shoeing, blacksmithing, bats, falconry, farm animals, raffle, art show and silent auction, and a children’s art activity station.  Admission is FREE.  For more information call (707) 422-4491 or visit or


Give the best gift of all: a family dude ranch trip

Children-riding-at-White-Stallion-RanchSMART RANCH TRAVELER

With high gas prices and a still-sluggish economy, families these days have to plan ahead to work a vacation in without stressing the budget. Turns out that staying in one place—a place that offers a variety of activities in one location—means big savings and less stress. And there’s no better time to plan a vacation than during the holidays, when the kids are home on school vacations and you’re all gathered together for the holidays.

A dude ranch vacation can be the perfect value vacation, for five great reasons. First, many dude ranches offer an all-inclusive deal where the meals, lodging, activities are all included. That makes it easy to plan accurately—unlike most cruises, where everything from soda pop to port fees and land excursions cost extra.

Secondly, on a dude ranch trip, you know where the kids are at all times (they’re having a blast—and they’re still being supervised), and you generally aren’t spending extra on babysitting.

Next, considering all the facilities and activities open to your use, a dude ranch gives you more bang for your buck.

Fourth, you can get some great deals if you plan ahead, go during the shoulder season (often June and October at mountain ranches) or low season (summer at the desert ranches) when you can find discounted rates.

Finally, when you consider all the memories you’ll make as a family: its a trip that is priceless.

At White Stallion Ranch in Arizona, shown above, they believe that an all-inclusive dude ranch vacation requires no intricate planning, keeps every member of the family happy with a wide variety of activities, and lets people experience a real slice of the American West – all in line with a budget, with no extras or hidden surprises.

To find a value ranch, click on


Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch: ride, revive, reconnect

DSC_0407Tucked against the saw-toothed Baboquivari Mountains southwest of Tucson, Arizona, is a traditional family-owned and operated guest ranch offering horseback riding and relaxation for some 32 guests. A few days ago, I talked to co-owner Mary Miller recently about what makes Arizona’s Elkhorn unique.  The Miller Family has owned and operated Elkhorn Ranch continuously since 1946 and enjoys the friendship of many returning guests and crew.

“We open next week on Sunday.’ said Miller, with a smile in her voice. “What we take a lot of pride in is the great ranch traditions,” Miller added. “We’re not a ranch that tries to makes things new every year! We’re a great family destination.”

Special packages for fall/winter

Miller was proud to tell me about the upcoming photography workshop that the ranch has offered successfully for years, covering natural history and digital photography, at no added cost (This season it is January 20-27, with Stweart Aitchison and Ann Kramer). New this year is a Music Workshop-January 6-13, focusing on the old-time music with workshops on guitar, banjo, fiddle. You can join in or simply listen and workshop.aspx

Miller also wanted folks to know that there is space available for New Year’s Week. “We have a fun night on New Year’s,” she noted, “with games and a piñata for kids. There’s a huge Mexican feast, and later in the night, the adults take over to celebrate.” And during that whole week, the weather is typically lovely. “It’s a great time to get away from the cold in the north,” Millers says with a laugh.

Further, she told me that Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch has spring break space available in March and April; it’s sunny and warm then and the pool is pretty popular in the afternoon. The kids play outdoors and have hotdog cookouts, and as always rides are tailored to the abilities of the guests. “We focus on one week stays,” Miller explains. “It gives you time to enjoy the countryside and become comfortable with the horses, and enjoy the friendship of the other guests you get the most out of a one week stay.” A weekly stay is a better bargain than the shorter stays. And for longer stays for snowbirds or other sunseekers, the rates are even more favorable.

Listen to former guests sing the praises of Arizona’s Elkhorn Ranch. One says: “I’ve been to the Elkhorn several times over the past 20 years and I’m pleased to report that it never changes. I’ve heard it said that wilderness is the greatest luxury. If that’s the case, then the Elkhorn is exceedingly luxurious! However, it’s a subtle brand of luxury; no spa or marble bathtubs here (though you can get a massage!)”

Another calls it a ‘perfect family vacation,’ saying “We enjoyed an absolutely amazing week at Elkhorn! If you enjoy being in nature, this is your place. Beautiful nature with mountain and dessert surrounding the ranch. We loved the concept of having meals on communal tables with open seating and there were always interesting conversations with people from all over and all ages.

A third raved “Spectacular views, universally wonderful people, and great rides for all age groups in the dessert and mountains. The wranglers are genuine and gracious and the rest of the staff is great too. We met folks from all over and all ages…this place is perfect for families and friends…go there…you’ll love it!”

You can’t buy advertising like that. But then, southern Arizona guest ranch Elkhorn Ranch doesn’t have to.

Scenic Sonoran desert country filled with unique and abundant birds and wildlife is the backdrop for the Miller family’s Elkhorn Ranch. Vacation here and you may enjoy riding ranch-raised horses through desert and mountain; hiking; swimming, tennis, shooting on the rifle range, playing ping ping, or horse shoes.

There’s a well stocked library and a groaning buffet table stocked with plentiful comfort food. Feed the birds on the patio of your cabin, watch for wildlife at dusk, or just enjoy riding the trails that wind toward the mountains. Kids love the freedom of the secluded ranch setting and the twice a day horseback trail rides. Families that lack a certain togetherness in the bustle of home life will love the fact that they can have all of their meals together, sharing the adventures of the day.

That’s Elkhorn Ranch: a great place to ride, relax, revive, recharge and reconnect.

Details: Open Mid November through end of April. Where: 50 miles southwest of Tucson. Call: 520/ 822-1040.

Notes from Elkhorn: Elkhorn becomes a home away from home where everyone enjoys the outdoors, riding, friendship, and the ease of a family friendly vacation where ordering breakfast is the big decision of the day.  Everyone has the chance to relax and enjoy time together, as well as time apart – a perfect week long family vacation or gathering place for multi-generation reunions. Rides are arranged daily to suit individual interests and experience.  All rides are guided, with small groups.  Everyone enjoys the same horse and saddle throughout their stay.  Kids must be 6 and older to ride.  The 5 and under crowd may come at no charge, and have a ball exploring the ranch (note that Elkhorn does not provide supervised child-care).   A heated swimming pool, tennis and basketball court, ping pong, horseshoes, hiking, birding, kick the can by the light of the stars and moon and peeking under rocks — plus a well stocked library and cupboard of games and puzzles keeps everyone busy when not riding.  No television.  Yes to wireless internet access.  Fly to Phoenix or Tucson — visit the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum on your way to Elkhorn Ranch!


Getting the family ready for a guest ranch vacay

So, last week we told you how to plan ahead for your guest ranch trip. HomeRanch_1Now the question is: How do you get the family ready for this unique vacation?

Simple: ask Ranchweb.

Gene Kilgore, chief wrangler here at Ranchweb, has visited most of the guest ranches in the West and beyond, and has learned a few things in his decades in the dude ranching industry.

“Over the years, after hundreds of miles on horseback and thousands of miles in automobiles and airplanes, I know quality clothing is better than quantity. Well, I guess that goes for most everything in life.”

Yep. So check the family’s wardrobes. If those jeans are torn: replace ’em. If they’re new and unwashed, we guarentee they’ll result in saddle sores or chafing. Wash ‘em ahead–at least four times–using fabric softener (the liquid kind).

Some kids just don’t like to wear hats, but try hard to find a hat or a visor they WILL wear. Otherwise, bring extra sunscreen and sunglasses (with leashes, cuz they will fall off).

Make sure everybody brings a warm sweater, and a jacket for cool mornings and evenings by the campfire.

Check their footwear: riding means boots. Comfy boots. Invest in a good pair and get these far enough ahead so they can break ‘em in. (You too, Mom!) And you’ll want a pair of sneakers for running around and flip flops for just hanging out.

With the kids, start adjusting bedtimes. The kids will want to get up early on the ranch so as not to miss the morning pancake ride, lessons, and so on. Get them adjusted ahead and there will be no arguments on the first morning of vacation.

Reality check #1: are your family members really into riding? If so, a working ranch will suit them just fine. But if they’re more laid back in the saddle, then a family-oriented ranch is a better choice.

Reality check #2: is everyone in shape? If not, getting them off the couch a couple weeks ahead of time and out for a walk after dinner will mean they’re in better shape to enjoy the great outdoors.

Reality check #3: if you’re going for a bargain, go during the off-season or shoulder season. But if you do, be prepared for weather extremes and dress accordingly.

Finally, ask the ranch or lodge to send you a clothing list to help with your packing. Don’t forget a flashlight, some lip protection, mosquito repellant, and sunblock. And one last thing: bring along a smile–you’ll use it constantly on your guest ranch vacay!


Getting ready for a guest ranch vacay


Hey Mom, let’s say you did all the right planning. You surfed the web and picked your place: you found THE perfect ranch for your family’s special package of needs. Okay, smartypants, now what?  How do you actually get the family ready for a guest ranch stay?

Well, Ranchweb can be a great resource there. Check the ‘Ranch Categories’ section to find out if your chosen place meets your specific needs regarding Computer use, children’s programs, pet’s welcome, and so forth. Then, make a quick call to the ranch itself to brush up on some facts at that perfect ranch you’ve chosen. Here’s what you’ll wanna know:

*Want to bring a pet? It is an option at many ranches (check Ranchweb’s list of Ranch Categories/Pets Welcome). But please ask what the ranch policy is first. Many ranches prohibit pets, as their safety may be at risk (among the cattle, herd of horses, and ranch dogs). Some pet friendly ranches: 320 Guest Ranch, the Coulter Lake Guest Ranch, (below right), or the Diamond D Ranch.CoulterLake_1

*What’s the weather usually like at the time you’re booked? And is altitude an issue (many ranches are in the mountains, and if your child has asthma or other breathing problems or allergies, you may want to pack an extra inhaler or antihistimine).

*What is included in the rate you were quoted? Typical rates are all-inclusive, (covering meals, horseback riding, all facilities, children’s and teen supervision, special programming). But  maybe you’ve chosen a special discount rate–double check. And of course find out if sometimes extra options, like spa treatments and trap shooting or fly fishing school are extra—you’ll want to know that ahead.

*Find out the check-in/check-out times—this is not a hotel, so rules vary. Commonly, check in is at 2 PM and check out by 10 AM is typical, but exceptions may be made individually.

*Ask out how many kids of your children’s ages will be there when you’re there. And then, tell your kids so they know they’ll have some buds to hang with.

*Find out if the ranch has a liquor license and, if not, what their policy is about guests bringing their own bottles. (Some ranches will let you bring your own bottles but ask you not to consume it in the public areas, in order to preserve a family atmosphere. Check ahead.)

*Are serious medical concerns a possibility for you or the kids? Ask if the ranch staff is Red Cross First Aid certified and where the nearest hospital emergency room is located and how long it takes to reach. With serious medical issues, you may want to select a ranch that’s fairly handy to a city.

*If you’re a smoker, you’ve gotta ask about the ranch’s smoking policy. In Colorado, for example, a law restricts smoking in public places so you’ll be asked to step outside before you light up. Many ranch cabins are non-smoking now, as well.

*Those who need to stay connected (and who doesn’t, these days?) should ask about cell phone and internet service; both are possible at more and more ranches now, but be sure to confirm your ranch’s availability.

And remember, you can always check Ranchweb for your answers!

Next week, we’ll tell you how to get your family ready for the trip! Stay tuned…


How to plan your ranch vacation


HomeRanch_1Or maybe a better title for this particular story is How to NOT plan your ranch vacation. If you want to de-stress even before you take your family on a gust ranch trip, then here’s a term you’ll want to study: The all-inclusive vacation.

What a great concept for time-stressed parents. No hassles, no major planning required, just pack and show up at the ranch (or the airport–some ranches will arrange to pick you up from there). And Ranchweb can help you find ranches still offering all-inclusive vacations. Used to be, all dude ranch vacations came that way, but no more. The dude ranch industry has evolved to provide more customization—offering shorter, less costly trips and some inexpensive options that let you pay only for what you want (rather than one all-inclusive package).

Still, the all-inclusive option has a lot to offer, including lodging, sports, all meals, riding lessons, and so forth for one price. At some ranches, like Colorado’s Home Ranch (shown above), all inclusive means gourmet cuisine (some of the best dude ranch meals you’ll find), year-round multi-sport adventures and fly fishing guides (and gear), exceptional children’s programs, live music, roaring campfires, and even shuttle service to/from the airport.

Averills_1Some of the larger ranches like Averill’s Flathead Lake Ranch, provide all kinds of play and sports gear for your use and optional side trips to national parks, along major rivers, and more. Those kinds of extras can make it worth the sometimes price tag that comes with the all-inclusive option. But think of it this way: how much would you pay simply for tickets for a family day at the amusement park–not including meals, lodging, transportation and so on? Thinking of it that way, the all-inclusive price tag— including all your meals, lodging, and your choices of so many unique amusements—seems reasonable.

Greenhorn_1And some ranches, like California’s Greenhorn Creek ranch (shown at right) offer all-inclusive packages and activities for weddings, reunions, special interest groups, business/corporate meetings & retreats. It makes planning those types of trips a breeze.

The all-inclusive option is designed to let parents relax and let kids have fun and a little (supervised) freedom in the great outdoors. Fresh air, great food, family bonding in a no-stress zone. That’s the promise of the all-inclusive ranch resort vacation.


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.




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.


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!