Guest ranches offer everything from riding, river rafting, fishing, hiking, tennis and mountain biking to crafts and swimming, Skiing, snowshoeing and much more. Below is a list of many of the activities guests will find at Colorado dude and guest ranches.
The best way to see the West is from the back of a Horse
Cantering a horse through an alpine meadow or climbing a steep trail through a pine forest is something you never forget. Being in the saddle of a Colorado dude ranch well-trained horse is the fastest way to connect to a truly western experience. Whether you are a new rider or experienced, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Trail riding, cattle roundups, team penning, overnight pack trips, gymkhanas and family rodeos are a few of the ways you can get to know your mount.
Sometimes it’s nice to be the cowboy and not just one of the herd
Colorado’s rich ranching heritage is one of the reasons there are so many great cattle activities available. Many dude ranches started as cattle operations generations ago and many that were conceived as Dude Ranches include the cattle experience. Hard work has never been so much fun.
You can finally give your kids that pony
Every parent hopes to provide the experiences they had growing up for their kids. This is where you’ll find them. There’s no better place to be a kid than on a family dude ranch in the Colorado Rockies. Come to think of it, it’s not a bad place to have a second childhood either.
Other Dude Ranch Activities
Cattle Gathering: Ride out to a pasture in the morning or afternoon to round up the cattle and bring them back to a corral, possibly for team penning later.
Team Penning: You and your team select one or more animals to separate from a larger herd, and then drive them across the arena, into a three-sided pen. Getting the bovines to do what you want can be both challenging and hilarious.
Cattle Drives: Gather and herd cattle from one pasture to another to prevent over-grazing and preserve the land. Cattle drives are seasonal and can involve pushing livestock up into federally-leased land in the Colorado’s High Country or, in the fall, bringing them back to deeded ranch land. Check with individual ranches for details.
Cattle Work: Help doctor sick animals, brand calves, check salt, water and fences, and do the things that make a working ranch work.
Campfires and Cookouts
Campfires aren’t just for warmth. In the high country, campfires are a way of life. Ranch chefs cook over an open fire whenever they can as well as take guests up into the mountains for campfire breakfasts, brunches, and evening fireside singing and snacking. The meals are usually more elaborate than you’d think, from Dutch oven soufflés and cakes to stews and steaks.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain scenery is more beautiful when you know what you’re looking at. Many ranches have naturalists on hand or bring in experts on geology, archeology, wildlife and ecosystems for tours and lectures. Several ranches have naturalists on staff. Others bring in authorities on our ecosystems, geology, archeology, wildlife, birds, photography, and other subjects for lectures, field trips, or workshops.
There’s a creative side to every mountain. Live music, cowboy poets, weekly barn dances and even rich stage performances are part of the package at many ranches. TV doesn’t even come close.
Everyone can fish, regardless of age or experience, and Colorado dude and guest ranches offer fishing for all abilities. Many guests enjoy wetting a line along stretches of private or leased Gold Medal rivers and exploring secluded ponds with their family or fishing for a spell before the day begins or after a day of riding. Most ranches stock their own ponds or are near local streams and lakes where the ranch staff can advise guests on the hotspots where they are most likely to find fish, and many can outfit them with the latest gear or put them in touch with a seasoned outfitter for instruction and guided trips.
Fly-Fishing: Many member ranches offer professionally guided fly-fishing and/or fly-tying facilities, furnish or rent state-of-the-art fishing gear, and have access or leases on Colorado Gold Medal waters. In fact fly-fishing is quickly becoming a specialty at some of the member ranches, along with horseback riding. Guests can also arrange guided fishing or instruction with a local fishing expert. Some ranches bring in an instructor one day during the week and others offer complete, on-the-ranch guides, equipment, and instruction.
Four-wheel Drive Trips
Four-wheel drive trips offer the opportunity to discover scenic places high in the Rockies, from old ghost towns and abandoned gold mines to scenic outlooks and paths deep in the woods. Ranches have all kinds of transportation available from classic Jeeps to vintage fire engines to antique trucks that offer loads of fun for children and adults alike.
Colorado is home to many scenic, world-class golf courses. Although none of the ranches have their own golf course, some are located near these world-class courses. Check with each ranch to find out more about the links and if they suit your style of play.
Hayrides and Horseshoes
Hayrides are great for kids or bring your significant other and a blanket and you’ve got a date. Horseshoes, a leisure-time activity that can get surprisingly competitive, is fun at any skill level.
There are many ways to explore the wilderness and hiking happens to be one of Colorado’s most popular pastimes. There are dozens of trails to explore on foot as well as on horseback. Most ranches offer guided hikes or nature walks with guides knowledgeable about local history and the ranch’s plants, birds, and wildlife. Some ranches even offer alpine treks up nearby peaks (you can climb most of Colorado’s highest mountains without technical climbing gear).
There is nothing more relaxing and fun than letting a well-trained horse take you into the Colorado high country. But trail riding is just one way to enjoy horses at Colorado ranches. Additional horseback activities are offered at many of ranches including cattle roundups, team penning, horseback gymkhanas (games on horseback), overnight pack trips, and family rodeos.
Hot Air Ballooning, Rock Climbing and Kayaking
These are activities that are not typically offered at the ranches, but special arrangements can be made, depending on the location of the ranch.
Many ranches have loaner bikes or can arrange a rental with a local bike shop. Not only is it great exercise, it’s another great way to see wildlife and spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery.
Overnight Pack Trips
Most ranches offer an optional overnight pack trip and many offer special half-night campouts for younger adventurers who may want just a taste of camping. A dude ranch pack trip doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it. Plenty of delicious hot food is served and guests stay dry and comfy in tents with warm bedding. Campfire singing, ghost stories, hot chocolate and original campfire treats are also part of the experience. Each ranch has their own special recipe for overnight fun out where the stars are bright and coyotes serenade you to sleep.
Float a class-one river with a fly rod or paddle through class-five whitewater. Most ranches offer a time in the week for rafting. The ranches contract with the best, most reputable outfitters around and an excursion is sometimes covered in ranch rates or discounted.
Sauna, Hot Tubs, and Spas
All member ranches offer guests a place to soak and relax. Some have a camp hot tub. Others offer private hot tubs in each cabin. A number of ranches have saunas and/or offer spa services such as massages. One even has its own hot springs for guests to enjoy.
Side trips to nearby national parks and historic monuments, quaint mountain towns, resort villages, gold and silver mines, narrow-gauge railways to local attractions and for shopping can be arranged.
Many ranches offer target shooting and sporting clays like trap shooting and skeet courses. All are practiced in responsible gun handling and safety. Some ranches have vintage western firearms that guests can try or for shooting demonstrations.
For those who live where the summer heat index climbs above 100, nothing sounds better than escaping to the cool high-country of Colorado. Most ranches have heated swimming pools. Others offer heat relief via natural ponds, streams, and water decks.
Only a few ranches have on-site tennis courts. However, arrangements can be made to play on nearby community courts.
Although many ranches are open for only part of the year, a handful of Colorado ranches remain open during the winter season. During the winter, guests can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities many of which include a guide and equipment such as scenic backcountry ski tours, snowshoe adventures, mild naturalist tours, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, ice skating, tubing, sledding, horseback riding, swimming, fly-fishing, and more. Off ranch activities such as snowmobiling, dog-sledding and downhill skiing can also be arranged. The holiday season offers special tree trimming and decorating parties, caroling, visits from Santa and Christmas dinners.