Have your kids ever asked you, what’s it like to milk a cow, collect eggs, or feed farm animals? The experience of doing any of these things for a child – or an adult! – is invaluable in that it shows what life is like in an entirely new environment and opens up for them a whole new world of knowledge and connection to nature. What better way to get away from it all, introduce your kids or yourselves to the wonders of farm life and enjoy the resources of our own state than to book a fun, active getaway at a North Carolina working farm or dude ranch?
North Carolina Working Farms
As the field of agritourism grows worldwide and thrives in North Carolina, more and more NC properties offer farm stays as an entirely new type of “destination” in the form of an inn, bed & breakfast, resort or guest ranch; nationwide, in fact, our state is a leader in the support of farmers growing their farm visit businesses. Hundreds of working farms now welcome visitors in rural areas between the mountains and the coast, offering true farm work experiences – opportunities for guests to do typical farm chores or even prepare their own meals with meats and produce from the farm – or luxurious retreats designed to provide a sense of sublime rest and relaxation in five-star surroundings, or something in between.
- Celebrity Dairy / Siler City. Guests here decide for themselves just how involved in the day-to-cay activities of the 300-acre working goat dairy they choose to be. A goat herd of 100 Alpine and Saanen goats keeps farm workers busy with twice daily milking, cheesemaking and all the chores that go hand-in-hand with running a successful dairy. Breakfasts are a special treat on the farm, featuring their own chèvre (goat cheese) and omelets made from the eggs of the farm’s own free range chickens
- Cloud 9 Farm / Fletcher. Just 15 minutes outside of Asheville, Cloud 9 offers a hideaway cabin for couples and larger 3-bedroom ranch home for families or groups. U-pick blueberries are available from June through August, but throughout the year visitors are welcome to learn all about the farm’s honey bee community and gather eggs themselves
- Turtle Mist Farm / Franklinton. The guesthouse at Turtle Mist Farm overlooks a pond stocked with fish, and a stay there includes the opportunity to help owners take care of a collection of sheep, cattle, chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits, and a variety of game birds.
- Willet Ponds Farm / Todd. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains just north of Boone, visitors here experience the peaceful life of a farm in the Appalachians, where they’ll be able to gather eggs, feed the chickens, and enjoy fly fishing, berry picking, bird watching and horseback riding in the outdoor riding arena.
- Emerald Gate Farm / Waynesville. This organic farm is ideal for families with kids as year-round activities include fishing, berry picking and helping care for the farm’s pigs, free-range chickens and horse. Meals are self-prepared, but visitors are supplied with fresh produce and eggs.
There are three basic types of dude ranches in the U.S. – working dude ranch, basic dude ranch and resort dude ranch – but all involve getting on the back of a horse and riding it. While on a basic dude ranch you may learn to ride a horse and some of the other skills – lassoing, herding cattle, etc. – like a real cowboy, a stay at a working dude ranch will likely involve directly contributing to the care of livestock.
Some of North Carolina’s best dude ranches – those offering the most amenities at the best possible value – include these.
- Cataloochee Guest Ranch / Maggie Valley. The Cataloochee Guest Ranch is the perfect spot for those wishing to relax and take advantage of some of the finest horseback riding and hiking trails in North Carolina as well as wagon rides, bonfires, and well-stocked trout ponds. At least one ride is guaranteed per guest per day, and reservations for wrangling (cattle herding) are taken at the breakfast table each morning.
- Pisgah View Ranch / Candler, NC. A stay at this family-owned, 2,000-acre paradise of horseback-riding trails, scenic mountain hiking paths, and fishing ponds includes nightly storytelling, music, movie nights and campfires, while in the daytime guests enjoy full access to tennis courts, an outdoor pool, and an indoor game room.
- Clear Creek Guest Ranch / Burnsville. The Great Smoky Mountains’ Clear Creek Ranch, an all-inclusive option designed with families in mind, offers activities from kids-only cookouts to tubing to mountain biking to horseback riding – the last, on any of the ranch’s own 45 horses. The stunning natural surroundings and opportunities to develop riding skills (for newbies) or hone already-existing skills (for experienced riders) make this an outstanding option for an authentic ranch visit.
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