Cowboys – and cowgirls – riding into the sunset. Mining for gold along a cool stream. Navigating your way through mountain ranges or down a rushing river. Channeling the Old West is a great way to theme your next family vacation!
After all, a Western-style getaway just begs for adventure – the kind of escapades that will encourage your kids to get outside, get their hands dirty and learn a little bit about history all while trying it out for themselves.
So if you’re ready to embrace the pioneer spirit, here are a few Old West family vacations to try with your crew (cowboy boots and hats optional).
Start your day with horseback riding lessons at the Double JJ Resort. If you’re already a comfortable rider, there are over 1,200 aces of trails to explore – or what about trying your hand at helping with a cattle drive?
In the evening, enjoy a cookout prepared by cowboys before heading off to the rodeo (Labor Day weekend in 2019). Take a break from the trails at the resort’s Gold Rush Water Park, a 60,000-square foot wonderland with both thrill rides and a lazy river.
From throwing horseshoes to tying a lasso and all things cowboy, your kids can get an education in Western ranch life in Cody, Wyoming, which is on the way to Yellowstone National Park.
Several places in and around town offer horseback trail rides, too, like the Buffalo Bill Horse Rides. Cody is also packed with family activities like camping, fishing, rodeos, scenic byways and much more.
While you will be staying in replicas of 19th-century covered wagons, these pioneer mainstays have undergone a modern-day makeover, meaning you’ll be sleeping soundly on deluxe mattresses (air-conditioned, too!). There’s even a wagon with a swim spain it. The wagons are arranged in a circle so you can gather together and watch the stars at night and roast marshmallows on the fire.
Channel Billy the Kid, who lived in Wichita, as your family walks right into a bustling Old West scene in the Old Cowtown Museum. The 23-acre museum property captures what the area might have looked like circa the 1860s and 1870s – complete with a one-room schoolhouse, family homestead and a total of 54 historic and recreated buildings to explore.
About an hour southeast of St. Paul, the town of Walnut Grove was home to the Ingalls family, who lived on Plum Creek. Eight buildings dot the museum grounds, which include a chapel, depot, dugout and, of course, a schoolhouse. The property reimagines what life would have been like for popular author Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose frontier childhood was depicted in her books and then on TV.
Part dude ranch and part lakeside retreat, here, you can take your pick of activities at this resort wedged between Glacier National Park and Kootenai National Forest. Kids ages 6-12 can enroll in the Junior Wrangler program, where they work alongside real wranglers taking care of horses.
And just for teens ages 13-18, there are daily group horse rides on the trails. Bonus: In summer the sun doesn’t set until well after 10 p.m., so you have lots of activity time!
Mining turned small towns into wealthy boomtowns in the Old West. You’ll learn all about it in Virginia City, about 20 minutes from Reno. At one time, the town ballooned to 25,000 residents; today the 900-resident city embraces cowboy-life – and your family can, too.
Tour one of the many mines, laugh your way through the Virginia City Outlaws Comedy Show, ride the old-fashioned trolley or hop aboard the V&T Railroad.
Home of the legendary O.K. Corral, where the infamous gunfight took place in 1881 between outlaws and lawmen Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Tombstone is a must for any Western movie buff. The big gun battle is still reenacted in town. Along with underground mine tours and museums, there’s also trolley rides, a historic cowboy cemetery and much more to see and do at this Old West original.
While you could camp in a tent or RV in the Blue Bear Mountain area, why not try lodging overnight in a teepee? The deluxe accommodations include a queen-sized bed, but you can also rent rollaway beds for your kiddos.
At this central Oregon ranch, kids get a chance to become cowboys and cowgirls. As part of the Cowboy Cookout, they’re taught how Old West folks walked, talked and dressed. Other activities include riding on ponies, panning for gold and, when the sun dips down, making s’mores by the fire.
Tip for parents: There’s a kids-only clubhouse and babysitting services available if you want a little time to yourselves.