Round Up The Family For An All-Inclusive Ranch Vacation
By Nancy Schretter, Editor
Dude ranches are the ultimate all-inclusive holiday for active families, plus a lot more. There are so many activities and adventures included in a ranch vacation and the opportunities for family and multigenerational bonding are incredible. A ranch vacation is an outstanding value, particularly when you consider all of the intangibles that don't show up on any vacation check list.
Our recent family vacation at Colorado's Lost Valley Ranch was fun and left us with so many vivid memories. It was easily one of the best vacations of our lives. We returned home with stronger bonds, fresh confidence, tons of pictures of our fantastic experiences, and new skills - plus we found several lost pieces of ourselves as well.
Here are just a few of the many all-inclusive features of a ranch vacation that made our Lost Valley Ranch trip so special:
* Incredible Riding: I used to enjoy riding, but an unfortunate experience with over-tired horses in Brazil a few years ago left me a bit scarred. I was itching to get back in the saddle again. This time, though, I wanted to make sure to do it in the right place. With its wide selection of horses and exceptional wranglers, Lost Valley Ranch was the perfect spot. I explained my background to the ranch's wranglers and they matched me up with a fabulous horse named Cutter. Cutter sized me up pretty quickly and became my new best friend. So did Chelsea, the outstanding wrangler who led our progressive beginners group. We started our first session off walking, but we were confidently trotting and loping (think gal-loping) by the end of our ride. I was stunned. Chelsea simultaneously taught, joked, and inspired - giving personalized attention to every member of our group. I discovered all the things I'd been doing wrong for years and learned how to ride the right way. It made all the difference in the world. I left Lost Valley with new confidence and skill - loving riding even more than I had years ago.
Lost Valley Ranch offers horseback riding for all ages and riding abilities, from easy walking excursions to expert jaunts and all-day cattle drives. As part of their all-inclusive ranch vacation, guests are able to ride twice daily on trails winding through meadows and along ridges offering stunning mountain vista views. Wranglers custom-fit each guest with a saddle and match them with one of Lost Valley's 130 ranch-raised and trained horses. Kids and teens have their own riding programs perfectly suited to their ages led by talented, caring staff members. Every age group gets rave reviews from parents and kids alike.
* Spectacular Staff: Dude ranches are known for delivering a special brand of Western hospitality. From the top on down, the staff of Lost Valley Ranch delivers service with a smile. It's all part of the incredible way this vacation destination approaches the guest experience. Tony Warnock, President of Lost Valley Ranch, says, "We've given our lives over to the idea that our lives matter because we are making a difference in the lives of our guests. What matters to our guests is simply more important than ourselves." Warnock's comments are absolutely genuine and this attitude shines through at all levels. By adopting this mind set, the Lost Valley staff creates incredible emotional connections with their guests that last throughout time. Guests who have vacationed at the ranch for decades echoed this theme. Lost Valley Ranch creates memorable guest experiences, builds and strengthens relationships, and engenders an incredible degree of trust.
* Awesome Kids & Teens Programs: Many ranches, like Lost Valley, offer outstanding week-long programs for their younger guests - all led by a carefully hand-picked group of caring, talented staff. Children ages 3-5 enjoy daily activities including riding instruction, crafts, nature walks, games and storytelling. Kids ages 6-12 have a full program of riding instruction plus lunches in a meadow or at the pool, fishing, field games and hiking. Teens have a blast at Lost Valley Ranch with teen riding instruction and activities, riving tubing, hiking fishing, barrel racing, calf roping, dances, and much more. These full-day kids and teens programs are included in the price of each family's ranch vacation. One-on-one babysitting for little tykes ages 2 and under is available for $12 per child per hour or $10 per child per hour for two or more children.
* Amazing Community: The guests we met at Lost Valley Ranch are fantastic people. They are most interested in who you are, not what you do. They're the kind of folks you want to see over and over again, and they keep coming back. Each year, more than half of Lost Valley Ranch's guests are repeat vacationers. Why? Walt Disney vacationed at the ranch with his family years ago and understood completely. "People think that all they want is recreation, but what they really need is re-creation," Disney said. Lost Valley provides that in spades. In this supportive community of like-minded people and surrounded by nature's beauty, individuals and families are able to unwind, bond, shed their baggage and regenerate themselves. It's a bit like living in a cocoon - guests emerge as a collective of colorful butterflies. "It's a transformational experience," says Tony Warnock. He's right. The staff and guests of Lost Valley create a peaceful, convivial environment of unconditional love and acceptance. In today's fast-paced world, that's the kind of tonic everyone needs.
* Freedom for Everyone: There's something about being in a sheltered, unconditionally accepting environment that is totally freeing. That's the kind of experience I had while growing up, but those types of places are hard to find these days. Vacationing at a ranch recreates those kinds of surroundings - it's like living in a wide open paradise where everyone knows your name and they're happy you're there. A ranch vacation is all about the freedom to do everything - or nothing at all. Kids and teens make new friends in their daily supervised programs, and parents feel comfortable letting their kids and teens roam about and explore. That leaves parents with plenty of newfound free time to do whatever they please. It's the most relaxing feeling in the world.
Some parents choose a ranch vacation because they think it will be fun for their kids, only to discover that it's the best vacation of their lives. One repeat guest told me, "The first time we came here I did it for my kids and thought it was going to be just an okay vacation. But I loved it - it was like I had found my second childhood." At Lost Valley, this guest had the chance to rediscover pieces of himself that had been lost while sharing a fantastic vacation with his family. He's been coming back ever since, even though his children are adults now. Many parents and grandparents shared similar stories.
* All-Inclusive Fun: Not having to worry about almost anything is one of the great benefits of an all-inclusive ranch holiday. Moms don't have to stress about cooking, cleaning or what everyone's going to do all day. It's all included. The Lost Valley Ranch Brand comes out each evening with the next day's schedule of activities and events. Guests simply have to decide what they want to do. There are a few things that cost a bit extra, like fly fishing lessons, whitewater rafting or trap shooting. They're lots of fun, but entirely optional. After all, part of the ranch experience is about slowing down and taking in nature's beauty. As Walt Disney said as he took in the mountains and meadows, "Get your guests out in this ... feeling it, smelling it, watching it and enjoying it. They'll never be the same."
It's important to pick the right ranch for your family. The Dude Ranchers' Association represents over 100 of the best dude ranches and guest ranches in the western United States and Canada. Members must pass a two year inspection and approval process. Learn more and find a list of member ranches at http://www.duderanch.org. They can also help you to decide what types of ranches might work best for your family.
Lost Valley Ranch is part of the Spur Alliance, a group of 10 top dude ranches in North America. Every member ranch is family owned and operated, each serving guests continually for a minimum of 20 years. The Spur Alliance includes a variety of different ranches and is committed to matching families with the ranch best suited for them. For more information, visit http://www.bestduderanches.com.
Gene Kilgore's Ranch Vacations book is a great guide for learning more about dude ranches, guest ranches, and working cattle ranches. Purchase it online or at your favorite bookstore, or visit Kilgore's RanchWeb site for more information at http://www.ranchweb.com.
Cowboy boots, riding jeans and cowboy hats are definitely part of the ranch experience and are highly recommended. Most ranches will supply a suggested packing list.
While some ranches will accept bookings of less than a week, particularly during their off season months, plan to spend a full seven nights on your ranch holiday. It takes a full week to truly relax and reap the full benefits families can get from this type of vacation. It takes that long to truly relax, unwind, reconnect, and not feel like you have to be doing everything. It's hard to explain. Believe me, I didn't understand either, but when you go - you'll know.