If your family is ready to ditch the four-star hotels and look for a little more rustic vacation, you may want to check out a ranch vacation. You don't have to take your little dudes far to give them a little horse sense. Here are two places on my family's bucket list.
Drive Time: 5 hours
Canoe trips, bonfires and supper at 6 await at Bluffdale Vacation Farm, once recognized as Parent Magazine's "Top 10 Family Resorts in North America."
Bluffdale is in Eldred, right along the Illinois River. One of the oldest farms in the state, you'll find 320 acres of wide open space, beautiful bluffs and scenic trails. Families stay in cabins, cottages or in the big guest house.
Down on this farm, kids are put to work gathering eggs, picking vegetables, and feeding and brushing horses. There are plenty of puppies to pet, homemade meals and even a rope swing behind the old barn. Mornings on the farm start out with a horseback ride, with boating saved for the afternoons.
Owner Lindy Hobson says she's a city girl turned farm girl after the Oak Park native met her husband at the University of Illinois. Hobson got the idea for the dude ranch when all her Chicago relatives kept asking to visit.
Now the Hobsons have been welcoming guests for 50 years. She says guests keep on coming back to the ranch because they fall in love with all that wide open space and her delicious farm meals-homemade pies and breads are her specialty.
Drive Time: 4 1/2 hours
If roughing it is more your thing, Red Ridge Ranch offers weekend-long horseback riding excursions in Wildcat Mountain State Park. You supply the tent and food, Red Ridge Ranch supplies the horses and the horse know-how.
Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario, Wis., is considered big bluff country with 35,000 acres of premiere countryside untouched by the glaciers.
On select weekends in May, ranch owners Lyle and Cindy Peterson bring horses and guides to the park so families can spend the weekend riding up beautiful big bluffs, over bubbling creeks, through dramatic tree canopies and along the Kickapoo River.