If you think that all dude ranches are located out West, it's time to adjust your GPS.
For families in the Northeast looking for a dude ranch experience with horseback riding and other kid-friendly fun, Rocking Horse Ranch has been welcoming little cowpokes and their parents to the rural hinterland of New York’s Hudson Valley for over 50 years. The place has remained a family-owned-and-run business since it was founded in 1958. The location is just two hours north of New York City in the small town of Highland, southwest of the Catskills Mountains and east of the Hudson River.
Things to Do
Along with typical ranch activities like horseback riding and hay rides, there is a cruise-ship-like array of fun things to do. The ranch is spread out over 500 acres, but most activities are found within a few acres of the lodge. Extensive facilities include riding stables, a rock climbing wall, mini-golf course, rifle range, softball field, playground, shuffleboard, bocce, games arcade, and a fitness center. There is a wonderful outdoor playground with at least six climbing structures, slides, swings, and a whirlybird, along with a large indoor “fun barn” containing a bouncy house and two-story ball pit. There is both an outdoor and an indoor pool, which could pass as a small waterpark, as it's warmed to a toasty 85 degrees and features water slides, spray fountains, a floating water walk, and a 250-foot water slide known as the Gold Rush Flume.
Parents with children ages 1 to 4 can take advantage of the nursery, and there's a free day camp for kids ages 5 to 12, which is available on a drop-off basis. In our estimation, the kid's camp is a letdown and more of a supervised babysitting service than a camp in the true sense of the word, with fun, age-appropriate activities. Older kids will be bored silly here, but younger kids may be happy enough to spend time in the clubhouse with its array of toys and games.
In the evenings, Rocking Horse Ranch offers nightly family entertainment options, including bonfire sing-alongs, line dancing, magic shows, and such. Other downtime activities include game nights or movies in the lounge.
Rates fluctuate significantly between high and low season. Keep in mind that this is an all-inclusive vacation with lodging, most meals, horseback riding, evening entertainment, and practically every other expense built into the cost of your room. In the off-season, deals are more abundant. There are a few exceptions to the all-inclusive rate, such as alcoholic beverages and spa treatments. Tips for restaurant and bar staff are also not included.
The 100 guest rooms in the main lodge are split into two large wings. Every room has easy access to the lobby, public areas, and key outdoor activity areas. The 20 rooms in the Oklahoma Building, less than 30 yards from the lodge, are slightly smaller and also slightly less expensive. Rooms are fairly basic and definitely not luxurious, but they are good-sized, well-maintained, and comfortably appointed. Many feature a pullout sofa or bunk beds for the kids.
The resort is open year-round, with a changing seasonal lineup of activities. In the summer, families can use the outdoor pool, take out paddleboats on the small lake, grab a ride on a banana boat, or go water skiing. In the winter, guests can go snow tubing and even learn to ski at the small ski area on the resort’s grounds. Horseback riding on the nearby trails that ramble through woods and meadows is offered all year long.
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