From the onset of this new decade, the times became tough. There was pandemic outbreak, extreme heat followed by scorching fires, ravishing floods, early blizzards and swarms of insects. Was it biblical? Certainly. Is it survivable? Absolutely! How?
Let Colorado ranch legacy demonstrate how to mentally and physically sustain oneself during these times. The classic western folk song also known as the “unofficial anthem” of the West truly embodies every nuance of the Colorado ranches. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Meet the mighty 22, the BEST OF THE WEST, Colorado’s dude and guest ranches! Their longevity, hospitality and humble nature on some of the most beautiful lands in the West will set your mind at ease and help perpetuate that the buffalo still roam, and the sun still shines, and there is lots of activity to be done.
Which of these ranches piques your interest? Mushroom hunts on horseback this fall? Is it a sunrise trail ride that leads into a dip in hot springs, or do you prefer to cast a fly in blue ribbon waters for a rainbow trout? There’s something for every demographic, hobby, passion, season, sport and foodie.
This AAA Four Diamond Ranch is one of the closest dude ranches to the Denver-metro area, and sustained immense destruction during the Hayman Fire of 2002. The ranch never wavered a season; horseback rides now weave in and out of the burnt landscape that has been rejuvenated with stunning, green vegetation. And, after wildfire, comes growth of the elusive morrell mushrooms amongst other varieties that wranglers can help you collect in-season. A bonus, Lost Valley has weekend stays throughout the year, ubber cozy cabins and an incredible lodge for dining and dancing.
One of the newest ranches to open in the world, AAA Five Diamond Broadmoor Resort, created The Ranch at Emerald Valley which only requires a two-night stay, a rarity in dude ranch structure. There are 13 cabins and a main, historic lodge, which can accommodate up to 32 guests. Daily activities include horseback riding, a multitude of games and activities, guided hikes, a soak in the outdoor hot tub, a book by the fireside, or enjoying fine wine while taking in the evening sunset. It’s the Broadmoor atheistic in extreme, pristine wilderness with stocked fishing ponds and the most luxurious of either lodge rooms or cabins.
Swim with your Horse or Bring your Dog
Located in the Red Feather Lakes, 145-acre Sundance Trail is open for four distinct seasons which equates to literally hundreds of different activities. This is the only pet-friendly ranch and can accommodate seven families or 24 guests. Summers are packed with activities, including horseback riding, hiking, white-water rafting, yoga, rock climbing, disc golf, trout fishing, trap or target shooting, archery, or just relaxing in the jacuzzi. The best part, on horseback, you can take your horse for a swim in a nearby creek in season!
Where the Buffalo Roam
This ranch is one of the nation’s only working bison guest ranches, managing a herd of approximately 2,200 bison head. Located in the majestic San Luis Valley known for star gazing and sand dunes, the 103,000-acre ranch is open March–October, weather dependent, and offers numerous guest activities, with opportunities to view and learn about the bison. There are also self-guided, full moon hikes through the sand dunes, photography workshops and much more focused on conservation and outdoor delight.
This is one of the most exclusive of all the Colorado ranches due to its luxury, cuisine, and remote location. Here, moose can meander throughout the property, elk bugles can be heard on autumn evenings, and rare and wild spottings of bears, cougars, and birds of prey are always a possibility. Rawah is the furthest ranch from any major town or city, and there is even onsite medic, sundry, general store, etc. so one never has to leave this wilderness paradise. The cabins are extremely comfortable with luxury bedding and coffee, tea and pastries delivered to the cabin porch each morning.
Boutique, Authentic, Isolated
With a guest count of six, at an elevation of 9,000 feet and in some of the most secretive and storied lands in the State, Badger Creek Ranch is a true off-the-grid-gem. There are two guest rooms and two canvas tents, a main ranch house for meals, and thousands of acres of solitude. On the ranch, is a bison cliff where Native Americans chased the herds over the edge. Mount up on horseback and ride to the ancient volcano, located on property, that is loaded with minerals and actual gems. There is a stream not far from property that tests the best of fly fishers’ abilities. This remote respite won’t be a secret long!
Century of Legacy
Easily one of the most well-known ranches in the West, C Lazy U is a sprawling 8,500-acre luxury dude and guest ranch in Granby, and it can even be accessed via the train from Union Station in Denver! The award-winning ranch has the typical week-long stays Memorial Day through Labor Day. However, it might be their other seasons that are even more spectacular. From weekend offerings to customizable packages, the 100-year old ranch truly has it all—horseback riding, full-service Lazy You Spa, children’s program, nightly entertainment, Orvis-endorsed fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, zip line, ropes course, and more.
AAA Four Diamond Vista Verde Guest Ranch is 35 minutes from Steamboat Springs and has a nice, long season, June–October, and December–March. Both seasons run daily horse programs; however, it’s the numerous off-the-saddle activities that set this ranch apart from the herd. There’s photography, culinary classes, yoga, fat bikes, leather working, sleigh rides, wine and beer tastings, tubing, snowmobiling and more. Bedding down, all guests have choices of extremely comfort in either cabins or lodge rooms. The cuisine is phenomenal and can be personalized to any diet.
Longevity and Long Seasons
Almost every dude ranch in Colorado has faced fire, flood, drought, and worse. Latigo Dude Ranch survived the 2018 Silver Creek Fire that burned more than 20,000 acres of Medicine Bow National Forest in their backyard. They came back even stronger with more activity and a robust herd of both staff and horse. The George family and their 500-acre ranch demonstrated Colorado Ranch sustainability and by that summer’s end, they were fully operational. In 2020, pandemic wasn’t going to hinder their plans, and coming into autumn and winter season, Latigo is STILL open for boutique and B&B stays! The remote location is ideal for last-minute escapes.
The Sweetheart Ranch
Easily one of the fastest escapes from the Front Range, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch was severely impacted by the historic floods of 2013; nonetheless, stayed strong and reopened within a year. The 3,100-acre ranch is located a few minutes west of downtown Loveland. The family-owned-and-operated ranch is known for their quarter horses, which are born, raised, trained, and registered from their land! The sweetest part, Sylvan Dale is open nearly year-round—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day—the unique offering of both week-long and customized shorter stays is certainly a rarity in ranching.
4 Seasons of Fun
Just down the road from Winter Park Ski Resort, and also accessible via train if desirable, is the wild and luxurious 6,500-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch. This expanse bridges the old and new West with activity, cuisine, amenities and charm. Open year-round, there are both lodge rooms and cabins for guests. Many of the activities on ranch are a la carte in off-peak seasons, which is unique for a ranch; therefore, visitors can truly personalize their adventure. Onsite is a year-round herd of horses to help you explore mountains, valleys and rivers, wagon rides, fly-fishing lessons and excursions, zip line tours in season, mountain biking, air rifle biathlon, archery, hatchet throwing, hiking, paddleboard yoga in season, yoga and mediation. If that doesn’t wear you out, there’s an onsite outdoor pool, hot tub, full-service spa and multiple dinning options.
The claim of best lodge is valid. Rainbow Trout Ranch’s main lodge was built in the 1920s and encompasses a massive 18,000-square feet and sits at an elevation of 9,800 feet. No delight was sparred in construction, including an impressive wrap-around deck with dozens of spots for chaise lounge, rocking chair, a spot to view the humming birds, or enough room for a wedding. The lodge overlooks the ranch’s 600 acres and 1.5 miles of private water on the Conejos River with legendary rainbow trout water. The multi-generational owners take great pride in their own horse breeding program, authentic cabins, and traditional ranch cuisine. There’s only one log lodge larger in the West, and that’s in Yellowstone! And, yes, the massive 100-foot stone, double-sided fireplace is stoked each refreshing morning.
Generous and Gracious
Rocky Mountain National Park and legendary Estes Park set the landscape for Wind River Ranch, situated between iconic Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Mountain range. Wind River is one of the best ranches for truly healing and uplifting experiences during crisis. The serene and peaceful Christian environment offers exceptionally-themed weeks unique to that only in Colorado. The ranch has several family vacation weeks with guest speakers; Wounded Warriors takes over the ranch for four weeks to experience everything authentically Western; three couples’ getaway weeks; and a mission’s getaway week for ministries. In summer 2020, this ranch sponsored more charities and individuals than any summer in recent history.
Best Technology Tune Out
When the lights go out, that’s it, literally! Elk Mountain Ranch, located in Buena Vista, is the State’s highest elevation dude ranch at 9,600 feet, and it’s run on generators. Every evening, around 10 or 11 pm, the owners turn off the generations and it goes dark and the stargazing becomes second to none with no city or residential lights. During the day, guests choose from horseback riding, hayrides, hiking, whitewater rafting, outdoor volleyball and basketball courts, and, nearby hot springs and much more. But come evening, it’s truly lights off!
This 50,000-acre, family-run dude ranch, located 45 minutes from Vail Valley in McCoy. The landscape is dotted with longhorn cattle amongst the mountain peaks and valleys. This is one of the few ranches in the nation that offers adult-only weeks scattered throughout the summer. Guests choose between standard lodge rooms, cabins, and premium cabins. There is unlimited horseback riding, a pack trip, a longhorn cattle drive, whitewater rafting, fly and spin fishing, rifle and trap shooting, a trip to a local rodeo, and more.
Bring the Kids and Grandparents
The ranch was the original stagecoach stop between Fort Collins and Laramie. There are 40 weekly ranch guests and each week there is a tremendous kids’ programs for children as young as two years old to experience a variety of activities such as arrowhead hunting, crafting, horseshoe painting, gold panning, hiking, scavenger hunts, daily horseback riding, and more. Plus, the Cowpoke Corral is loaded with games, crafts and activities, a kids’ counselor, and a menagerie of animals. Families can enjoy hot tubs, a fire pit, an indoor riding arena, a petting zoo, and trout fishing in the north fork of the Cache La Poudre River.
This is one of the greatest legacy summer ranches in the nation for price point, activity, hospitality and authenticity. There is now opportunity to book prime summer weeks with changes in vacationing due to COVID. Bar Lazy J the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado and is on the fringes of is a Rocky Mountain National Park. Iconic rides might include the half-day hot springs ride where guests eat lunch on top of Byers Canyon then ride horses into Hot Sulphur Springs where a trailer and the guests’ previously packed bags, are waiting along with a free pass into the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort to soak in the 22 naturally heated pools.
The Fosha Family and their 700-acre ranch in grand County offer one of the most authentic and humble Western ranch experiences West of the Mississippi. There is the quintessential main lodge used for meals, gatherings, dance nights, and more. There are one, two, three and four-bedroom cabins on the ranch. During summer, there is a weekly kids’ program for three different age groups, daily adult rides, and clinics, or simply photographing one of the horses from the ranch’s 100-plus animal herd. There is also whitewater rafting, zip line, nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and much more to make you want to return and truly embrace this family and their operation.
Traditional and Truly Amazing
Another easily accessible ranch from the Colorado Front Range, Tumbling River Ranch is nestled deep in Pike national forest among colorful aspens and cool, clear streams abundant with trout in blue ribbon water. Whitewater rafting opportunities abound or a cool splash in water along a trail ride are weekly indulgences. Health and wellness are critical activity emphasis areas with yoga, hiking, fitness classes and massage. Trap shooting, riflery and archery are all offered weekly as well. Friday night square dances are that of family memories for decades and there is an outdoor heated swimming pool and two hot tubs. Campfire stories, remarkable cuisine, and spectacular setting with infamous nearby attractions including the Georgetown Loop Railroad.
Field of Dreams
This Durango-area ranch is the only ranch in Colorado to have a legal-size baseball field amongst its herd of horses. The bright, red cabins are iconic, the immense amount of summer activity from day-long rides, paint ball, laser tag, fly-fishing, archery, skeet shooting, whitewater rafting, a kid’s program, it’s not just the field of dreams, it’s the ranch of dreams! There’s a game room, sauna, hot tub, saloon and much more on the ‘majestic’ grounds of the southwest ranch. This ranch bridges Western lifestyle with 2020 activity.
NEXT ON THE HORIZON
Unfortunately, this ranch sustained damage to 90 percent of the property during the summer 2020 Pine Gulch Fire, the largest fire in Colorado’s history. However, the CDGRA and all of the ranch’s guests, family and friends are anxious to lend a helping hand and see the more than 400-square-mile ranch reopen. High Lonesome has some rare attributes including its unique approach to conservation and restoration. The ranch’s typical season extends well past summer for sport shooting, fishing and a hunting season with fully-stocked kitchens, and large outdoor kennels for bird hunters who like to bring their dogs. Stay tuned to see another epic comeback!
Complete Colorado Package
Colorado Trails Ranch
The ranch will reopen in summer 2021 with even more pizazz—a new tennis and basketball court! The Durango-area ranch has the sweetest of all summer weeks with the best kid’s saloon, aka ‘the soda fountain,’ an authentic century’s-old bar in the General Store. This ranch doesn’t miss an activity for children with a kid’s overnight included, authentic fishing vehicles, a game room, petting zoo, riding and much more. There are two, three and four-bedroom cabins for guests, a fabulous lodge and deck, and lovely coffee / tea sunrises and cocktail sunsets. Guests enjoy the weekly Durango rodeo, whitewater rafting, western dance night, and oodles more Western activity that keeps families returning for generations.
~ by Julie Bielenberg (@slowandgotraveler)
~photo taken at Zapata Ranch