Exploring Far Afield: Tips for Rural Visits
April 26th, 2017 by Lori Russell

Rural settings let visitors slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Photos by Lori Russell

Looking for some country fun? Plenty of online resources are available to plan a rural getaway without getting your hands dirty.

For an overview, begin with state tourism websites. Search for agritourism attractions by location and activity at travelalaska.com, visitarizona.com, visitcalifornia.com, visitidaho.org, travelnevada.com, traveloregon.com and Washington state’s experiencewa.com, or try one of the suggested trip itineraries.

Connect with regional visitor associations within a state to find exceptional food and farm experiences in the area.

A quick internet search by location and activity will yield everything from u-pick operations to wedding site venues, corn mazes to pumpkin patches. Most farms and ranches have websites with information about their activities, hours and rates.

Check out the local chamber of commerce or social media sites such as Facebook for current blossom, foliage and fruit availability dates in addition to seasonal events or festivals.

On small farms, the person who leads a tour may also tend the plants and feed the animals, so call ahead to arrange a visit—especially when traveling with a large group.

The U.S. Farm Stay Association provides a list of working farms and ranches with lodging at farmstayus.com. Accommodations and activities vary by location. Some cater to adults, and others welcome families. Go to the farm or ranch’s website or call directly to find out what a typical day and stay is like. Rooms or cabins for rent in a variety of rural locales can be found on vrbo.com (vacation rentals by owner) and airbnb.com.

When choosing a dude ranch vacation, the size, location, accommodations and activities matter. A stay at a ranch with 10 guests differs from one with 100 people. Location determines the riding environment—from mountain trails to open pasture to desert. Is a swimming pool, TV or internet access important? Choose accordingly. The Dude Ranchers’ Association (www.duderanch.org) maintains a list of more than 100 all-inclusive working, traditional and resort dude ranches in the U.S., with offerings for riders of all ages and experience.

Before packing up and heading out on an adventure, remember that farms and ranches often are in remote locations where access to gas stations and ATMs is limited. Public transportation or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft are rare or nonexistent. Cell service and GPS signals can be erratic. Fill up the gas tank and bring written directions and a map when traveling to a rural location.

Function trumps fashion when visiting rural landscapes. Washable clothing and comfortable, close-toed shoes are the dress code for most activities.

Safety is an important consideration on a farm or ranch, especially when traveling with young children or someone with a physical limitation. Depending on the tour or activity, ask about accessible pathways and instructions about livestock, landscape, equipment, and other hazards on and around the property.

Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find out about agritourism opportunities. When visiting a business, ask about other attractions in the area. Rural business owners work together to promote tourism in their communities. They can recommend new attractions before they are on the map, or less- publicized places that are worth a visit.

Most importantly, slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the rural lifestyle. After all, it is why you came.