Tanque Verde Ranch, located in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, just east of Tucson, is a family vacation that you'll want to return to year after year. After returning from a trip this summer, my children haven't stopped asking when we are booking our next trip, and many of the families that we met at the ranch have been visiting Tanque Verde as an annual tradition for numerous years. From all over the world, families flock to Tanque Verde for their beautiful surroundings, luxe accommodations, stellar horse riding programs, excellent food, and numerous additional activities. Here's what we loved about Tanque Verde.
I had never ridden a horse before my arrival at Tanque Verde, but soon fell in love with this recreational activity. The beauty of the Sonoran desert is staggering, lovely, a refreshing change of pace from nearly every hometown, and is easily explored atop a steady horse on a trail walk. Morning rides, although early, offer some of the best views, second only to the sunset ride, which truly can't be missed.
Riders of all skill levels are accommodated, from ages four and up. Daily lessons are offered, which I took full advantage of, in addition to walking and loping rides, the latter only available to experienced riders who have passed a horse handling and maneuvering test. Although this trip was my first ever experience on a horse, I took advantage of every single daily lesson to make the most of my time. By the end of three days of training and riding, I was successfully and easily loping with my horse, a word that I had never heard of before arriving at the ranch. I am still kicking myself for not having the guts to attempt the lope check and take a lope ride; the feeling of loping on a horse was surprisingly amazing.
Tip: Before leaving, you must try your hand at Team Penning, the fun and frustrating team sport of trying to herd unruly cattle while on horseback. I took home a 2nd place ribbon for my excellent penning skills, which were put to shame quite easily by the actual wranglers manning the event.
My husband loved the rides and lessons (especially the mountain trail rides), but when I asked him about his favorite part of our trip, he said without hesitation it was the food. Meals at Tanque Verde serve as a time to come together and share stories of the day, with just your family, or with other new friends in a group based on your dining preference. The fare served was an interesting combination of southwestern inspiration, tried-and-true country classics, and innovative fine-dining creations. Truly something to write home about, the food was fresh, flavorful, and beautifully presented. The all-inclusive dining package makes meals a snap for parents who don't have to worry about budgeting their dining choices. Food allergies are a real issue in my family and my daughter's life-threatening food allergies were handled with care and ease.
Bonus: Eat dessert! Not only is it included in your all-inclusive package, you actually DO burn calories riding a horse so you might as well splurge!
Tip: Don't miss western hospitality at its finest offered on the breakfast ride, the twice weekly outdoor BBQ, and picnic ride.
There are quite a few accommodation options on property, from standard single rooms to the hacienda suites, which we had the pleasure of staying in. Larger than my first home, two connected hacienda suites are large enough for multi-generational families to share while still allowing privacy and numerous bathrooms for the ultimate comfort. The decor blends well with the stunning scenery outdoors, with a heavy focus on southwestern art throughout each room. Soft bedding and silky sheets allow for the perfect place to rest your head each night. Although my body was a bit tired from each day's ride, I always woke up refreshed and ready to start another morning.
Tips: There are no in-room TVs at Tanque Verde Ranch. I thought my kids would miss them and brought along a whole bunch of activities, games, and tablets for them to play in the room but we actually never used them once. Our days at Tanque Verde were so beautifully full of horses, nature, and family fun, I never once heard my girls say they were bored and wanted something else to do. Take that, technology!
Just in case mom and dad are curious, there is WiFi in each room should you need to connect with the outside world; cell service worked just fine for us as well.
Horseback rides and lessons aren't the only amazing activities on the ranch. Tanque Verde hosts a weekly calendar chock-full of family friendly entertainment, educational activities, lessons, and good old fashioned fun.
Included with the price of your stay at Tanque Verde is the stellar kids' club. Daily activities for various age groups and riding abilities (from four-years and up) are available to families staying at the ranch. City slickers like my girls were taught essential care and handling of horses, including grooming, and given daily riding lessons to learn the basics. I was surprised at how quickly my girls could somewhat confidently maneuver their horses, and it was exciting to share with them in their successes. In addition to horse time, kids enjoy themed arts and crafts, nature presentations, afternoon swimming, movie nights, and more. Kids can dine with other children or with mom and dad, making it completely flexible to each family's wishes.
Fishing, Hiking, Nature & Biking
There are plenty of ways to get out and explore the beauty and wonder of the Rincon Mountains, even if you don't want to constantly ride a horse. My husband jumped at the chance to try his hand at mountain biking, led by a seasoned guide. After quickly mastering the beginner's course, he moved on to the intermediate course and might still have a few bruises lingering as souvenirs from our trip. In true manly fashion, he said he had a fabulous time and is now browsing the internet for mountain bikes.
For a slower-paced view of the desert, join one of the many guided hikes that are offered daily. Expert guides share their knowledge of the history of the valley and offer insight into the plant and animal life of the area.
Tip: Don't miss the Nature Center, nature tours, and nature classes offered at Tanque Verde. Learning everything from plant life to the reasons we didn't need to fear rattlesnakes (so much!) rounded out our family's experience.
Two of my three girls caught numerous fish in Gambusi Lake, a short three-minute walk from the main ranch. The catch and release lake is supervised by an expert fisherman who not only helped with lines, bait, casting, and fish facts, but also helped dry the tears of an emotional middle child who didn't catch a single fish (any middle children out there relate to this?). Not only did he help our girls to have fun, his presence eased the burden from mom and dad having to handle the worries and whims of three small fisherman.
Swimming, Fitness & Pampering
If the regimen of scheduled activities isn't quite your style, there are still plenty of activities on the ranch to fill your downtime. These activities, done at your leisure, are the perfect complement to your dude ranch getaway.
*La Sonora Spa. Pamper yourself after a riding day well done with the soothing touch of massage. You will have time to do this because your kids can be in the kids' club. Genius. (Spa services are in addition to your all-inclusive stay)
*Doghouse Saloon. Mosey up to the saloon (kids are allowed with parents before 7pm) to grab a cold one and share stories of the day with fellow travelers. (Alcoholic beverages are not included in the all-inclusive price)
*Swimming. Two onsite pools (one indoor and one out) will tempt you with cooling waters that are the perfect refreshment from the Arizona heat. A small and shallow kids pool and Jacuzzi are also available.
*The Family Room. One of only two places boasting a TV on the property, the Living Room is the perfect place to spend an afternoon of family time. As mentioned, my kids didn't miss technology a bit, but we did take advantage of the Family Room's variety of games that are available.
*Tennis & Basketball. In addition to scheduled fitness classes (such as yoga and pilates), 24-hour basketball and tennis courts are on property for the must-stay-active family.
Disclosure: My family received a complimentary stay at Tanque Verde Ranch for the purpose of this review. I was not required to state any particular view; all opinions are my own.
Tanque Verde has excellent horseback riding for all ages and abilities. The property has a laid back ranch atmosphere - not too extravagant, but not too simple either - a nice balance. Close to Tuscon, but since the property borders public land, it feels secluded as well.