Arizona is known for its beautiful landscapes, some of the most popular being the Grand Canyon, The Painted Desert, and Monument Valley. We are a rugged, mountainous state and home to the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world.
Our Sonoran Desert is the only place in which the Saguaro Cactus grows naturally in the wild. According to The Dude Ranchers’ Association, only about 20% of Arizona is actually developed leaving about 80% of the state open to extraordinary landscapes, wilderness, and ranch land. This makes Arizona the perfect place for a Dude Ranch vacation.
A “Dude Ranch” is a working ranch that accepts guests to help out or vacation in a ranch environment. Dude ranch vacations offer a range of activities to enjoy. Bird watching, jeep tours, nature programs, panning for gold, rock climbing, roping lessons, shooting, and team penning are just some of the activities commonly available on an Arizona ranch. Some ranches have nearby ghost towns, gold mines, and other historical places for you to visit. It is like walking in the footsteps of people such as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, or Billy the Kid, or even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Horseback riding is by far the most popular activity offered on a ranch vacation. Whether you are a beginner or have been on the back of a horse for most of your life, the ranches will offer you plenty of opportunity to ride. Each ranch offers its own unique experience. You may ride over the desert, in the grasslands, or along mountain trails in the morning, afternoon, and even into the sunset. Arizona sunsets are a vision on their own and are amongst the most breathtaking in the country.
There are different types of ranches to choose from in Arizona. Some are smaller- almost like a bed and breakfast, some offer a more hands on rustic experience, others are more family friendly, and others are a little more romantic and offer their guests some pampering amenities.
This is a list of popular ranches gathered from The Arizona Dude Ranch Association website.
- Circle Z Ranch, Patagonia
Circle Z Ranch started as a sheep-herding operation in the 1880’s, and was later developed as a dude ranch in the 1920’s. It is Arizona’s oldest, continuously operating dude ranch. Sitting on over 5,000 acres, Circle Z Ranch offers horseback trails on beautiful landscapes of canyons, grasslands, and mountain ranges to be explored with expert wranglers. Distinct to Circle Z is the ever-flowing Sonoita Creek, creating a lush riparian oasis. Its diverse landscape has been the setting for many Western Movies. Other activities include nature walks, bird-watching, cook-outs, and as a family friendly ranch, they have many features for children.
- Elkhorn Ranch, near Tucson
In the Altar valley, nestled in the shadow of Baboquavri Peak, about 50 miles southwest of Tucson you will find the Elkhorn Ranch. Whether you travel solo, as a couple or with your family, you will find friendship, rest, quiet and adventure around the ranch and on miles of mountain and desert trails. The ranch’s ten thousand acres provide plenty of remote canyons and mountain country to explore, a true wilderness experience. There is a pool, horse-shoes, ping-pong, shuffle board and other activities available for children. Nearby attractions include, but aren’t limited to Kartchner Caverns State Park, and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.
- Hideout Ranch, Portal
When you visit Hideout, you’ll see the West as it was meant to be seen – from the back of a horse. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been on a horse or have ridden hundreds of times. Hideouts seasoned horses are personable, trail-savvy companions for “greenhorns” and experienced riders alike. Ride ancient trails through a dramatic mountain landscape and follow an old stagecoach trail along easy slopes to the ruins of a historic fort. Discover hidden canyons in the morning and explore arroyos on the grazing range of a true western guest ranch in the afternoon.
- Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg
Established in 1948, Rancho de los Caballeros is a family-owned and operated guest ranch resort situated on 20,000 acres of beautiful High Sonoran Desert in Wickenburg, Arizona. Rancho de los Caballeros honors the style of the Spanish caballeros, “gentlemen on horseback” who brought their traditions of skillful riding and gracious living to the untamed desert. They have something for everyone, such as, peaceful horseback rides through the desert, soothing hot stone massages, and laid-back games of golf, as well as trap & skeet shooting, guided ATV and Jeep tours, and the excitement of team penning. Children can enjoy all the fun of the Caballeros Kid’s Club.
- Sprucedale Ranch, Alpine
Sprucedale Guest Ranch is nestled high in the pine country of Northeastern Arizona. It has been in the Wiltbank family since 1941, and is a retreat for people from all over to come ride some great horses, relax, and feel close to nature. Sprucedale is rich in history, unsurpassed in mountain scenery and renowned for being an unbeatable family vacation spot. The cabins are lovely and rustic with modern conveniences. About seventy five percent of guests are 2nd and 3rd generation return visitors. Horseback riding takes center stage at Sprucedale and is available for beginner and experienced riders alike. The Witbank’s raise and train their own horses, and are able to choose the right mount for each rider. Elk, deer, antelope, and big horn sheep are frequently seen on the riding trails which vary from grassy meadows to trails along beautiful mountain streams. In addition to horseback riding, there are other activities for all ages: cow milking, gymkhana rodeos, colt leading, branding, western dance lessons, cookouts, fishing, great hiking trails, extended rides and much more. Some guests choose to merely sit on their porch and drink in the beauty and peace of this picturesque valley.
- Tombstone Monument Ranch, Tombstone
Tombstone Monument Ranch is situated amidst ancient bolder formations and the Dragoon Mountains and is setup like an 1880’s Western frontier town. They are 3 miles outside of Tombstone located in the heart of Cochise County, Arizona. Here you can step back in time to the era of the cowboy in individually designed rooms; each with a unique historical Western theme. Their all-inclusive package includes daily trail rides. But if you are real horse lover who wants to ride even more, they can offer you more of an equine stay! Riding lessons with experienced wranglers or extended 1- 4 hour riding tours to the surrounding mountains, mining sites and ghost towns will ensure you have your fill. Other activities include breakfast rides, horseshoe pitching, dummy roping, cowboy school, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and a pool/billiard table. Nightly entertainment options include Indian storytelling, reptile shows, saloon parties, campfires, live music, poker nights, Faro games and gunfights in the saloon.
Arizona has many more ranches available to choose from. Others can be found on the Arizona Dude Ranch Association webpage, and a quick internet search is sure to pull up even more. Try one, try them all! Each ranch has its own unique landscape and ambiance, no two stays are alike. With a little research you can find one that will fill your family’s hearts with memories that last a lifetime.
- How to Help Kids Eat Healthy This Summer (fillyourplate.org)
- Tips for Planning a Fabulous Family Vacation on a Budget (fillyourplate.org)
- What Your Kids Can Learn This Summer… From Cooking (fillyourplate.org)