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The bright lights lure families to all sorts of fun activities around the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. But did you know that little more than a couple of miles off the main road in Pigeon Forge you can saddle up to enjoy slow, country living? Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa offers everything from a free visit to the petting zoo and playground to guided horseback riding through the mountains.
Guests are required to watch a safety video before riding and they have the option of wearing helmets. A loading ramp makes it convenient for riders to get on and off their horses without the typical distance required to mount. Horses are also available in sizes that can carry large adults.
While horseback riding accommodates even the biggest kids, the gem mining station, playground and petting zoo attract the tiniest ranchers looking for outdoor fun.
Smaller mammals like goats await attention at the petting zoo, as well as fowl from chickens to a colorful peacock. A catch and release pond is stocked with fish.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I met a proud Tom Turkey at the petting zoo, and I was assured that he’d been given amnesty.
Some things to keep in mind when planning a family trip to a dude ranch are:
- Wear proper attire such as closed-toed shoes in summer and coats/gloves in winter.
- Observe all safety rules.
- Check with the facility on minimum ages and sizes for activities.
- Reserve your spot ahead and allow plenty of time for check-in.
- Be flexible. Be prepared to alter plans for weather or the needs of small children.
- Save money by bringing your own water canteens and snacks where allowed.