Great Western Ranch Vacations

Whether you're seeking the ultimate fly fishing experience, the most authentic cattle drive, or a haven for your children and family to run free, a dude ranch vacation may be your best connection to the great outdoors. Browse through these ten ranches to find your perfect dude ranch.

Go Fly A Kite!

For low-cost and high-flying fun, set the sky ablaze with the colors and shapes of your choice.

Here are five places where you and your family can go fly a kite:

4 Underwater Adventures

 Get close to creatures of the sea for a wild family adventure. Here are four ideas to consider:

1. Swim With Whale Sharks.

Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks are massive, reaching lengths of 40 feet and 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancun. Two at a time, along with a guide, you’ll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins, before jumping in for a swim with these plankton slurping vegetarians. No touching is allowed (the mega-fish are considered a “vulnerable species”) but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their super-sized square jaw and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-born vacuum cleaner.

Contact: www.Cancun.travel; www. solobuceo.com.

2. Swim with Stingrays.

Wade into the warm Caribbean Sea at the Stingray City Sandbar for your family’s chance to pet the dozens of sea creatures who visit the area for a little love and a few tasty treats. Today tour operators will assist in your introduction to the Southern stingray, taking over for the fishermen who originally attracted the rays to the area by cleaning fish and tossing the remnants into the water. Soon the stingrays associated the sound of boat motors with breakfast. For a more pleasurable experience, avoid visiting when cruise ships are in port.

Contact: www.caymanislands.ky

3. Alaska up close.

Kayak among whales, sea lions and past puffins when you explore Alaska with Inner Sea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises. With only 22 to 86 guests on board on their well-planned vessels, you’ll wind your way into narrow passages and into wilderness areas that the bigger ships cannot access. The adventuresome in your clan can don a dry suit and use a Stand Up Paddleboard to get even closer to Alaska’s extraordinary wild riches.

Contact: 888-862-8881; www.InnerSeaDiscoveries.com

4. Adventures with alligators.

No one wants to get too close to an alligator. But at this park, home to more than 800 gators ranging in size from eight inch babies to 15 foot, one thousand pound adults, you’ll learn about the ways of these fierce creatures, from a safe distance. As you wander through natural swamps and marshes you’ll also encounter turtles, lizards, giant frogs and exotic birds. Lectures and live shows add to the experience.

Contact: 843-361-0789; www.alligatoradventure.com/

Discover SUP

Stand Up Paddle surfing (SUP) is considered an ancient form of surfing, traced to early days in Polynesia. More recently, in the 1940s, surf instructors on Waikiki beach in Hawaii are said to have used the skill to allow them a better view of their students. Today, families can indulge in the sport at many resorts and recreation areas. Here are five to consider:

Ten Great NorCal Hikes

When I was a kid, my mom would retain her sanity each summer by sending me off on a 10-day YMCA backpacking trip with a bunch of strangers (which, by the way, I highly recommend for all you over-protective parents out there). Not only did these hiking trips get me out of the house and into the mountains, they also taught me life-long lessons about ecology, weather, navigation, and self-reliance. So do your kids a confidence-building favor and take them hiking this summer—they’ll forgive you in the end.

Salmon River Solace

For many families, summer is a time of transition. Family schedules and structures take on new shapes and sizes. When September rolls around, will there be more school supplies to buy? Or will the nest soon be emptying? This year, the warm summer breeze reminds me of an adventure we experienced years ago. 

Not far down the sandy bank, I could see my 18-year-old son Alex rhythmically casting his fly into the Salmon River, intent on luring a trout. He was tanned and relaxed. His smile came easily as his angling efforts paid off.

Diving Delight

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Explore our underwater world during a family dive vacation. Here are great places to consider: 

1.       Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas.

Check into one of this family-run resort’s 21 cottages and prepare to explore, relax and enjoy a special holiday. Young children can begin by participating in the young naturalist program before moving on to shoreline snorkeling lessons, a snorkel reef trip and then on to SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) Diving. The latter enables kids 7-9 to experience the underwater world wearing a small tank and other dive gear. At age ten, the Discover Scuba program is available for those interested in pursuing the next level. The resort’s on site dive staff will provide scuba lessons for one or more. The all inclusive resort offers complimentary babysitting from six until nine pm. Contact: 800-223-6961; www. SmallHope.com.

2.       Florida Keys.

Explore the only living coral reef system in the continental United States during a visit to this scenic South Florida region. For kids eight and older: the Summer Marine Science Camp at Pigeon Key, an historic site 100 miles southwest of Miami, offers programs that include information about reef fish, coral reef systems, underwater photography and the gathering of specimens. Kids can get scuba certification during a camp session or brush up if already certified. Also included: underwater obstacle courses, volleyball, and snorkeling. Also in the region: the Wreck Trek Passport Program," spotlighting the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, where certified divers can explore a string of sunken vessels and artificial reefs with local dive instructors. Contact: 305-289-0025; www.PigeonKey.com; www.Fla-Keys.com/diving. 

3.      Brac Reef, Cayman Brac.

From this small, family-friendly island, families can enjoy a dive vacation that includes exploring the waters around Cayman Brac as well as the Russian Frigate and the Bloody Bay Wall near Little Cayman Island. The on-site dive shop provides personalized attention to the soon-to-be certified as well as the seasoned diver. The all inclusive, beach front resort also offers free bike rentals to explore the island, spa services and volley ball. Ask about special packages for families. Contact: 1-800-594-0843; www.BracReef.com. 

4.       Grand Wailea, Maui.

For families who choose to blend a luxury resort holiday with a scuba experience, this hotel fits the bill. Give the sport a try by joining instructors twice daily in the comfort of Hawaii’s only specially designed scuba pool. Interested in learning more? Certification classes are offered at every level. Once the instruction is complete, escorted ocean dives are available. Meanwhile, families can enjoy the super-cool pool on the property, an expansive beach ,as well as a spa and numerous family-focused resort programs. Contact: 808-875-1234; www.GrandWailea.com.

ft divepapuanewguinea loh  5-31-2010 8-35-17 5-31-2010 8-35-16 pm 5.       Harbour Village, Bonaire.

Children ages five to 12 can join the Kid’s Great Adventure program at this Caribbean resort. They will learn about the Bonaire Marine Park, snorkel, ID fish, and get comfortable with the SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) program, a wonderful precursor to SCUBA. Children eight and over can take part in the PADI Bubblemaker program, which enables young enthusiasts to breathe with a regulator in shallow ocean water. At ten, kids can earn their Junior Scuba Certification. From now through December 16, 2011 the second diver in your party dives free when you book the Dive Into Luxury Package. Children under 16 stay free in the room with their parents. Contact: 1-800-424-0004; www.harbourvillage.com.

 Resource: www.PADI.com.

Six Snorkel Spots

This page is brought to you by Pride of Maui offering fun-filled, action-packed snorkeling/sailing trips to Maui's Molokini.

Snorkeling is a great way to explore the beauty of our underwater world.

Here are six places the family can learn about coral reefs, colorful fish and more:

Mission...Accomplished!

I have always wanted to visit one of the 10th Mountain Division huts tucked high within Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Named to honor the men of the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army who trained during World War II in Central Colorado, the system of 29 backcountry huts are connected by 350 miles of suggested routes.

Hike The Parks

Hitting the trails is a great way to get some exercise and explore an area up close. Strike out with friends, join a group, or sign up for a guided outing.

Find a trail close to home or make a great hike the centerpiece of a family adventure. Consider these places that blend history, great views and a good time.

1. The Grand Canyon.

Why not think big? I’ve hiked within this national treasure with two of my sons when they were ten years old. I observed that kids often scamper up and down the trails with more ease than their parents. Offering some shade and water along the way, the Bright Angel Trail is the best place to start for great views of the inner canyon. Choose day hikes to the Three-Mile Resthouse ( 3 miles one way ) or to Indian Garden ( 4.6 miles one way ). Better yet, reserve a camp site at the Bright Angel campground ( 9.3 miles one-way) or bunks at Phantom Ranch ( 9.8 miles one way) for a fuller experience. Plan well in advance. Reservations for Phantom Ranch can only be made by mail, phone or fax. 888.29.PARKS; www.grandcanyonlodges.com/phantom-ranch. For camping visit www.recreation.gov.

2. Yellowstone National Park.

Within this wonderland’s 2.2 million acres, hiking options are plentiful. The Beaver Pond hike near the Mammoth Hot Springs is a great spot to see wildlife. During a recent visit there were several elk in the parking lot! This gentle, 5 mile loop trail passes through Douglas fir, aspens and fields of grass and sage. Expect spectacular views of surrounding mountains.

Explore the scenic trails near Cooke City and explore fabulous high mountain lakes. Spend the night at the Skyline Guest Ranch for enjoy warm hospitality and a hearty breakfast.  Contact:  www.YellowstonePark.net/hiking or www.TravelMT.com.

3. Southern California’s Backbone Trail.

Not far from the Hollywood action you’ll find the 68 mile Backbone Trail. Choose from a handful of day hike options. Try the Ray Miller Trail, accessed through the Pt. Mugu State Park. One mile in you’ll encounter a seasonal waterfall. You’ll be worlds away from the urban hustle. (805) 370-2301 www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/backbonetrailsegments.htm

4. Washington DC/Virginia - Chesapeake & Ohio Canal –

Take a break from museum hopping and stretch your legs on this scenic path that passes by several old locks and a lock house. Just 20 minutes from Washington, DC, this hike begins at the Angler’s Inn and follows the canal towpath for 2.3 miles to the Great Falls Tavern. Spectacular in the fall, the trip provides an opportunity to discuss the way locks once lifted boats 600 feet during the years – from the 1830s until 1924 – it was in use. In the same area, consider The Billy Goat trail , a four mile loop hike. www.trailink.com 

5. San Diego – The Silver Strand (also known as the Bayshore Bikeway).

Enjoy the sweet smell and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean on this 11-mile route that follows the path of an old railroad grade. Flat and paved, it’s stroller (and bike) friendly. Check out the Navy ships floating in the harbor. The path connects Coronado with Imperial Beach. Later take in the San Diego Zoo and Sea World. www.Railsandtrails.org

Earth Day Every Day

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Every day should be Earth Day celebration. Here are some special ways we can honor our beautiful planet. Take part!

Enjoy a Farm Stay.

Get close to the land by planning a farm stay. You’ll wake to a rooster call or the sounds of other barnyard animals welcoming in the day. Share in the chores or simply observe a lifestyle that is likely quite different from your own. Enjoy farm fresh eggs for breakfast before pitching in to help with the day’s chores. Depending on the farm you choose, you can relax on a hammock, go for a horseback ride, pick berries, fish the local stream or read a book under a shade tree. Animals and activities vary by farm. Contact: www.vtfarms.org; www.pafarmstay.com.

Kids to Parks.

Join your children in a grassroots movement to celebrate our country’s local, state and national parks  The following day, grown-ups are encouraged to take their children and grandchildren to one of thousands of treasured parks across the country. Kids can tweet about their participation or send photos that will be posted on a national map. Check the site for park activities and other family-friendly suggestions. Contact: www.BuddyBison.org.; www.ParkTrust.org.

Be an Eco-traveler.

Costa Rica was an early leader in the ecotourism movement. Visit Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the country’s Osa Peninsula, for an intense wildlife and biologically diverse experience. Choose to embark on this Tropical Adventure and you’ll find your family on the “Twigs, Pigs and Garbage Sustainability Tour”, joining wild cat researchers in their efforts to conserve jaguar and pumas and exploring nearby tide pools. Contact: 800-345-4453; www.Wildland.com; www.laparios.com.

Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Monona, Wisconsin.

Visit the nature center inspired by Wisconsin naturalist and author Aldo Leopold for outdoor activities designed with the busy family in mind. Explore walking trails supported by season specific backpacks, offering exploration guides and an activity kit. Visit the Leopold Interpretive Trail and the special “touch table” that encourages young children to get a feel for nature items like feathers, bones, fur and rocks. Ask about spring break and summer camp programs just for kids. Contact: (608) 221-0404; www.naturenet.com/alnc/dropinprogs.htm

Resource: www.EarthDay.org.

Match The Hatch

First time casters and veteran anglers enjoy the natural places that enable a fly fishing vacation. Test your tippet deep in the wilderness or perfect your back casts on the resort lawn.  

Gather your gear. Then enjoy the beauty and art of fly fishing:  

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School. Freeport, ME or Columbia, MD.

The knowledgeable instructors at LL Bean can jump start your family into the wonderful world of fly fishing with their one or two-day introductory courses.  You’ll learn about fly-tackle, delve into knot tying, fly tying, and fish-food identification, then move outside to practice casting skills in a nearby pond.  Continue the analysis and improvement at home once you’ve viewed their video of your newly acquired skill.

Contact:For class registration:   www.llbean.com

Chetola Resort. Blowing Rock, NC.

The only Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge in North Carolina has plenty to offer the entire family. Pack a rod for a half day trip to “The Refuge” on Boone Fork Creek, a destination deemed ideal for beginners and families.  When not casting a line, check out the children’s camp, a heated indoor pool, fitness center and nearby rafting and golf.

Contact:  www.Chetola.com.  

Match the Hatch. Montana.

Great places and great experiences and best when shared with people you love. Spend a day on the Madison River with Joe Dilschneider, owner of Ennis, MT-based TroutStalkers and your family members will go home with more than basic casting skills. You’ll learn to “match the hatch”, fish pocket water from a raft and how to maximize a day on the famed Madison River, the Yellowstone River, a long stretch of blue-ribbon trout habitat or nearby spring creeks. You are sure to enjoy time on Montana Rivers, where the scenery is as compelling as the lure of a trout on the line.

Contact: www.MontanaTrout.com  

Fishing on the Farm. Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN.

With two ponds and a stream on site,  plus more than 700 miles of fishable trout streams in the neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this gem of a property offers the novice or experienced fly fishing family the opportunity to enjoy great water as well as a sea of additional activities. Horseback riding, mountain biking, cooking schools, the Farmhouse Spa and charming accommodations on 4,200 pastoral acres, combine to create a picturesque haven for a gathering clan.

Contact:  www.BlackberryFarm.com .

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