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Pine Ridge Dude Ranch Has Big Potential: Read My Full Review

This is a horizontal, color toned photograph of a herd of horses running on a dude ranch in West Yellowstone. A female wrangler is driving them down the mountain. Dust and dirt fly as the animals gallop to towards their destination.

The Hotel:

The Catskills have a long history of providing New York City families with affordable all-inclusive resort vacations. Pine Ridge Dude Ranch is following in that tradition. Get more views when you buy Youtube subscribers

Formerly Pine Grove Ranch, it had the steady stream of families who returned every year, plus multi-generation families looking for an easy way to please everyone and groups looking to organize a budget-friendly getaway for their members.

Then the owner died unexpectedly and the former barn manager banded together with a couple of long-time guests to take over and rechristen it Pine Ridge Dude Ranch.

It’s clear that the resort was showing its age when the new owners took charge. After using an initial shot of financing to make the most important upgrades, they are running the resort and generating revenue to complete rest of remaining modernization and improvements. 

This has its pros and cons for visitors. On the one hand, they are making a point of being a more affordable alternative to the popular Rocking Horse Ranch, 25 miles away. Former Pine Grove guests seem happy to take advantage of the low prices and support them. We met quite a few on our pre-Covid two-night stay.

On the other hand, you have to be content with a somewhat imperfect experience and to expect the cracks to show through, literally, here and there.

I haven’t been to Rocking Horse Ranch, but Tween Traveler has and was able to provide some comparisons for me for those who are interested. Here’s how our experience was:

The Room:

Wisely, the new owners have prioritized upgrading the rooms. We stayed in one of the refurbished Mesa Verde rooms in the wing closest to the lobby and outdoor pool.  It looked refurbished with a rustic western motif but comfortable mattresses, flat-screen TV and in-room mini-fridge.

The room had a king bed, full bed and two bunk beds, plus room for a crib if you needed it. For three of us for two nights, it was fine.

The bathroom was newly done but small. If you really were to share the room among six people, I’m not sure how well it would work. It would have been very handy for them to place the sink outside of the bathroom, but I think they were probably limited by an existing footprint.

Families needing more space can book premium rooms, some of which are adjoining rooms or suites. These have bigger bathrooms and even a standalone spa bathtub in the larger bedroom of some.

When we were there the room had no clock and the only Wi-Fi was in the lobby.

Book Pine Ridge Dude Ranch online for an even better deal

The Activities:

People come for the horseback riding. Trail rides are included in the fee for every full day you’re at the ranch. There are pony rides (around the corral) for kids 8YO and younger, but I think kids older than 5YO will be bored.

Anyone 9YO and up can do a 60-minute trail ride (this includes time to get on and off the horse).  You can choose beginner, intermediate and advanced rides. For the intermediate they made sure we could trot before we set off.

I hadn’t trotted in a few years and my legs felt it. But if you’ve been on a horse a few times and can manage a few short trots I strongly recommend opting for the intermediate ride. It’s a smaller group, so you get on the horses and out of the corral faster, which allows for more riding time.

The beginner group is always going to be large and will include people who have never been on a horse—some of whom aren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of being on one there. It takes them a good amount of time to get saddled up and on to the trail.

There are additional horse experiences you can pay extra for but we didn’t try any of them.

After the horseback riding the main attractions are probably the indoor and outdoor pools, which both have twin winding tube slides. They’re nice enough and we spent most of our daytime hours at the outdoor one. We swam in the indoor one after dinner one night; the water is cold but we had it to ourselves.

Neither pool has a hot tub. They also don’t have splash pads a wading pool or a graduated entry for little kids. Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind.

There is a new climbing wall, which Tween Traveler skipped and a giant inflatable bounce pillow (top) that she loved. Once she persuaded us to hop on, we liked it, too. It’s like a trampoline but bigger and a little softer. Kids jump, tumble, race and moon walk across it.

We did the archery, played horseshoes and tried ping pong (they also need new paddles). We didn’t use the paddle boats or go fishing in their pond. There were some organized activities during the day but they didn’t call to us.

There are board games in the lobby and we took one into the bar each night before dinner to take advantage of the happy hour discount.

We enjoyed the nighttime fires—marshmallows are on the house but for s’mores you have to buy a kit. One night we had a “cowboy” telling ghost stories by the fire, which was our favorite evening entertainment. The mind-reader the previous night was so-so.

We also spent part of each evening in the game room where can pay to play video games, pinball and pool.

The playground, which wasn’t a well-designed playground to begin with is ridiculously old. Tween Traveler tried using it three times and each time came away with bumps and bruises. And the basketball, handball and shuffle board courts badly need resurfacing. I’m fairly certain that upgrading these are next on the owners’ to-do list. In the meantime, they ought to just take the playground down.

It seems like a lot but Tween Traveler says that by late in the second afternoon she felt like she’d done everything. After a swim and some horse shoes the next morning she didn’t mind going home. She says she felt the same way about Rocking Horse, but, “they had more things to do so it took longer to try them all.”

A factor for us is that the view is mostly just woods. There was no ideal place to sit and read and enjoy the scenery and with no walking trails around the property we felt a little hemmed in.

To be fair though, places like this can be tough to visit with one kid. It’s a place where you can let kids wander on their own and we saw several groups of kids and tweens doing so. If Tween Traveler had had a buddy to roam between activities with, she might have been happier longer.

Read about 10 more awesome weekend getaways from NYC.

The Food:

After the playground and ball courts this is the area where they most need to up their game. Portions are generous and the food is definitely kid-friendly. But we wished each meal was a little bit better than it was. With not a lot of effort it could be.

Breakfast was the usual array of scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, pancakes or French toast, yogurt, fruit and cereal. The coffee cake and chocolate rolls were good but all the baked goods felt mass-produced. There was sausage but no bacon either day.

Good bread, fresh pastries and a station for made-to-order eggs (and bacon) would raise breakfast to very good from just standard.

Lunch on the second day was an outdoor barbecue. The burgers were dry, as can happen on a grill. The hot dogs, corn, grilled chicken and ribs were good. The macaroni and cheese was pretty good and tween traveler even had seconds. The macaroni salad and cole slaw were swimming in dressing and we skipped them.

At dinner there’s a salad bar. All entrees come with the same sides, which were good: string beans and mashed potatoes on the first night, steamed zucchini and roasted potatoes the next.

On the first night Tween Traveler tried pulled pork, which was mushy and too sweet.  The fried chicken was good but the gravy that came with it didn’t add much. Grilled salmon was so-so.

Things were better the second night. Tween Traveler was very happy with the battered cod. The roast beef was thinly sliced but properly cooked and the gravy was good.  

There is a kids menu at dinner for the really picky eaters.

We skipped lunch on the day we were leaving (we were told it would be sandwiches), opting to stop on the way home instead.

In comparison, we enjoyed the food at Woodloch Pines enough to make a point of staying for lunch before we left. The lunch buffets were generous each meal was a little less basic. For example, their barbecue had fresh steamed clams, and their breads, cupcakes and breakfast pastries were freshly baked and delicious.

Tween Traveler said the food at Rocking Horse was the same type of family-friendly American fare as Pine Ridge but a little better.  

Read my full review of Woodloch Pines

The Vibe:

Casual. Very casual. It’s the sort of place where you don’t have to cringe if your kids get a little rambunctious in the halls or spill their drink at dinner.

The lobby and rooms are pseudo-Western and Southwestern, which you kind of expect of a ranch resort in the Northeast. They play country music all day long in the common spaces.

There were times when things were a bit too casual for us.

They’re trying to get by with a small staff and at times it shows. The two pools were never open simultaneously and meal times are short.

We couldn’t linger over our happy hour drinks because the bartender had to move to the bar next to the dining room. The bar next to the auditorium wasn’t open during the show because she was back in the main bar.  This is something else I expect they will rev up as they wind down their renovations.

The dining room was well staffed and the food comes quickly, which families always appreciate. And everyone is very nice.

Also, Tween Traveler and I brought sundresses for the evenings and Rich brought khakis and a collared polo shirt. Had we bothered to put these on we would have felt very overdressed.  People came to dinner in the same cargo shorts, cut-off jeans, t-shirts, tank types and flip-flops they’d been wearing all day for all their various activities.

This is a small thing, but it bothered me. The dining room felt more like a cafeteria than a dining room. Sitting next to someone in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt shirt or short shorts and flip-flops contributes to that feeling.

They’ve recently redone the dining room, updating the lighting and replacing vinyl booths with nice chairs and tables and kitschy gingham table cloths with more formal black ones. Maybe a spiffed-up room will encourage people to spiff themselves up a bit. Then again, if you really don’t want to have to think about what you wear on vacation, this could be your ideal resort.

The biggest vibe-killer for us though was seeing about 250 kids from a local day camp descend on the resort for lunch and swimming on the one full day of our mid-week visit. The outdoor barbecue lunch was a little hectic because of the extra people.

From 2:00 to 4:00 the pool was filled to near capacity with tweens and teens who naturally grew more rambunctious as the afternoon went on.

Everyone with little kids fled. There were maybe a dozen guests who stayed and we mostly hung out on the pool deck waiting for the camp kids to leave.

I overheard a lifeguard say that she needs to shock the pool overnight whenever the hotel has a large group, which made the pool unappealing even after the camp left.

Asking paying guests to surrender prime pool hours on a hot summer day is asking a lot. They should at least have both pools open when they do this and reserve one for the guests.

They might stop offering this as the business grows. But in the meantime, if you’re planning a mid-week visit, I recommend calling to ask if any camps or other large groups are expected during the dates you want to book.

In Short:

If you want to come up to the Hudson Valley, sit on a porch, read, have a drink, enjoy the scenery and maybe take a walk in the woods, there are better places.

If you want the ease of an all-inclusive and an environment where kids can roam around on their own and have things to do, this is an affordable way to do that. And it’s a short ride from the New York metro area.

It’s best with kids who want to ride horses every day and are old enough to roam on their own. It’s definitely better with more than one child.

If your kids aren’t old enough to participate in trail rides and activities like archery and wall-climbing you might have a harder time feeling you’ve gotten your money’s worth. I wouldn’t come with a baby or toddler because the pools would be your prime entertainment and they aren’t set up for littles.

For us, this is definitely a one-to-three-night getaway. If you stay longer than three nights (and people do), plan to use the hotel as a base for some hiking, biking or sightseeing around the Hudson Valley. 

Nearby Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park have great hiking trails for every ability level from flat paths to precarious rock scrambles. And the Hudson Valley is full of rail trails for cycling.

Read about more Weekend Activities in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.

I will say Pine Ridge Ranch certainly has potential and the new owners are trying. I’d revisit in another year or two to see how it’s changed. We’ll see what happens to the daily rates as the make more improvements and add more activities. It would be nice to continue to have a good value option for this type of getaway near New York City and its suburbs.

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