Looking for the family vacation adventure of a lifetime? This past summer, our family traded in our city life to become a family of cowboys and cowgirls, living the good life on an idyllic Montana dude ranch. We spent a week at Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, a family guest ranch overlooking the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park, on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. A guest dude ranch is a wild-west style all-inclusive “resort” – where families live in cabins on the extensive ranch property, all meals are included and served family-style in a magnificent lodge, and “resort” activities include not only horseback riding but also hiking, taking dips in a swimming hole, square dancing, fishing, and more. Nine Quarter Circle Ranch’s stunning vistas, beautiful horses, and challenging trails brought our family closer together and we made memories to last a lifetime. Here are seven reasons to consider a guest dude ranch for your next family vacation.

1. You’ll have a chance to reconnect with nature. With its secluded mountain location at 7,000 feet, surrounded by millions of acres of National Forest, Nine Quarter Circle Ranch pretty much seemed like paradise on Earth for our city family. My kids, ages 12 and 4, loved running free in the grassy plains, splashing on the banks of the Gallatin River, and chasing the rabbits – all things that we most definitely don’t have a chance to do in our home city of Chicago. We all loved donning our cowboy boots and hats every morning and opening our cabin door to gorgeous mountain sunrises. But more than anything, we all fell in complete and utter love with the herd of 120 beautiful Appaloosa horses that live on the ranch.

2. You’ll learn how to ride a horse with confidence, or hone your equestrian skills. Our family has had experience with horseback riding, but we still fell on the beginner side of the skill range. Guest ranches work hard to teach beginners the skills they need to ride with confidence, while helping more advanced riders increase their skills, too. Nine Quarter Circle arranges two two-hour morning and afternoon trail rides, for beginning, intermediate and advanced riders, into the timbered forests and through the grassy meadows. Since the horses are all raised and trained by the ranch owners – the Kelsey family – they know each horse’s temperament and stamina in the mountains; you can be sure that your skills and personality will be perfectly matched with the right horse, who will be “your” horse during your entire stay.  
chiara on her horse

3. Riding horses will increase your child’s confidence. My son, age 12, honed his horsemanship skills over the length of our stay on the guest ranch, gathering confidence and pride as he steered his magnificent horse over streams, alongside mountains, and through deep forests. Meanwhile, my daughter, age 4, was able to ride a horse for the very first time, thanks to the expert wranglers: I won’t ever forget the look of pride upon her face as she first sat on a horse’s saddle, wearing her pink cowgirl boots, looking towards the mountains, ready to hit the trails. 

4. Guest ranches offer excellent children’s programming. Most guest dude ranches offer outstanding children’s programming and childcare services. Nine Quarter Circle Ranch also has its very own Kiddie Wrangler and Babysitter on staff. The Kiddie Wrangler helps out with the six- to nine- year- olds, teaching them to ride and leading them on daily kid-friendly trail rides. The Babysitter looks after children six and under on the playground or at the barn with a short lead ride around the pasture. As the mother of two kids with quite a wide age gap, it was nice to be able to go on more advanced rides with my son while my daughter played with her new friends at the park or on a pony ride.  

Nine Quarter Circle

5. All meals are included and served family style. Expect excellent home-style, all-inclusive dining during your guest ranch stay. At Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, the hearty, home-style cooking was so outstanding and our days so packed with refreshing outdoor activity that we usually filled (and then emptied) our plates with relish. Save room for the handmade biscuits and pies!

6. Expect comfortable, roomy accommodations. The log cabins were cozy and comfortable, furnished with forest furniture and handmade quilts. Best of all, the cabins are wonderfully technology-free: Wifi is available at the main lodge and cell phone service may be spotty – but trust me, you won’t miss any of it at all. 

 7. Embrace the freedom and joys of country living. My kids adored running free around the ranch, not having to worry about getting dressed up fancy, and making new friends with the other kid guests. And nothing beats riding horses, hiking, and fishing as a family. At night we nestled into our little log cabin, heated by a cozy wood burning stove, and enjoyed quiet evenings reading or just talking while rocking on the wooden chairs on our porch. We felt reconnected as family, relaxed and sad to leave at the end of our stay – and my kids have been begging to return since.

For more information on this amazing family travel experience, visit Nine Quarter Circle Ranch online atninequartercircle.com or find a Guest Dude Ranch that fits your budget, location and style at duderanch.org/find.php.