You're stressed. The kids are bored. All of you need to get away, but the vacation budget is tight. What to do? Try something completely different: an all-inclusive dude ranch.
Located in rural surroundings, dude ranches charge one flat rate that covers lodging, meals, guided horseback riding (for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders) and a variety of indoor and seasonal outdoor activities for everyone from infants to seniors. Since most activities are staff-supervised, you can enjoy them as a family or split up and each do your own thing.
TYPES OF RANCHES
There are two types of dude ranches in our area. Resort ranches offer riding, along with amenities such as swimming pools and spas. Working ranches breed and train horses, so guests spend most of the day saddled up and seeing the countryside.
To choose the right spot, consider how much riding you plan to do, what other activities interest you and just how rustic you prefer to vacation.
WHEN TO GO
Riding weather and scenery are best during spring, early summer and fall. You'll need to bring a wide-brimmed hat, comfortable jeans, hiking shoes or sneakers, riding boots and gloves. A Windbreaker, a bathing suit, sunscreen and a camera are advisable.
Here are six dude ranches where you can have a Western experience without leaving the Northeast.
RESORT DUDE RANCHES
PINEGROVE RANCH AND FAMILY RESORT , Kerhonkson, N.Y., 800-346-4626, www.pinegrove-ranch.com
MILES FROM NYC: 99
This year-round, 126-room ranch is on 600 acres with a private lake in the Catskills. You get three all-you-can-eat meals daily (kids' menu available), plus an all-day chuck wagon snack bar and ice cream. Includes 45 to 60 minutes of riding daily and a choice of 30 indoor-outdoor sports ranging from rock climbing to miniature golf. There are special programs for kids 6 weeks to 16 years old, plus a petting zoo, pony rides and a playground. Later, the whole family can reunite in indoor-outdoor pools with double water slides or work out your charley horses at the fitness center. Evenings, while you're at the adult cocktail parties, kids can head to the nonalcoholic "Coketail" disco parties.
RATES: $109-$159 adults, $25-$99 kids (based on at least three people in a room) $25-$50 nightly surcharge for double/single occupancy. Discounts for longer or midweek stays.
WHAT'S NEARBY: See the vintage airplane museum (May-October) and live air show (June-October) at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, 845-752-3200, oldrhinebeck.org .
ROCKING HORSE RANCH RESORT Highland, N.Y. 800-647-2624, rockinghorseranch.com
MILES FROM NYC: 80
Set on 500 acres of mountain views and a private lake, this year-round resort offers three daily all-you-can-eat meals prepared by Culinary Institute of America chefs. Guests can take a daily one-hour horseback ride (standby for repeat rides). You also can hike, water ski, rock climb, fish, boat, take up archery or try the BB gun shooting gallery. The ranch has heated indoor-outdoor pools, a sauna and fitness center. For kids, there are crafts, a supervised day camp (ages 4-12), pony rides and a new "Super Wii" video game room. Nightfall brings horse-drawn hay rides, holiday fireworks, music, dancing and nightly entertainment ranging from Wild West shows to bonfires.
RATES: $200-$240 adults, $99-$105 kids older than 4 (double occupancy) for weekend stays through June 14. Discounts for midweek or multinight stays; third child stays free.
WHAT'S NEARBY : Tour a number of Hudson River wineries along the Shawangunk Wine Trail ( shawangunkwinetrail.com ).
1000 ACRES RANCH RESORT Stony Creek, N.Y. 518-696-2444, 1000acres.com
MILES FROM NYC: 224
In the upper Hudson River Valley of the Adirondacks, the ranch's 86 rooms are a mix of private cabins, motel units and lodge quarters, some with river views. Ride daily (except Wednesdays, the horses' day off) for one hour; standby availability for additional rides. When you're not on the trail, try fishing, boating, tennis and basketball. There are three pools (one indoors), plus supervised activities for kids. Extra fees for golfing and white-water rafting. Nightly entertainment includes country-Western bands and line dancing. Three daily meals are served buffet- or family-style in the dining room or in an outdoor pavilion.
RATES: $147-$160 adults, $28-$110 ages 4-17 (based on double occupancy, two-night minimum). Free golf midweek May 25-June 28 and Aug. 30- Oct. 26, excluding holidays. Discount weekend packages available until Memorial Day.
WHAT'S NEARBY: Ride the historic Upper Hudson River Railroad (upperhudsonriver rr.com).
RIDIN HY RESORT RANCH , Warrensburg, N.Y. 518-494-2742, ridinhy.com
MILES FROM NYC: 212
Open year-round, this resort is set on Sherman Lake in the Adirondacks. The rooms vary from chalet cabins to lake-view lodges. Here, you get two hourlong rides daily (plus standby, if you wish). In between, choose from boating, fishing, wagon rides, rodeos, archery and tennis. Indoors, try bingo, shuffleboard and swimming in the heated pool. Full meals include wine-and-cheese, pizza, hot dog roasts, buffets and a weekly steak fry. Nightly live entertainment and campfires.
RATES: $105-$127.50 adults, $45-$90 ages 4-17 (double occupancy, two-night minimum) through July 1, excluding Memorial Day weekend. Discounts for multiday or weekly stays.
WHAT'S NEARBY : Go on the rides at The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom at Lake George ( sixflags.com/greatescape ).
WORKING DUDE RANCHES
MALIBU DUDE RANCH , Milford, Pa., 800-862-5428, malibududeranch.com
MILES FROM NYC: 73
This working ranch is on 800 mountaintop acres in the Delaware Highlands. The ranch owns 50 horses - visitors ride at least two hours a day. Play tennis, volleyball, basketball and horseshoes. Try archery and the rifle range before relaxing in the indoor pool and sauna. No TVs or phones in rooms. Meals are family-style.
RATES: $85-$125 adults (half-price ages 6-16). $245 for three-night holiday weekends; $490 a week.
WHAT'S NEARBY: Bargain for antiques and collectibles in Milford.
HILL TOP RANCH , Jamesville, N.Y. 315-492-2918, thehilltopranch.com
MILES FROM NYC: 250
Craving a more intimate experience? Set in the Adirondack foothills, this ranch hosts a maximum of 16 guests. Activities include rugged cowboy outings with experienced wranglers - Black Angus cattle drives, roundups and roping. After breakfast, guests ride most of the day (itinerary can be tailored). Visitors also may fish, swim, hike, shoot archery or pitch horseshoes. Afterward, soak in the hot tub or gather around a bonfire for live music. Come summer, cowboys lead two-night horseback camping trips (they pitch the tents and cook).
RATES : $200 adults, $160 younger than 14; extra $75 for camping.
WHAT'S NEARBY : See the 167-foot Chittenango Falls or visit Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art ( everson.org ).