Horses, history and H20

Marie Havenga • Feb 3, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Looking for a trip to the wild west without the long drive?

Less than a 45-minute trek from Grand Haven, you can surround yourself with horses, a western theme, a water park and more at Double JJ Resort in Rothbury.

We rolled into our suite on a recent Friday evening, immediately impressed by the surroundings – a full kitchen, jetted spa and fireplace in the master bedroom, loft with bunk beds and a pull-out couch, chair and fireplace in the living room area.

The décor is purely western, right down to the toilet paper holder and fixtures.

After a tasty prime rib dinner (the Friday and Saturday night special) at the on-site Sundance Saloon and Grill, we checked out the Mystical Forest, a black light indoor miniature golf course. The 18-hole course blasts neon, challenging holes and a unique experience for all ages in a mostly dark atmosphere.

After mini-golf, the two kids we had in-tow took a ride on the wild side on the mechanical bull. Participants need to wear helmets, and the entire area is surrounded by a huge inflatable cushion, so when riders take a spill — which inevitably they will — they're well protected.

But mechanical bulls aren't the only thing you can ride at Double JJ. They offer horseback riding trail rides and lessons year-round.

This activity brought me back to my childhood. I grew up with horses on our family farm, and rode horses daily.

There's magic between a girl and horse, and I was elated to discover that my own daughter, Lainey, experienced that same magic. Except for a few trips around a circle on a pony ride at various local festivals and events, this was her first experience on a horse all her own.

Double JJ's rules indicate that anyone under age 8 must have a lead line tethered to a wrangler, but it was refreshing to see, and freedom for Lainey and her friend, Max, that the lead line led to the wrangler on another horse, and not to someone walking the horse along the trail.

Lainey and Max had their own horses, and were very much in control of them, but had the lead line in place in case of an unexpected “spook” or other emergency. Nice touch, Double JJ.

Although it was chilly (what winter in Michigan isn't?), we enjoyed an almost hour-long trail ride, traversing through woods, over streams and along the side of the road.

My Ethel, an 18-hand mare, plodded along much slower than any horse I had ever been on, but she's probably used to matching the pace of the ponies that Max and Lainey rode.

If you're looking for a cushier ride, check out the snow tubing hill. You'll sled down a 660-foot-long run on an inflatable tube, and enjoy a tow rope ride back to the top.

Double JJ had to make its own snow for the tubing hill during our visit. When Mother Nature cooperates, the resort also offers snowmobile rentals and horse-drawn sleigh rides, but that was not in the weather cards during our stay.

After a long day of horseback riding and snow tubing, our muscles needed a rest, so we headed to the on-site water park. The adults headed for the hot tubs while the kiddos grabbed tubes and surfed the water slides.

The Gold Rush Waterpark features two hot tubs – one, a huge family tub that is half indoors and half outdoors, and the other, an adults-only tub that is a small, backyard-type spa.

The 60,000-square-foot water park also includes a lazy/crazy river. Be prepared, the “crazy” part is probably more applicable than the “lazy” part. There are many water hazards to dodge, both from above and from the side – including children who shoot water at you from a nearby water fort.

Water slide tube choices include single, double, triple and quad. Not all slides accommodate all sizes, so be sure to check signs or ask before you trudge up the stairs. The good part is, all stairs lead to the same place, so even if you brought a tube not fit for the slide you intended you can still make another choice at the top.

I highly recommend the two-person Miner's Plunge, that starts with a steep drop, then spins you around as if you're in an open toilet bowl, before shooting you (backward) down the exit tunnel.

Lodging choices include condos, hotel rooms, cabins, log homes and a seasonal campground.

But if you're just looking to hang out a ranch for the day and not make a weekend of it, Double JJ offers Friday and Sunday water park and pizza specials – $10 for admission on Friday afternoons and $15 on Sunday afternoons.

If you're hungry, besides the more formal sit-down Sundance Saloon, there are several snack bars with pizza, sandwiches, salads, coffee and ice cream.

Double JJ opened in 1937 as the Jack and Jill Ranch, and many historical photos are on display in the indoor walkway from Thoroughbred Suites to the restaurant. Double JJ also features a seasonal golf course and an old western mock town known as the “Back Forty.” Since 2011, it has hosted the Electric Forest (music) Festival. 

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