Back in my youth I used to ride horses, but that was a long time ago. Recently, I had the opportunity to check out something new to me — a dude ranch. My three kids and I packed up the old Ford Expedition and headed to New York.
Yep, that's right, New York. Well, not Manhattan, but about 90 minutes north to a small town called Highland and a place called the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort. This was a quick getaway before the holidays organized by a great organization called Single Parent Travel, and since I am single, a parent and I like to travel, I persuaded my kids that it was time for a road trip.
Let me be the first to admit that my kids are spoiled. We usually fly, and I am usually able to obtain upgrades to first class with mileage points or by charm, so the prospect of a five-hour road trip seemed a bit daunting to me. But with a GPS, a borrowed radar detector, a charged-up E-ZPass and a lead foot, we shaved about 40 minutes off the trip, arriving unscathed and in good spirits.
I am not sure what we expected. After all, New York is not the center of dude ranch country, but after 48 hours we were converts to the Northeast cowboy experience. For anyone within 350 miles of New York City, this is a perfect year-round getaway for families, couples and singles. There are activities and amenities to appeal to everyone from toddlers to octogenarians.
The ranch is what I call "mostly inclusive," i.e., you pay for incidentals like the snack bar, video games, gift shop purchases and your booze. But the activities and meals are included in a very reasonable price. Our weekend for three kids and one adult (sharing a basic but very good-sized room) was under $700.
After we checked in, our first stop was to sign up for the trail rides and our dining times. The ranch maintains a stable of 135 horses (all Western — after all, it wouldn't be a ranch if they were English), a full blacksmith shop and a huge group of wranglers to make sure the experience is safe for everyone. Kids must be 7 to ride, no exceptions. The hour-long trail rides are ranked beginner (walk), intermediate (walk, trot) and advanced (yeee hah!); five rides are offered each day at each level. We decided to all ride together and over the weekend moved from beginner (two rides) to intermediate (three rides). We had a blast.
The dinners had a cruise-like feel. We ate at a large table with other single parents who were a part of our group, and the food was very good and plentiful. The menu varied each night and there were always enough choices to please even the pickiest eater (my younger daughter). My son says he has had better ribs, but my prime rib was outstanding. Breakfast was a buffet with open seating and eggs cooked to order — a perfect way to start the day. Lunch was the lowest-key meal of the day. To be honest, we never ate lunch; we were too busy with other stuff.
It was almost winter when we visited, but the resort had a ton of indoor activities to keep us busy, including archery, a rifle range, arts and crafts, an indoor pool (with a faux tree that dumped buckets of water on your head), a fitness room and a fun-packed barn that had Ping-Pong tables, moon bounces, an automatic rock-climbing machine, volleyball and an area for shooting foam balls at each other with air powered "guns."
For those who don't mind a little nip in the air, there was miniature golf, rock climbing, paddle boats, fishing, hiking, pony rides for the little guys, tennis, basketball, outdoor volleyball, softball, shuffleboard, bocce and more. Since we were between seasons, the outdoor pool and many of the other water activities (water skiing, banana boats) were closed down, and the ski area had yet to open. But the resort can make snow when the temperatures drop low enough, and the ranch looks like a great spot to learn to ski or just zip down a hill on an inner tube. This truly is a year-round resort.
Since the ranch is out in the middle of nowhere (it really is), the resort has put together a great evening program for everyone. There were bands, comics, magicians, karaoke and a mentalist who really freaked me out. The indoor pool is open late, as is the rustic and very Western-looking lobby bar and the game room in the basement for the kids. The Cactus Lounge is the place for teens to hang out and grab some grub. On Saturday night, the mentalist was an adults-only show, so the kids were ushered out, supervised and sugared up with a huge ice cream party — perfect for settling down around 1 a.m. (not!).
The Single Parent Travel group had a few private parties to meet and get to know one another. On Friday afternoon there was a wine and cheese party, and on Saturday evening, we had a get-together in the nightclub with a house band and a buffet of warm appetizers and some Rocking Horse Punch (which it packed). Single Parent Travel (SPT) offers a great program for single parents who want to travel together and share common experiences. Their prices are very affordable, and their trips include everything from weekend jaunts like ours to a weeklong Harry Potter trip to Britain and a full-scale South African safari. SPT also offers a free newsletter and an online forum.
I went into this Western-style weekend a little skeptical but came away a true fan of the resort. SPT is planning another trip to the ranch in March and I have already put my name on the list. If you are looking for a fun and different experience in the Northeast, check it out. In the meantime, check out some of the pictures on my photo site.