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Dude Ranch Family Vacation in Arizona

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Last week, my family spent four nights at Stagecoach Trail Guest House in Yucca, Arizona. We camped in a covered wagon for the whole trip - what a memorable experience - and for my two girls who are horseback-riding enthusiasts, it was a dream come true.

Since this was my first experience vacationing at a dude ranch, I thought I would share a few insights and personal discoveries for those of you who might consider trying it someday. It’s definitely unique and definitely worth it!

Plan early

Make sure you make your reservation at least six months in advance. The accommodations we chose could manage no more than 40 guests a night. When I booked our trip two months ago, I had planned to book a cabin, but only the covered wagon was left. Staying in a covered wagon is quite an experience, and it is not the most convenient place to sleep, since you have to go outside to use the bathroom and to take showers. My advice: if you want to book a comfortable cabin, make sure you reserve it early!

the covered wagonGirls sitting at the back of the covered wagon that we slept in

When to go

If you want to go horseback riding at a ranch in Arizona, avoid Summer; it is too hot to go out! When we were there last week, the temperature was already in the high-80s during the day. This was okay for a slow trail walk, but too hot for galloping. The more experienced riders in my group thought that would have been more fun.

But, if you do want to plan a horseback-riding trip out West in the Summer, choose one in Colorado or Wyoming, where Summer temperatures are milder. That would be great for Summer break.

morning greeting with the horses morning greetings with the horses

saddled up for a trail ride

Which dude ranch to pick

Most dude ranches are located in remote areas. The one we went to is a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas. To make it easy for travelers like us, they offer an all-inclusive vacation package that includes three meals a day, unlimited coffee, and non-alcoholic drinks.

Our meals were home-cooked - simple and delicious - especially important since one of my daughters is not an adventurous eater. We had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and bagels for breakfast; there was roasted chicken, roast beef with potatoes, enchiladas, caesar salad and mac-and-cheese for dinner. My whole family loved it all!

For all ranches, the price is connected to the quality and quantity of meals and activities they provide each day. Stagecoach Rail Guest House where we stayed is a mid-priced dude ranch. They offer twice-a-day horseback riding, there is a small swimming pool that kids can play in after the rides, and the main lodge area has pool and ping pong tables and all kinds of family games. For an extra charge, we decided to ride in a humvee and ATVs and drove up the mountain, which was the highlight of the trip. Make sure to choose a ranch that has the kinds of activities you and your family enjoy the most.

humvee ride to the mountaingetting ready for the humvee ride

300 hundred years old cactus
after a bumpy humvee ride, got to take a family picture with the 300 hundred year old cactus

For a complete list of ranches, ranked on their activity selections, check out

What to pack

The temperature out West, especially in Arizona, changes dramatically from day to night, so make sure you bring both cool-weather and warm-weather clothes.  

On my packing list was:

  • my Julia Everywhere Tote (great as a carry on)
  • a thin jacket that could be used at night (a jean jacket would be good as well).
  • plaid or denim long sleeve shirts for riding. Long sleeve shirts are perfect for sun protection and even when the temperature rose, there was always a breeze in the desert so I didn’t get too hot on horseback.
  • a wide-brimmed hat with chin strings - channel your inner cowgirl/cowboy! I got a straw one from Amazon, very useful to block the sun, while the strings prevent wind from blowing your hat off while riding.
  • short-sleeve t-shirts for lounging around when you are at the ranch and not riding the horses.
  • bootcut jeans, to go with your riding boots, of course!
  • riding boots, like a pair of low-heeled Western boots. I used my regular winter boots, but would love to get a real pair of Western boots for our next ranch trip. Western boots will complete your ranch look!
  • a colorful bandana that you can tie around your neck or your wrist or use as a hair tie; the styling is very versatile.
  • a pair of sunglasses.
  • sandals to wear to the shower or to the pool.
  • clogs for walking around the ranch grounds. They give you height and are comfortable to walk on usually unpaved ranch grounds.
  • Swimsuit(s) and a swimsuit coverup.

channel your inner cowgirl with an all denim look

My girls’ review on the ranch:

Olivia (13 years old)
The most fun thing we did?
- Humvee ride on the mountain

Least favorite?
- The drive to and from the Las Vegas airport

Overall rating?
- 9/10 Stars!!!

Lila (10 years old)
The most fun thing we did?
- Humvee ride on the mountain

Least favorite?
- The last horseback ride when her horse wasn’t moving fast enough. She was worried that her horse caused the whole group to slow down. (In fact, the weather was too hot and her horse was just tired.)

Overall rating?
- 7/10 Stars

carryon bag cowgirl outfit dude ranch style dude ranch vacation Julia everywhere tote packing tip travel tote

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