Dude Ranches, Working Farms, and Llama Treks, Oh My!
Vacation time is coming up, and well, your not exactly thrilled. You want to get away, but you really don’t want to expose yourself or your family to the same old, same old vacation.
Happily, there is a variety of exciting, one of a kind options nearby that the whole family can enjoy.
Dude ranches or guest ranches are quickly growing in popularity as an affordable vacation option. While the majority of dude and guest ranches are located in the west, there are a few in the Southeast, in fact, a lot closer than you think.
Southern Cross Ranch in Madison is home to over 100 Paint and Quarter horses. The ranch’s emphasis is on horseback riding. Whether you are a beginner or experienced, horseback riding is offered twice a day, seven days a week.
“Our relaxed riding program allows guests to trail ride on their own if they choose,” said Noel Detienne, with Southern Cross. “Horses are matched for novice and experienced riders alike, and lessons are available.”
As a working ranch, guests can have hands-on experience with the horse through grooming and caring for them.
Non-riding activities are plentiful at Southern Cross. Play games in the game room, ride mountain bikes, or take a dip in the swimming pool.
Different rate packages are offered, yet Detienne says that most guests book their All-Inclusive plan, and horseback riding is the featured activity. The All-Inclusive plan includes horseback riding, pool, hot tub, meals, game room activities, unlimited soft drinks, and other non-alcoholic beverage (24 hrs), unlimited snacks and desserts (24 hrs), bike riding, and more. Their web site offers detailed information on the rate packages. Southern Cross Ranch welcomes children ages 4 and up. (www.southerncross.com; 706-342-8027)
If you are looking for something that would give you a taste of what you would experience out West, French Broad River Dude Ranch in Del Rio can give you the feel of the West while you stay in the South.
“We give guests the best vacation of their lives,” said Shawn Gannon, of this dude ranch. “We are the only ranch east of the Mississippi that gives the same ranch experience as the ranches out west.”
Located in the Smoky Mountains, this dude ranch offers a plethora of fun, centered on horseback riding. You can also participate in whitewater rafting, river rafting, listen to live blue grass music, try square dancing, swim, and be a part of cattle drives and team penning. Yes, that is correct, cattle drives and team penning (that’s rounding up cows and getting them into pens, for you city folks) in Tennessee.
French Broad River offers a children’s program that includes extra training on horseback and shorter rides, arts and crafts, and treasure hunts. The Ranch welcomes children ages 5 and up.
Their web site provides details on their rate packages, as well as special event weeks at the Ranch. (www.frenchbroadriver.com; 800- 995-7678)
With the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, western North Carolina is home to three guest ranches. Clear Creek Guest Ranch in Burnsville, about 38 miles from Asheville, caters to children of all ages. During summer, the high season, the Ranch has a full time activity director. While most of the activities, such as hiking and hay rides, are done together as a family, children do have a break from adults.
According to Aileen Frederick, host at the ranch, children’s activities include supervised and guided horseback riding, arts and crafts, junior wrangler ride, picnics, and .eld trips to the gem mine. There is even a play room for younger children, ages 3-4 (accompanied by a parent), that includes TV/VCR and other age appropriate toys.
Parents can also participate with their children in horseback riding, tubing, fishing, and white-water rafting, just to name a few activities.
Fredrick says that rates are all inclusive, and the web site provides more information on rates and accommodations. While Clear Creek welcomes children as young as three, some activities do have an age requirement. (www.clearcreekranch.com; 800-651- 4510)
Located 35 miles west of Asheville is Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley which borders the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Located at 5,000 feet, this ranch is the highest eastern guest ranch.
Horseback riding is the main activity and riders are placed in groups according to their ability. For those more experienced, you can inquire about the ranch’s special pack trip days.
The whole family can enjoy the other activities offered at Cataloochee Ranch, such as hiking field trips, storytelling, fishing, wagon rides, and marshmallow roasts.
Check out their web site for information on the rate packages and authentic southern regional Appalachian recipes from their kitchen. (www.cataloochee-ranch.com; 800-868-1401)
Drive 18 miles from downtown Asheville, and you will arrive at Pisgah View Ranch in Candler. Family owned since 1790, the Ranch opened to the public in 1941. Families will enjoy taking part in such activities as horseback riding and hiking trails. You can practice your serve on the tennis courts or at the ping pong table. In June, the activities increase and include Family Night, bingo, square dancing, and blue grass music. You can .find more information about their rates on the web site. Pisgah View Ranch welcomes children as young as 2 years old. (www.pisgahviewranch.com; 866-252-8361).
Operating since 1952 on 500 acres in Lake Wales, Circle F Dude Ranch prides themselves on being a great place for guests to get back to basics. Their Fantastic Family Weekends can satisfy the most active family. Activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, skit night and talent show. Director Diana Yost says that the highlight of the weekend is their Build-A-Boat family teambuilding activity. According to Yost, each family receives cardboard, duct tape, and a safety knife. Then they have 45-minutes to build a boat out of those supplies, and after the 45 minutes are up, the families race their boats against each other. (www.circle-f-duderanch.com; 863-676-4113).
Fiddler’s Green Ranch, located in Altoona, outside of Ocala, borders the 400,000-acre Ocala National Forest, allowing for the Ranch to offer one-hundred miles of horse trail. This is a great ranch for those less experienced at riding horses. Group and individual lessons are offered, starting at $35/hour. Other amenities include petting farm, hiking trails, lawn games, and fishing on the Ranch’s private lake. Accommodations vary from one-bedroom efficiency to a three-bedroom villa. Current rates and packages are available on their web site. (www.fiddlersgreenranch.com; 352- 750-5500).
Ace of Hearts is considered to be one of the finest riding stables in the United States. Located in Cocoa, the Ranch is located close enough to popular attractions, yet far enough to enjoy your stay at the Ranch. According to owner Sandra Vann, one of the more popular rides is the one-hour ride on the beach at Canaveral National Seashore. In addition to horses, there is also a 700-acre cattle ranch, where you and your horse can ride through the cows. More information about rates and other amenities are on their web site. (www.aceofheartsranch.com; 321-638-0104).
On 1,700-acres, located between Orlando and Tampa, is Westgate River Ranch. Along with the horse stables and trails, the ranch also offers families a petting zoo, skeet ranges, bicycles rentals, and a full service marina. In addition, there is a special children’s program. Rates and information in special seasonal packages are all on their web site. (www.wgriverranch.com; 866-910-2624).
WORKING FARMS STAY
Agri-Tourism continues to be a growing industry in the United States. This division includes roadside markets, corn mazes, u-pick farms, working farm tours, and bed and breakfasts with working farms.
It is hard to think of complete serenity just outside of a major metropolitan area, but that is exactly what guests will .find at Serenbe Bed and Breakfast Farms, in Palmetto, outside of Atlanta. The Farm offers hay rides, walking trails, fishing on their private lake, and croquet, just to name a few activities. Guests can help feed, play with, and love the over 100 animals on the grounds. Accommodations vary and you can find the room description and current prices on their web site. (www.serenbe.com; 770-463-2610).
Don’t let the name fool you, they do not raise skunks, nor have skunks on the property. Skunk Ridge Bed and Breakfast is a horse and Christmas tree farm located in Clinton, near Knoxville. The property, which lies on 20 acres, includes riding rings and hiking trails. Rates online. (www.skunkridge.com; 865-494-0214).
Awarded the Four Diamond rating by AAA, Peacock Hill Inn is a 1,000 acre retreat on a working cattle farm. Located outside of Nashville, it also offers guests farm ponds, tennis courts, and trails for walking and hiking. Horseback riding trails are also available, but guests must bring their own horse. You can find information about their rates on their web site. (www.peacockhillinn.com; 615-368-7727).
Home to fourteen alpacas, eight sheep, a couple of goats, and a llama, which is considered as a guard animal, The Farmhouse at Bush River is a working and breeding Alpaca farm. Bush River allows guests to interact with the animals at their convenience; and the owners Janet and Greg Henley, will answer questions about the alpacas. Guests are even allowed to feed the baby animals. (www.bushriverfarm.com; 864-833-3881).
Located 35 minutes from Tallahassee, Millstone Farms is a working cattle farm that breeds and raises cattle. It is not unusual to see calves or cattle walking around. In addition, Millstone also has wooded nature trails for avid walkers and hikers, among other activities. Rates and more information can be found on their web site. (www.millstonefarms.com; 850- 627-9400).
TAKE A HIKE WITH A LLAMA
If you and your family are looking to spend time with another exotic animal, hiking or trekking with llamas can be found at three different ranches and bed and breakfasts: Crystal River Ranch in Hiawassee, Georgia (www.crystalriver-ranch.com; 706- 869-5005); Ocoee Mist Farms in Benton, Tennessee (www.ocoee-mist.com; 888- 541-9583); Hawks Bed and Breakfast in Andrews, North Carolina (www.hawksbb.com; 800-447-9549); and WindDancers Lodge in Clyde, North Carolina (www.winddancersnc.com; 828-627-6986). Children and adults can meet the llamas, and they can lead them on guided hikes and walks. —By Apryl Chapman Thomas