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Tucson’s Family-Friendly Rincon Ranches

Southern Arizona guest ranches offer families a healthy mix of outdoor adventure and American tradition.

 

A stay on a guest (or “dude”) ranch gives families a chance to unplug from the modern world and sample a taste of the Old West. Popularized most recently by the City Slickers movies, the guest ranch experience was once the getaway of choice for the rich and famous from across the country. In the 1920s and ’30s, many authors, actors and captains of industry made their way to southern Arizona for some Western-style rest and relaxation.

During a recent dude ranch visit, my two 9-year-old traveling companions and I stayed in a room once occupied by John Wayne. I was impressed—they had never heard of him.

Here is a sampling of family-friendly southern Arizona guest ranches where you’ll find plenty of history, sunshine and a healthy dose of adventure.

Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch

Established as a guest ranch in 1923, Rancho De La Osa is a 300-year-old adobe gem, located 65 miles from Tucson and just a few hours by horseback from the Mexican border. One of the last great haciendas in America, the ranch provides a historic and relaxed setting to enjoy the best the southwest has to offer.

You’ll meet Ron, the head wrangler and foreman, seemingly straight from central casting. Yet, he’s the real deal, and his rugged ways and cowboy good looks add an extra dose of authenticity to your ranch stay. He spends his early mornings readying the other wranglers, horses and riders for a day on the range.

My 9-year-old niece Anna, a novice horsewoman, was a bit apprehensive about her first trail ride. However, Ron’s cheerful encouragement and a snazzy pair of pink cowgirl boots we found in the barn were enough to spur her on.

Come sundown, you’ll find Ron visiting with guests or teaching cowboy dancing in the historic cantina. Known as the “Old Adobe,” the cantina, now a cozy ranch gathering place, is reputed to be the oldest building in the state of Arizona. Oozing character and several hundred years of history, it was originally constructed as a mission outpost where traveling Jesuit priests could stop in for supplies.

While there is no formal children’s program at the ranch, no one will be bored unless they choose to be. In addition to daily horseback riding, mountain bikes can be found outside the office door. Hiking and biking trails head off in every direction, and the pool and hot tub are popular after a warm afternoon in the saddle.

Kids love taking a turn ringing the hefty dinner bell, signaling all ranch guests to find their way to the main hacienda. Within the two-foot-thick adobe walls, food, wine and tales from the day are served up for all to enjoy.

Rancho de la Osa Guest Ranch; www.ranchodelaosa.com; tel. 800-872-6240.

Tanque Verde Ranch

Founded as a working cattle ranch in 1868, Tanque Verde is located on 640 acres in the foothills of the Rincon and Catalina Mountains and is bordered by both Saguaro National Park East and Coronado National Forest.

The 74-room family-owned-and-operated guest ranch resort is well-known for its top-notch extensive children’s program. To ensure a quality, age-appropriate experience, young guests are divided into two groups: Buckaroos (ages 4 to 6) and Wrangler Kids (ages 7 to 11). The ranch makes it clear: this is not babysitting. Kids should come eager to have some active fun that will include saddling up and hitting the trails. To keep everyone comfortable, parents are asked to participate in the first riding experience.

Tanque Verde has more than 100 horses, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis, a children’s western-style playground, indoor fitness center, landscape art classes and a full-service spa. 

Tanque Verde Ranch; www.tanqueverderanch.com; tel. 800-234-3833.

Circle Z Ranch

Located in Patagonia, 65 miles south of Tucson and 15 miles north of the Mexico border, the Circle Z opened in 1926. It is considered the oldest continuously operating dude ranch in Arizona. With seven charming Mexican-style adobe cottages, this intimate guest ranch (and small cattle operation) on the banks of Sonoita Creek is situated on 6,000 acres in the Santa Rita Mountain foothills, bordered by the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary, Patagonia State Park and Coronado National Forest. This is a particularly beautiful part of the state, where family members can take advantage of world renowned bird watching opportunities, as rare species nest and migrate in the area.

The Circle Z is known for its excellent ranch-bred horses and the variety of trails and terrain available to guests. Children must be 6 and older to join in the trail rides (with or without parents) or spend time in the corral with the Shetland pony. The game room, swimming pool and hiking trails are also popular with young guests.

Circle Z Ranch; www.circlez.com; tel. 888-854-2525.

White Stallion Ranch

This family-owned-and-operated, 42-room working cattle and guest ranch is located on 3,000 acres in the Tucson Mountains, adjacent to Saguaro National Park West. The site of numerous western films, here family members learn to ride and to expand their horizons. There are “slow rides” for the novice or full days in the saddle for the more experienced, spent exploring the mountains in search of wildlife and hidden petroglyphs. While there is no formal children’s program, kids are encouraged to enjoy the setting and take part in cookouts, moonlight bonfires, hayrides and the petting zoo. The weekly rodeo is a decades-old favorite with riding, roping, barrel racing and steer wrestling.

White Stallion Ranch; www.wsranch.com; tel. 888-977-2624.

Price Canyon Ranch

For a taste of genuine ranch life, this southern Arizona working cattle ranch is a good choice. Families with children 12 or older are welcome to experience the thrill of authentic cattle drives, calf branding and weaning, or a day in the saddle searching for a lost calf.

Originally built in 1879, Price Canyon Ranch is now home to 200 head of Texas longhorns. Located 150 miles southeast of Tucson in a box canyon, the ranch is also known for great stargazing. The rugged Chiricahua Mountains, which once provided refuge for the Apache, tower in the distance and provide a wonderful backdrop for storytelling and exploring the area's rich history. The ranch environment, at 5,400 feet, is cooler than the Tucson desert, enabling a diversity of wildlife, flowers, trees and a replenishing spring for fishing.

Price Canyon Ranch; www.pricecanyon.com; tel. 800-727-0065.


Destinations: Arizona, Tucson

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Bird Watching, Horseback Riding


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