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Still haven't decided on a destination for your summer vacation? It's time to discover your inner cowboy, mount up, and join some four-legged friends on an outdoor adventure that combines relaxation, strenuous exercise, and quality family time. Horse-riding is an amazing way to spend bond with your children while letting them gain independence and a new set of skills. Several dude ranches across the country cater to family groups and encourage parents and children to experience the cowboy lifestyle together.

Family owned and operated, Triangle C Dude Ranch (tel. 800/661-4928; www.trianglec.com) is perfectly located in the scenic outskirts of Dubois, Wyoming, a half-hour drive from Grand Teton National Park and a one-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park. The ranch runs family vacation packages with specialized programs for kids aged two to 12 that operate until August 17, 2008. The programs offer a combination of quality family time and separate riding adventures for parents and kids. For the kids there's an outdoorsman/naturalist program with awards, a junior wrangler program, and nature-based crafts. Other activities include discovery rides and hikes, hay rides, campfires with s'mores, family photos, wagon rides, fishing, square dancing, rock painting, pancake cookouts, rifle shoot outs, rodeo, and horse wrangling, among other. All in all, it's a jam-packed week of adult and children activities tailored to participants' needs and ages. You can choose to participate in everything, or just relax and do things at a slower pace. Programs for teens are also available. Rates include accommodations, all meals and day and evening activities, plus plenty of time on horseback. Adults are $2,250 for the week, children aged six to 12 are $1,575 and children two to four years of age are $1,000 each.

French Board Outpost Ranch (tel. 800/995-7678; www.frenchbroadriver.com) is the only dude ranch located in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountain region. Its all-inclusive American plan packages feature all meals, activities, and entertainment (apart from drink at the saloons, fishing license, individual horseback lessons, store and pictures). Activities include plenty of horseback riding, white-water rafting, tubing, fishing, and working with cattle on horseback. There's also a heated pool and hot tub at the Lodge, square dancing, live music, horse painting, scavenger hunts, rodeo and sunset rides. For accommodation you can choose between staying at the property's "John Wayne" old western hotel, complete with a traditional saloon and seven old west-style rooms, lodge rooms that can sleep up to a family of four with a private bath, or cabins that sleep larger groups of five to nine people. Meals are served family style, which means all the food comes out to the large group tables at the same time and passing the plates is part of the experience. Guests can sit right next to their favorite wranglers or meet other families from around the country and the world. Seven-night packages until August 19 run from Sunday to Sunday and are priced at $1,400 for adults (20 years and up), $1,200 for teenagers 13 to 19, $900 for kids aged five to 12 year and only $100 for kids under 5 years old. Three- and four-day programs are also available from Sunday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Sunday at $230 per day for adults, $200 for teenagers, $150 for children and $15 for under fives.

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch (tel. 877/667-3999; www.sylvandale.com) is a 3,200-acre dude ranch and retreat nestled along the banks of Colorado's Big Thompson River, an hour's drive from Denver in the Colorado foothills near Rocky Mountain National Park. As a historic working horse and cattle ranch, guests at the ranch go on cattle drives and roundups, trail rides, overnight pack trips, take riding lessons, and participate in Gymkhanas. Their family Summer Dude Ranch all-inclusive packages are for six nights, Sundays through Saturdays, until late August (shorter stays are possible during select weeks with prices pro-rated per day plus ten percent). Packages feature six nights' lodgings with daily housekeeping services in the guesthouses or cabins; hearty meals featuring the Ranch's own natural Heart-J beef and home baking; all evening activities and entertainment; guided nature walk and miles of hiking trails; introductory horse program and ranch chores; scheduled catch-and-keep rainbow trout fishing in ponds for kids and beginners; a fly-casting lesson for teens and adults to qualify for catch-and-release fly fishing; heated outdoor pool, hot tub, tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, and game room. The price for ages 13 and older is $1,915 per person, non-riders pay $1,535, children six to 12 are $1,285 and kids aged three to five are $955.

Pinegrove Ranch (tel. 800/759-5660; www.pinegrove-ranch.com) is set in the stunning Catskill Mountains of New York. All-inclusive based rates range from $99 to $149 per person per day/night and children aged two to six years are $69 per day in large rooms featuring two large beds and pull-out sofa bed or bunk beds (based on a minimum of three people or more sharing a room). A 15% service tax plus New York state tax are additional. These packages include accommodations, all meals and snacks, day camp, indoor swimming pool and waterslides, plus a host of other indoor and outdoor activities like horseback riding, paddle-boating, a junior wrangler program, a rock-climbing wall, campfires with marshmallow roasts, and cattle drives. These rates are valid from June 22 to September 1, 2008 for three-day stays or longer.

If you are in doubt about exactly which dude ranch would be the best fit for your family and budget, visit the Dude Ranchers' Association's website (www.duderanch.org) for listings of over 100 properties across the country, their facilities and activities.

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