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Head South to a Dude Ranch in Bandera

“Mom, how come we live in Texas but have never ridden a horse?”

My curious 5-year-old asked me that question last fall. As a native Texan who grew up near the Hill Country, I had plenty of opportunities to visit ranches and ride, but as we are now raising our family in the big city, it took this question to make me realize that I hadn’t given my children that quintessential Texas experience yet.

One of the best ways to show children life on a ranch is to fully immerse yourself at a dude ranch for a few days. So last fall, we took the children to the Mayan Dude Ranch in central Texas and had one of the best experiences as a family.

Where: The Mayan Dude Ranch is located in Bandera, which is 47 miles northwest of San Antonio, tucked away in the gorgeous Hill Country. The quick-and-easy route is to take Interstate 35 all the way to San Antonio and then head north on Highway 173. But my recommendation is to take the scenic drive south along Highway 281 and go west on Highway 46 out of Bulverde.

Why it’s great for families: The Mayan Dude Ranch offers fun for every age with guided horseback trail rides, authentic cowboy cooking, hayrides, western dancing and more. It’s a great getaway to relax and play with your kids. My children especially loved having time with their dad away from home.

Owned and operated by the Hicks family for over 50 years, the ranch is still run by many of the siblings, and the down-home hospitality they are known for continues. Your family is welcomed with open arms and the owners genuinely enjoy your visit.

What to do: Your day begins with a hearty country breakfast served from the chuck wagon — think biscuits and gravy, thick slices of bacon, scrambled eggs and coffee all outside under the trees. (And you get to take a fun hayride to get there!)

The best way to enjoy the ranch is from the back of a horse. The Mayan offers two trail rides a day: a morning trail ride into the hills or afternoon jaunt down to the cool Medina riverside. Trail rides are for ages 6 and up, but the younger kiddos can take a guided pony ride around the corral.

Beyond horseback riding, guests can enjoy swimming in the pool, hiking to see dinosaur tracks, participating in BB gun contests, learning how to use a bow and arrow and much more. One of the ranch’s best perks is the quiet, laid-back atmosphere. There is no pressure to do any scheduled activities — guests can spend each day hiking the trails or sipping a cool drink on their porch with a book.

Every evening finishes with a theme designed to bring families together, from learning the two-step and line dances to goofy family games. Dinner is always a fantastic feast: The head chef prepares delicious and hearty meals that will satisfy even the pickiest palate.

After dinner comes fun entertainment: Kids play in a miniature town called Hicksville while parents enjoy a cold beverage and listen to live cowboy tunes. Sometimes Mayan features comedians, talent shows or after-hours parties in the saloon.

Lodging: Mayan Dude Ranch has picturesque stone cottages that can sleep any size family, with options for one, two, and even three bedrooms. Many have themed rooms, such as the “Jail Room” my boys slept in. All the cottages are spread out across the property, making for a quiet and peaceful stay. And if you’d like to be closer to all the activities, you can get a room in the lodge, which sits atop a hillside and has terrific views of the countryside.

Don’t miss: Take the time to stroll the streets of downtown Bandera during your stay. The “Cowboy Capital of the World” is the perfect place to get a new pair of boots or a 10-gallon hat. Learn the history of the area at the Frontier Times Museum or slurp down a milkshake at the Bandera Country Store.

Published October 2015