How to Make Family Travel Relaxing (for Everyone)

Lone Mountain Ranch

Anyone who has ever traveled with a child knows the word “vacation” hardly applies. Depending on the child, it can be the opposite: When you remove routine and any regular help with childcare, a getaway with the family can be much more stressful than just heading into the office.

So if you’re wondering how to make your next family vacation a relaxing experience for everyone (and especially you, mom), we’ve got a suggestion: An all-inclusive Western horse ranch. And there are so many reasons why.

Lone Mountain Ranch
COURTESY OF LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH

Lone Mountain Ranch, in Big Sky, Montana, is where I took my one-year-old for an all-inclusive “Taste” weekend, and I was admittedly nervous — a one-year-old around horses? A food and wine festival with a toddler? No cell signal for emergency Daniel Tiger episodes?

The nerves, it turned out, were for naught. The ranch wasn’t just okay with a toddler, it was great. Although most of the activities are better for entertaining older kids, the overall experience is perfectly accommodating to family members of all ages.

Choosing the Right Destination

Maybe this sounds obvious, but the key to relaxing with your family is choosing a destination that will facilitate R&R. Visiting somewhere that takes everyone out of their everyday routine — like heading to a national park if you live in a city — is a great start, and finding accommodations that will make everyone comfortable is the next step.

As we settled into the Porcupine cabin, surrounded by tall trees and a babbling brook, it was clear this is a wonderful place for relaxing, even alongside a toddler.

Lone Mountain Ranch
COURTESY OF LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH

Lone Mountain Ranch, which is about 50 miles from Yellowstone, has a couple dozen cabins surrounding a grassy lawn — featuring firepits and outdoor games — and the on-site restaurant Horn & Cantle. The property, which turned 100 in 2015, has an incredible history as a lodge and has recently renovated its cabins to add just enough luxury to the rustic ambiance.

Cabins have wood-burning stoves, comfortable beds, and fun touches like turntables and a selection of records (the one-year-old’s fave: Tina Turner). What you won’t find is a television.

“We want people to make a fire, and play a record, and talk, and go biking together,” Paul Makarechian, owner of Lone Mountain Ranch, told Travel + Leisure. “And go sit by the river and throw rocks.”

Lone Mountain Ranch
COURTESY OF LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH

Taking Devices (Mostly) Out of the Equation

At this point “unplugging” is cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s overrated. My weekly phone usage report is downright embarrassing, and I can’t (or don’t want to) imagine the numbers if screen time at work were included. While I’ll never give up having a camera easily available, it’s a relief sometimes to know I’m somewhere without a data signal.

If you find that your family’s daily lives are equally overrun with technology, don’t be afraid to choose to put a temporary stop to it on vacation. There could be complaining and whining — even from the older members of the family — but hopefully that subsides quickly once everyone lets go (just for a few days).

At the ranch, which is surrounded by mountains, LTE is nowhere to be found. For those hesitant to completely let go, there is Wi-Fi (which also enables a convenient communication system between guests and staff), but the atmosphere encourages you to stay logged off.

Lone Mountain Ranch
COURTESY OF LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH

“There’s no technology in sight,” said Makarechian. As for what to do instead? “You have to use your creativity again. You have to be open to an adventure, and say ‘I don’t know how to do this or that, but I’m going to learn.’” (Whether that’s playing horseshoes, horseback riding, or one of the many other available outdoor activities.)

There is also the ability to enjoy doing nothing. In the evening, staff put out the makings for s’mores around the fire pits, and it’s easy to spend a couple hours sitting, relaxing, and watching kids play while enjoying Big Sky’s nightly showing of stars.

“I think there’s a bigger, wider audience looking for something off the beaten path, something more authentic and connected to nature,” he said. “I grew up on a farm in Virginia in my younger days, and I have a lot of fondness for doing nothing.”

Doing New Things Together

But of course you can’t do “nothing” for an entire trip. A great way to make a trip memorable is to do something new together, like all going for a horseback ride, or seeing (that is, smelling) Yellowstone’s famous geysers.

Sadie outside exploring
The writer’s one-year-old enjoying the view of some stinky geysers at Yellowstone National Park.
JESSICA PLAUTZ

And for those with older kids, don’t underestimate the power of choosing an activity that takes the adults out of their comfort zone. Maybe zip lining scares the crap out of you, but your 13-year-old is probably going to love that.

Making Food a Priority

Everyone gets cranky when they’re hungry, kids just tend to be louder about it. Food can make or break a trip, so don’t leave it up to chance: Vacation is absolutely the time to seek out all the foods you consider your favorites, and to indulge in new foods you’d never considered before.

Sadie eating chicken and fries
Vacation food for the win.
JESSICA PLAUTZ

Horn & Cantle, the ranch’s restaurant, isn’t just renowned by ranch guests — it’s a favorite among locals. After the first dinner there, it was easy to see why. (Elk meatballs are something I never knew I needed, but now would like to have at least once a week, for the rest of my life.)

Lone Mountain Ranch
COURTESY OF LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH

Food at Lone Mountain is more than a priority, it’s a central part of the experience. “There’s no lobby… The restaurant is the center of this ranch. It’s where you meet and come together,” Ruth White, the ranch’s director of food and beverage, told Travel + Leisure. “It’s this great communal meeting place.”

And that, in a way, is why focusing on food on your next trip can make it so much better. Great food brings people together, and that’s essentially the entire goal of a family vacation.

Lone Mountain Ranch provided support for the reporting of this story.

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