Family dude ranch vacation: a stay at Triangle X Ranch

There are many family dude ranch vacation options to choose from, and the time to book for next summer is…now. Dude ranches fill up fast, as many families book repeat visits. What sets Triangle X Ranch apart?

Let’s start with the family history. And I’m not talking about the Turner family history, even though this Wyoming family has owned and run the ranch for five generations (and counting). I’m talking about the guests’ family histories. During my time at the ranch, I talked to not one, not two or three, but the vast majority of guests who told me they’ve been coming to Triangle X for years, some decades. Parents brought their children, who now bring their children. Grandparents bring the grandkids. Children grow up coming, from age six up.

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And yes, this is your view daily. When I asked one guest how he’d heard about the ranch, he explained that his parents had met here, and that none other than Harold Turner, current patriarch of the ranch, had been their best man. Triangle X may be owned by the Turner family, but longtime guests consider it pretty much theirs, and treat it with the appropriate care, bordering on devotion.

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Is all this history intimidating to new families, exploring Triangle X for the first time? It can be. The first day of our week-long visit, we watched multiple ‘Triangle X reunions’, as families embraced after a year apart. It felt as though everyone else knew where to sit in the Main House dining room, where to gather for a game of cards, and each others’ names. But it didn’t take us long to notice something else: everyone was welcoming. Without exception, every guest was quick to introduce themselves, and offer a tidbit of information about the ranch.

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Due to communal dining and recreation, we quickly met other families who were at Triangle X for the first time. Our kids blended quickly and easily into groups where many children already knew one another, and thanks to social mixers, dances, and multiple riding options, we adults did the same.

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Most people seem to hear about Triangle X by word-of-mouth, but those who find it through research learn that it’s the only dude ranch operating inside the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. It’s all-inclusive, focused primarily on horseback riding, and structured with a ‘family camp’ vibe. The setting cannot be beat—the Tetons are your backdrop for the entire week—and the children’s programming is at once intensive and casual. What you get is great riding in a family-friendly atmosphere.

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It’s all about the riding.

While families can certainly take days or half-days off to hike, raft, or relax, the primary focus of Triangle X is definitely horseback riding. It’s a dude ranch in the traditional sense: on the Monday morning of each weeklong stay, each guest is paired with a horse who will stay with him or her through Saturday. Two rides per day are scheduled, with multiple options for all riding levels. Guests let the ranch know their riding abilities and experience pre-stay, and on check-in day (Sunday evening), head wrangler Megan comes by each cabin to introduce herself and answer any questions.

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During our stay, the following dizzying array of ride options were offered morning and afternoon: fast ride, medium ride (sometimes a fast-medium ride), scenic walk ride, lesson ride, kids’ ride, and teen ride. Within the lesson ride category, rides were organized into walking lessons, trotting lessons, and loping lessons. Not sure where to start? Ask Megan.

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Tip: If you have little or no experience on a horse, a lesson ride is a great idea. Start slow: the week is long, and you’ll get plenty of time to step things up. In my experience, lesson rides are the only place to get instruction. All other rides will proceed assuming you know the basics. For kids and teens with little experience, the kids’ ride starts out slow, then divides into several smaller groups based on experience level. Parents can ride with kids and teens on their rides, but not vice versa; no kids on adult rides.

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Daily rides start from the ranch, and follow one of many trails in the national park boundary. My favorites meandered along the banks of the Snake River. Depending on the ride you select, the group may be loping long distances, forging streams, or navigating narrow trails. On every ride, a wrangler oversees the group. Safety is important, but only discussed on Monday morning, so as noted above, a lesson ride will help those with less experience. Rides depart at 9 am and 2 pm, and last a few hours each. On select days, additional or different rides are offered, such as a sunset cookout ride, an all-day ride high into the mountains, and a family ride. Guests can, of course, opt out of any scheduled ride, and do something else instead.

Kids and teens:

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At Triangle X, kids and teens have their own distinct programs, and are separated from adults most of the time. This, of course, can be viewed as a positive or a negative. While we usually experience vacations as a family, I have to say my kids loved their uninterrupted friend time on the ranch. Kids age 6-12 eat in their own dining area, and ride together morning and afternoon. Teens 13-17 do the same. Both groups have their own dedicated wranglers. The kid and teen program is not as structured as a ‘resort program’, where kids are checked in and out and multiple activities are offered; rather, it’s an organic experience that seems to hold together like glue. Expect wranglers to be supervising during rides, but not during time around the ranch. At times, adult rides or activities would be scheduled during kid free time; you’ll want one adult to be on-hand to check in on your ‘free range’ kids. Children share cabins with their families, of course, and in the evenings and between rides, can opt for family time or friend time (they have the run of the ranch).

Lodging:

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I’d describe the Triangle X cabins as ‘upscale rustic’. Our ‘Berry’ cabin slept six, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, but most were smaller, with 1-2 bedrooms. Each has a covered porch with chairs, electricity, heater, and a small refrigerator. It’s worth noting that cabins do not have wifi, phones, or TVs. Maid service is available, or families can opt for fresh towels only. We were perfectly comfortable. Most cabins have views of the Tetons, with the exception of the few at the far end of the first row. These have wooded views, which I found just as charming.

Dining:

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Expect ‘camp’ or ‘ranch’ fare, and you’ll go home happy. We were completely satisfied with the dining service, but foodies should note: it is not gourmet. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served communally in the lovely dining room, with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water available at all times. Beer and wine are BYO, and can be brought to the table. When away from the ranch, sack lunches can be requested (the night before). We were never hungry, but we were also never wowed. Since we hadn’t expected to be, we were perfectly content. All food is kid-friendly, and allergies or special preferences are accommodated.

Other activities:

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If (or rather, when) you need a break from riding, Triangle X also offers guided fishing trips and float trips. The Turner family knows their stuff, so you’re in good hands. The ranch is also only 10 minutes from excellent hiking, swimming, and and kayaking in Grand Tetons, and approximately 45 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. Jackson Hole is 30 minutes away, where most families plan to attend the weekly rodeo.

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During our stay, we hiked directly from the Triangle X property, drove to Jackson Lake and String Lake in Grand Tetons, and enjoyed Jackson. On one day of the week, the teens head to town for a movie, and on another, the kids enjoy their own float trip down the Snake.

Cost:

Triangle X is an all-inclusive vacation, and the weekly rate ranges from about $1800-$2200 per person, in the peak season. See rates for full details.

Why consider a dude ranch vacation:

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After experiencing Triangle X, I favorably compare it to other low guest ratio inclusive vacation experiences like small-ship cruises, adventure travel operations, and boutique all-inclusives. You can unpack once, stay a week, and parents have nothing to worry about, from planning recreation to planning meals. Yes, you’ll need to enjoy horseback riding, but that’s stating the obvious. (You wouldn’t take a ski vacation if you didn’t like—or didn’t want to try—skiing, right?) After a week with Triangle X, we left saddle sore, but happy, relaxed, and ready to tackle the rest of our summer with renewed energy.

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As I disclose whenever applicable, we experienced Triangle X as guests of the ranch. Despite the fact that my kids wanted to move in, all opinions remain our own.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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