Home Destinations Review of The Greenhorn | California Dude Ranch Family Vacations

Review of The Greenhorn | California Dude Ranch Family Vacations

by Shelly Rivoli
horses running at Greenhorn Ranch

QUINCY, CALIFORNIA: Review of The Greenhorn Ranch for families. It’s not every day you go to check email, hear a splash, and look up to see an osprey rising with its catch—and a bald eagle chasing right behind.

Too stunned to switch my cell phone to camera mode, I just stared in rapture at the raptors circling overhead, above spires of cedar, Douglas fir, and pine—demonstrating that trees are not the only thing found in abundance at The Greenhorn Ranch.

The bald eagle who often watches over the pond at Greenhorn Ranch.

With 600 privately owned acres surrounded by an additional 500,000 acres of forest, wildlife sightings are not uncommon at this family-friendly dude ranch in California’s Lost Sierra. In fact, this bald eagle often keeps watch from a favorite lofty perch right over the main pond behind the saloon–where I just happened to get the best wifi reception (thankfully, there isn’t any in the cabins, or I would have missed this moment).

But of course, I was there for the horses. With 80 steeds to suit all levels of riders from beginner to advanced loper, and twice-daily rides included in the stay, the Greenhorn Ranch at Quincy, California, is an equestrian’s paradise.

horse riding schedule at the Greenhorn dude ranch
Horse riding schedule at The Greenhorn Ranch.

And for families, there are plenty of ways to make memories at The Greenhorn Ranch both on and off the trail. We were determined to try them all.

After our four-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area by way of Truckee, we met up with Grandma. She’d caught a direct flight from Portland to Reno, which is just a 1 1/2 hour drive from the ranch. We checked in and visited away, enjoying our porch swings and the sounds of a babbling brook steps away–until someone young and spry and patient reminded us: it was time to check out the pool.

Family-friendly cabins at The Greenhorn

Inside our creekside studio cabin at The Greenhorn Ranch.

The Greenhorn Ranch offers two types of accommodations that are particularly family-friendly–sleeping from four to six people in a single cabin.

The one-bedroom cabins offer twin-size bunks with a queen-size sleeper sofa in a living area, with king size bed in its own separate room. These cabins can sleep up to six people in beds and still have room for a Pack ‘n Play (available on request).

Two interconnecting creekside studio cabins.

For the six of us, two interconnecting “creekside” studio cabins were ideal (shown above). With a king-size bed and twin bunk beds on each side, and grand total of two bathrooms, Grandma and the girls were very comfortable on their side while my husband, son and I had plenty of room on ours. With the connecting door open, it was easy to visit and flow between the large rooms as desired.

Better still? We had, count ‘em, two porch swings to enjoy. 😉 And the first two nights were warm enough to leave the windows open wide and fall asleep to the shushing of this little stream of waterfalls outside…

Estay Creek runs through The Greenhorn Ranch.

Horseback riding review of The Greenhorn Ranch

Riders rejoice! One thing that sets the Greenhorn Ranch apart from many other dude ranch vacations is that two rides per day are included in your all-inclusive stay (minimum age for trail rides is 6 years).

On one of The Greenhorn ranch’s many shady forest trails.

Plus, rides are arranged for all levels of riding experience, from beginners’ and children’s walk-only rides, to walk-and-trot rides, to loping rides. For safety, loping rides are for guests 12 year+ and a riding assessment is required (see notes on loping and lessons below).

Group rides are generally two hours or one and a half hours, with one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Private rides are also available by request (fee applies).

Lessons learned—and recommended

My daughters during a horseback riding lesson at The Greenhorn Ranch.

The Greenhorn Ranch also offers riding and horsemanship lessons for an additional fee, which can help boost any rider’s confidence and may advance them to the next level. Case in point: my daughters!

Though they’d had assorted past Western riding lessons and an English riding horse camp—and had even done a first lope out on a trail earlier this year, it was their private lesson with Head Wrangler Marty, which brought together everything they’d learned and still needed to learn to lope out on the trail with confidence and control.

Review of The Greenhorn Ranch in northern California family vacations

I marveled as, in only 1 hour, he took them from controlled turns and walking (when I thought, oh, no! They already know this stuff!), through graceful saddle trotting without need of posting, and then basic western loping (similar to English cantering).

The way he brought all the finer points together so impressed me that, before we left the barn, I booked him for a (surprise!) beginner lesson for my husband and son.

My daughters and I on their first official loping trail ride at The Greenhorn Ranch.

Although they’d been “put on horses” plenty of times already, I knew Marty’s teaching was sure to make every future ride more comfortable and enjoyable for them both. At the end of their lesson, Marty led them out on the trail for a walk-trot ride, and wouldn’t you know it? I was right. (Don’t you love it when you’re right?)

My husband rode more comfortably than ever, and even my son was happily trotting down the trail one-handed and in command of his horse.

Trails of adventure and discovery

family riding horses on Greenhorn dude ranch vacation
Riding a sunny stretch of trail through Plumas National Forest.

Wrangler Joe, who’s trod the trails of The Greenhorn Ranch since 1986, led the five of us plus Grandma off on our first ride at The Greenhorn. As we made our way up into the hills, Joe filled our imaginations with tales of the Lost Sierra.

Joe led us around brushy bends and through the shade of myriad trees, including white fir, Douglas fir, cedar, jack pines and dogwoods. We also rode long stretches alongside Greenhorn Creek, which tumbles over rocks in an endless stream of mini waterfalls this time of year.

marker of a historic California Trail included in review of the Greenhorn Ranch
Historical trail marker for the Beckwourth Pass.

When things felt a little steep, we stopped to appreciate this historical trail marker for Beckwourth Pass, which stood like an exclamation point at the end of his story of Jim Beckwourth.

Beckwourth, for whom the Beckwourth Pass was named, is the only African-American mountain man to record his story of living in the early American west: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth (1856). He was born into slavery in Virginia in 1805, but was eventually able to venture out west where he trapped fur, helped with exploration, and lived among the Crow Nation for a time.

As we contemplated the “exceedingly steep places” along the route, we had to agree we were glad to be on sure-footed horses and not driving oxen with a loaded wagon down this treacherous path of courageous pioneers.

Non-horseback-riding activities at The Greenhorn Ranch

boy catching fish during a Greenhorn dude ranch vacation
First “FISH ON!” Perhaps my son’s favorite memory from the trip…

All day long, Greenhorn Ranch guests have access to fishing rods and the trout-stocked pond. My son not only caught his first fish here (shown above), but also his tenth … you could say he was hooked. Catch and release is the name of the game here. Although, you can keep your catch if you like and the chef may even fry it up for your own special supper (just ask for details).

kids in game room at Greenhorn Ranch in Northern California
The game room at The Greenhorn Ranch.

The game room offers two pool tables, ping pong, shuffleboard, and a traditional video game machine that switches between several classics like Centipede and Ms. PacMan. Outside, you’ll find horseshoe pits on the lawn and corn hole on the deck outside of the saloon. Check the daily schedule for archery and trap shooting times, also included in your stay.

archery instruction included in the dude ranch vacation
Afternoon archery at The Greenhorn Ranch.

Weekly activities include two family-friendly karaoke nights in the saloon (where kids are always welcome), a family frogging expedition, and exciting kids’ frog racing night, outdoor movie night. Barbecue night is also followed by s’mores around the campfire.

kid with frog at the Greenhorn Ranch
The proud winner of the Greenhorn’s weekly frog race!

There is also a weekly cookout, where you have the chance to ride to your meal on horseback. Or if you prefer, hop on the wagon pulled by The Greenhorn’s star draft horses: Bud and Dave.

On Friday nights throughout summer you can also climb aboard the wagon for a beautiful 25-minute ride (even crossing a small stream) around the Greenhorn Ranch property. Afterward, enjoy the deluxe barbecue dinner on the lawn. (This special night is open to the public and included for guests).

draft horse wagon rides at the Greenhorn Ranch
Lining up for the Friday summer BBQ night wagon rides.

We found the heated swimming pool, with its lovely view, to be the perfect spot to catch up after our rides. Pool towels and toys await, and if you’re lucky–a brand new inflatable bull standing ready for its next aquatic rodeo.

We found the swimming pool to be the perfect place to cool off in between daily rides.


Dining at The Greenhorn Ranch (All-Inclusive)

family eating at picnic table during dude ranch vacation
Dining out on the lawn–a favorite!

The Chuckhouse is where you’ll head for most of your meals at the Greenhorn Ranch. Three meals are included daily with all-inclusive plan.

Start with the “cowboy breakfast,” where you’ll see home-fried potatoes, breakfast meats, and fruit ready to go. Plus easy cold options like cereal and muffins await.

But know this my hungry friends … you can also order up pretty much any hot breakfast your heart desires right from the chef. Which is why we started out with eggs Benedict, and sampled a steak-veggie fritata, among others–all delicious.

Kids will do well to share a plate of pancakes or fluffy french toast here–the servings are Texas-sized. Also a favorite with the young wranglers: chocolate chip and banana pancakes. Don’t be shy.

And parents, don’t miss the morning espresso drinks machine. I loved my morning “latte macchiatos” at the ranch, made with the push of a button.

Fuel for the morning ride.

The lunch and dinner bells will call you to yet more tasty fare. My favorites in the Chuckhouse were pulled pork sandwiches for lunch and a delicate chicken cacciatore cannelloni for supper.

But what was especially nice was dining outdoors at The Greenhorn. There are select lunches and dinners, including the special Friday night dinner BBQ, cooked and served al fresco. I admit, I’m a sucker for the view of the pond and mountains. Can you see why?!

Adirondack chairs beside pond at the Greenhorn Ranch
With surroundings like this? Trust me, it will be easy to stop looking at your phone.

Find out more about all-inclusive family dude ranch vacations at The Greenhorn Ranch

For more information about all-inclusive family dude ranch vacations at The Greenhorn Ranch, visit them online at www.greenhornranch.com and be sure to follow them on Instagram.

You can also read recent customer reviews at TripAdvisor.

Special thanks to the Greenhorn Ranch for the opportunity to review their vacation offerings for families and for hosting my family. As always, opinions remain my own.

Delicious brownies served with the outdoor BBQ dinner.

Reader’s Note: This review of The Greenhorn Ranch was first published in 2019 and has since been updated.

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