It’s the busiest time of the year for Colorado Dude Ranches. The sun enjoys copious amounts of time high above the ranchlands near the summer solstice. Cows and horses come home early from pasture and don’t go out until the last ride’s home. That means evening activities and adventures are going to carry on far past dusk for summer ranch guests. Once the sun fades along the Rocky Mountains, it’s time to get a little rowdy and creative. Grab your torch or an extra canteen, exploring Colorado under the stars with a wrangler in the lead and roaring campfire awaiting your return should lure anyone into dude ranches’ nighttime experiences.
High Lonesome Ranch—Trifecta of Rodeo, Cuisine and a Little Science
The working cattle ranch settled on scenic terrain outside of DeBeque is known for it’s incredible cuisine. Wednesday night activities provide specialized time for the kids and adults. The wrangler team invites the children to a remote sleepover. Meanwhile, parents enjoy a seven to ten-course seasonal meal. Many of the menu items are grown on the ranch itself, and the rest of the ingredients are sourced locally.
Wait, there’s still another night at the ranch worthy of accolade. Monday nights on the ranch include the HLR rodeo, where guests get involved by participating in goat dressing contests, mutton busting and roping relays.
Yikes, HLR has one more night that is science and serene. Come Tuesdays in summer, guests are joined by a science team (a group composed of graduate students and their techs, underwritten by the High Lonesome Institute for their Masters and Doctorate programs pertaining to the ecology of HLR) who make science exciting and approachable by teaching kids about conservation, migration, endangered species, mineral extraction, and other environmental issues that affect the ranch.
Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch—Overnight at Cow Camp
The Loveland-area ranch has an overnight pack trip that is offered during their weeklong stays, as well as during their summer cowgirl roundup, and fall great grownup getaway. The evening experience is quite intricate and intimate. It starts with a three-and-a-half-hour ride up into the backcountry where guests stay in an early 1900s homestead owned by the ranch that is now lovingly called Cow Camp. The ranch provides the guides, the grub, and the bedding (foam pads and sleeping bags). Cow Camp is nestled in Cedar Park, at about 7,500 feet in altitude. Immersed in forest and streams, the cooking is a reflection of the ‘down home’ nature of the experience and the evening is filled with campfire songs and s’mores. After an early morning cup of coffee and cooked breakfast, the guests head back down the gulch to the main ranch.
Lost Valley Ranch—Outlaws, Jail and Milkshakes
LVR is one of the closest ranches to the Front Range and Denver International Airport, but the location is miles from anything, at all! The nine-mile private road into the ranch should secure its status as secluded. And, back in the early days of the cow operation, there were probably plenty an outlaw that was interested in the loot on the ranch. Today, there is still homage to the Wild, Wild West. However, for the sake of LVR, outlaws and jails is actually one of the most popular evening experiences.
One night each week come summer, there is a Cookout & Night at the Jail that’s pretty legendary. It starts with a hay wagon ride to the Jail, lead by the team of horses Bonnie and Babe. Dinner follows with good ole classics like hamburgers and hot dogs by the creek and then the group moves into the amphitheater (aka the Ute Territory Jail) for some entertainment from the locals (our staff). There is music, cowboy poetry and some humorous skits that keep guests entertained around the fire. To end the evening, the staff sings a song that has been a Wednesday night song since 1961, the first summer of the ranch. Come song’s end, everyone returns to the ranch for milkshakes from the Fountain.
Rainbow Trout Ranch—Best Kids Evening
Amongst dance nights, sing-alongs, and everything in between, RTR is never short on evening activity. However, forget fish fry, burgers and dogs and think five-course meal instead each Friday come summer. It’s the only night during the week that kids and teens don’t eat dinner with parents. Adults have a fancy dinning experience eating by candlelight. Depending on age of the children, they either head down to the picnic or play grounds, where they meet up with Doug, who has the fire ready for hotdogs and yummy s’mores. After they’ve eaten their fill, the kids climb on the wagon with Doug. One of the wranglers drives a hay wagon pulled by a Percheron team, while Doug and kids sing songs, talk about their week and their horses, as well as practice for their performance on Saturday night at the sing-along. The teens head off to the staff dining room with their counselor and meet up with staff for homemade pizza, always a favorite to hang with the wranglers!
Zapata Ranch—Starry Nights in the Sand Dunes
Colorado’s only working bison ranch certainly has unique nighttime offerings along with its stunning 2,200-bison herd. Located in the remote San Luis Valley and minutes from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, guests are in for one of the most rare and exclusive evening rituals. Available with any stay of which is a minimum of three nights including food, horseback, guided hikes, fly-fishing, etc., is a the full moon, self-guided tour through the Sand Dunes.
Wonder into the Great Sand Dunes National Park after dusk and let the nighttime sky lead the way. These expeditions are self-guided and there is information on the area’s history, geology, bird species, and other native plant and animal life. Once the sun goes down, the dunes become alive with evening animals announcing themselves under enormous starry skies. These are also the largest sand dunes in North America and a spectacular site, day or night.