If there’s anything that can make a great family vacation better, it’s one that includes all-inclusive amenities, kids’ programs galore, gourmet meals and plenty of downtime for mom and dad. But where can you find such a place? Say hello to Tanque Verde Ranch in beautiful Tucson, Arizona. Located on 60,000 acres, this dude ranch, which doubles as a luxe resort, caters to all types of families and offers a multitude of exciting activities like horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, hiking, yoga, swimming and starlit cowboy cookouts—making it the dude ranch of your dreams.

The Lay of the Land
Known as the nation’s largest dude ranch, Tanque Verde Ranch is an old cowboy ranch—a working one that dates back to 1868. The name of the area which means “green tank” or “green pool” is a reference to the algae that was present in a large and prominent stock water tank in the area in the late 19th century. Today, Tanque Verde designates all the area east of Tucson rising into The Rincon Mountains. Located approximately 40 minutes from the Tucson International Airport, this working horse ranch (which is home to approximately 186 horses!) is surrounded by spectacular desert landscape and nestled amongst the Rincon Mountains and next to the Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest.

Home Away from Home
Tanque Verde Ranch offers a variety of accommodations to fit you and your family of buckaroos. The ranch’s 31 Sala guestrooms, 22 Casita junior suites and 16 Haciendas each offer a comfortable place to relax and unwind along with breathtaking views of Tucson’s desert landscape and mountains. Taking inspiration from Tanque Verde’s surroundings, each of the rooms combine a rich southwestern style (think traditional adobe walls and Sante Fe-style architecture) along with today’s modern amenities like mini refrigerators, coffee makers, internet radio and WiFi. Guestrooms, designed to accommodate one to four people, offer king or queen beds and a full bathroom and Coronado Casitas feature cozy sitting areas complete with a working fireplace, a full bath and a variety of bed configurations to comfortably fit two to six guests. For larger families or groups of friends, the Saguaro or Sonoran Hacienda suites offer their own private patios, indoor fireplaces and a sitting area and comfortably sleep up to eight people. Psst… many of the Haciendas also feature a relaxing Jacuzzi tub to soak your tired legs after a long day of horseback riding, hiking or biking.

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

A Kids Club They’ll Never Want to Leave
One of the best things about Tanque Verde Ranch is their Daily Kids Club which takes a resort kid’s program to a whole new level. Designed specifically for kids ages 4-12, Daily Kids Club offers little buckaroos an authentic Western experience and plenty of opportunities to interact one-on-one with the ranch’s horses. Kids are divided into three ages groups: Buckaroos (ages 4-6), Wranglers (ages 7-9) and Outlaws (ages 10-12) and age appropriate activities such as pony grooming, riding lessons and even guided trail and breakfast rides are geared towards each group. During daily riding evaluations, kids can even advance levels based on availability.

Other Daily Kids Club activities include arts and crafts, lawn games and tennis and basketball as well as plenty of playground and pool time, plus fishing and nightly dinner and movie screenings. Kids also take trips to the awesome Nature Center which is home to native desert animals (think snakes and reptiles), gems and minerals of the Southwest. Daily Kids Club operates Monday through Sunday from 7:45 a.m.-8 p.m., allowing kids to drop in and out throughout the day or stay for the entire day. The best part? The cost is complimentary to all guests who choose the all-inclusive package. Can we get a yee-haw?

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

Indulge in Southwestern Cuisine & Down-Home Cookouts
No cowboy or cowgirl will go home hungry while staying at Tanque Verde Ranch. Each day, families can enjoy gourmet meals in the dining room prepared by Executive Chef Justin Macy and his team. Previously of Miraval Resort, Chef Macy’s background in spa cuisine provides elevated spins on classic comfort food that will leave you feeling nourished, fueled and ready to take on hours of horseback riding or an array of outdoor activities. The menus rotate weekly and menu highlights include chili honey glazed salmon with cotija, whipped sweet potatoes and chicken chile relleno with black beans and mole verde. The ranch also offers private six course chef dinners and wine pairings upon request.

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, so little wranglers can mosey in at their leisure; dinner is served as a sit-down meal and reservations are suggested during busier times of the season. Kids’ menu options like hot dogs, noodles with cheese or marinara sauce, chicken fingers and fries are available upon request along with vegetarian, vegan and gluten- and dairy-free options. Psst! The pastry chef at Tanque Verde Ranch is known for her delectable desserts, but it’s the cactus cookies, served at lunch, that you don’t want to miss. These irresistible sugar cookies, decorated with green frosting and rainbow sprinkles, and are so popular among kids and adults alike, they are known to leave the dining hall in to-go boxes.

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

In addition to meals at the dining hall, there are several weekly specialty dining events to make your stay even more memorable. On Thursdays and Sundays, you and your crew can saddle up for a Morning Breakfast Ride which includes a leisurely horseback ride, mountain bike ride or walk to the Homestead for a delish spread consisting of the ranch’s famous fresh-off-the-griddle blueberry pancakes (the best we’ve ever had!), ranch-style eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits with butter and jam and a variety of beverages.

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

Cowboy Cookouts, which take place on Saturday and Wednesday evenings at Cottonwood Grove, include a down-home ranch barbecue with all the fixins. Fill your plate with ribs, steaks, barbecue chicken or tuna right off the grill, along with homemade cornbread, more sides than you can shake a stick at and fresh seasonal fruit. Psst… be sure to save room for dessert! A large desert table hosts a variety of freshly baked sweets and the best skillet cherry cobbler we’ve ever tasted. After your finish your meal, grab a fireside seat and enjoy authentic live entertainment, line dancing and even s’mores around the campfire.

Doghouse Saloon
Every good dude ranch needs a saloon and Tanque Verde Ranch has a great one that’s not only centrally located near the outdoor pool, but is also totally kid-friendly during happy hour, from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Saddle up to the bar with your petite pardners and enjoy a local craft beer or the ranch’s famous prickly pear margarita alongside a full bar menu and complimentary popcorn. Psst… the saloon makes a non-alcoholic prickly pear drink for kids that is oh-so delicious. While in the saloon, catch up on the latest news and sports on one of the satellite TVs or enjoy a game of pool before heading over to the dining room for dinner.

Daily Riding Lessons & Horsemanship Clinics
If you’ve got a crew of horse lovers or a pint-sized buckaroo who’s always wanted to saddle up and ride into the sunset, Tanque Verde Ranch is famous for its variety of equine activities and for providing walk rides for everyone—regardless of their skill level. The ranch’s top-notch wranglers are also known for taking a family of city slickers with no riding experience and turning them into horse-loving, seasoned cowboys in a matter of days.

Horseback riding lessons, which are strongly recommended for riders of all experience levels, are offered daily. The “Fun”damental lesson covers basic riding skills and is recommended for beginning riders and the Intermediate lessons cover walking, trotting and loping to advance a rider’s skills. Private lessons are also available and offer cowboys and cowgirls (both big and small) the unique opportunity to work one-on-one with one of the ranch’s experienced wranglers.

Once you and your crew are comfortable in the saddle, there are a variety of horse activities to choose from including all day rides, breakfast rides, mountain adventure rides (which entail a four-hour walk ride into the highest points of the Rincon Mountain Range) and team penning which places guests on horseback up against a herd of uncooperative cattle. If you’re thinking this sounds like a peculiar challenge, you’re right, but it’s also a ton of fun and we guarantee your crew of buckaroos will have a blast. Plus, since team penning is all about communication and strategy between horse, rider and teammates, it makes a great family activity. Psst… team penning is open to all riders, so even novice riders should give it a try.

If you’re looking to further your knowledge and experience with the horses, Tanque Verde Ranch also offers horsemanship clinics. These unique clinics allows guests, including kids ages 12 & up, to participate in a Harmony with Horses lesson which provides each rider with extensive horsemanship skills—improving their riding ability and understanding of horses. Families who want to climb the mountain trails and take in extraordinary views filled with endless blue sky, towering cacti and glimpses of native wildlife, will want to sign up for a sunset ride. These rides can be enjoyed weekly for an additional fee and with advance reservation.

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

Hiking and Biking and Swimming. Oh My!
In addition to the plethora of equine activities at Tanque Verde Ranch, this premier desert getaway also offers an abundance of outdoor activities. From guided mountain biking rides and desert hikes in the Saguaro National Park to tennis clinics, fishing on the ranch’s own fishing pond, yoga classes and sunset cactus walks—you will have no problem filling your day and evening with fun family activities. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir to remember your stay at Tanque Verde Ranch, numerous workshops are offered throughout the week including a painting with watercolors class and a make your own dream catcher class.

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

If you’ve got a school of little fish, they won’t be disappointed with the ranch’s swimming pool which is centrally located next to the dining hall. After a fun morning at Kid’s Club or a guided ride through the Rincon Mountain Range, cool down in the resort’s indoor or outdoor pool or let your little cowpokes splash around in the kids’ wading pool which is adjacent to the larger outdoor pool. Guests who need a place to soothe their tired muscles and riding legs after a long day in the saddle, will find comfort in the ranch’s indoor and outdoor whirl pools. Psst… order up a prickly pear margarita from the Dog House Saloon, grab a couple of bags of complimentary popcorn for your little buckaroos (available every day starting at 4 p.m.) and take in the beautiful views of the mountain ridge poolside. You can thank us later!

photo: Tanque Verde Ranch

Find Peace & Tranquility at La Sonora Spa
Every great family vacation includes plenty of R&R and Tanque Verde Ranch knows how to do it just right. After a long day on the trails, the La Sonora Spa is the ultimate place to indulge. The spa, which uses all organic and locally made products made from fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs, offers a variety of treatments. Surrender yourself to a soothing massage, relax your muscles and hydrate your skin with a body treatment or regenerate your sun-kissed skin with a facial. Afterwards, cool down from the desert sun in the spa’s indoor pool and take in the gorgeous views from the large windows that look out over the mountainous Arizona landscape.

Make Your Stay All-Inclusive
If you really want to make this vacation your family’s best one yet, we suggest booking an all-inclusive stay. In addition to three delish (and super hearty!) meals a day, your ranch stay will include the breakfast rides on Thursday and Sunday, the barbecue cookout dinners on Wednesday and Saturday (plus the live entertainment, line dancing lessons and all the fixins), all standard horseback walking and looping trail rides and lessons as well as unlimited access to mountain biking, fishing, guided hikes, yoga, wellness activities, arts and crafts, tennis and the nature center. Additionally, little wranglers ages 4-12 will have unlimited access to the Daily Kids Club and all the kids’ riding programs… which equals plenty of alone time for you and your pardner. Need we say more? All-inclusive stays also include round-trip transportation to and from the Tucson International Airport (for stays of 4 or more nights) and access to special evening activities and entertainment.

Tanque Verde Ranch
14301 E. Speedway
Tucson, Az 85748
Reservations: 800-234-3833
Online: tanqueverderanch.com and on Facebook

Let’s talk vacations—what’s the last true family vacation you went on? Do you think your kids would love Tanque Verde Ranch as much as we do? Tell us in the Comments below!

— Kristina Moy (all photos courtesy of the writer unless otherwise noted)

This trip was paid for by Tanque Verde Ranch, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.