Clockwise from top left: (1) The goats of Mountain Goat Lodge in Salida welcome visitors to their turf with a sturdy lick and hardy hello. Fences and signs surround the goat pasture to ensure guest and animal safety. © Julie Bielenberg; (2) Guest can learn to make cheese and yogurt during their stay at the Mountain Goat Lodge in Salida. © Caroline Heller Photography; (3) The crew at Zapata Ranch in Mosca heads out the gather its resident herd of 1,500 wild bison. © Kate Matheson; (4) An alpaca and llama stand guard against predators at the Mountain Goat Lodge in Salida. © Caroline Heller Photography
Originally published: July/August 2015
By Julie Bielenberg
The amenities that excite my Colorado family about an in-state vacation include local wine-and craft beer-paired dinners (the adults), heavy down comforters at night (adults and kids), and reliable internet (everybody). So what would entice my brood to broaden its horizons and consider an off-the-grid farm stay?
Farm-to-table travel, a.k.a., “agritourism,” can offer the amenities my family and many travelers want, but also much more, in a less-is-more way. At its best, a farm stay can be an immersion in the tastes and laws (see the Farm and ranch stay etiquette sidebar below) of farm and ranch life—breakfast eggs gathered hours earlier from free-range chickens, served with crispy pork belly from a nearby butcher, and berries picked the day before, garnishing handmade yogurt from the milk of goats in the backyard.
Where in Colorado can you find such a combination of modern luxuries and timeless nutrition? Let EnCompass be your trusted guide. [Both the author and the Editor participated in selecting this round-up.]
9582 U.S. 285, Salida
The sunny valley between Buena Vista and Salida, along U.S. 285,offers milder winters than most other places in Colorado above 7,000 feet. That’s one big reason why Gina Marcell brought her goats from Washington State to Colorado and opened a bed-and-breakfast, Mountain Goat Lodge.
“The B&B is just a front for my true passion, which is raising goats,” Marcell says. And milder winters offer goats a better chance of survival.
Guests can join Marcell as she milks the goats, feeds them, and, of course, give a little snuggle to the lone llama who stands guard against predators. Marcell favors the Oberhasli breed of goat.
“It’s a Swiss Dairy goat, very quiet, intelligent, loving and mischievous,” Marcell says. “They don’t shriek like those goats on TV or YouTube, unless there is something wrong with them. I have 13 resident goats, plus babies. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can enjoy the Valley in peace.”
Marcell makes her own yogurt from goats’ milk and serves it every morning, accented with a fruit parfait such as blueberry compote with chia seeds, at guests’ request.
Marcell teaches guests to make cheese and yogurt, including the Greek variety.
“The yogurt process takes two days,” Marcell says. “On the first day I pasteurize the milk, cool it down, add existing yogurt as a culture and put it in a hot water bath incubator. After eight hours, the mason jars move from the incubator to the fridge overnight. The next day I hang the yogurt over the sink in a linen bag until the whey drips out, making it Greek yogurt.”
Guests also eat the fruits of Gina’s greenhouse, a 26-foot diameter by 13-foot high dome. There she grows herbs such as fennel, dill, lavender, cilantro, parsley, basil, as well as tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans, artichokes, beets, rhubarb, kale, figs, flowers, blackberries, grapes, spinach, and lettuce.
New to the property: nine ducks and 38 hens that provide farm fresh eggs at breakfast.
Four retro campers on the grounds offer additional, unplugged lodging. “The campers are very private and self-contained,” Marcell says. “There’s no Internet.”
Marcell’s Mountain Goat Lodge is just 10 minutes from downtown Salida, and 20 minutes from both Monarch Ski Mountain and Buena Vista. Every room and trailer is pet-friendly.
5305 Colorado 150, Mosca
On this working ranch, 2,500 wild bison freely roam the lush, green prairie grassland, fed by an aquifer and two large springs, that stretches 103,000 acres to the largest inland sand dunes in North America, framed by the mighty Sangre de Cristos.
When not breathing in the bison musk, guests enjoy an all-inclusive stay—lodging (15 rooms, 23 beds total), meals (bison tenderloin, seasonal salads and vegetables, and made-from-scratch desserts), internet (lodge only) and ranch activities.
At first light, our family rode 45 minutes to rendezvous with Zapata’s workforce—primarily “bad ass cowgirls,” a ranch hand told us. The cowgirls’ speed and accuracy impressed us.
In early afternoon we strapped the children into Zapata’s Suburban to witness spring birth. Bison babies appear orange for a month or so. Once full-grown, they can accomplish amazing feats. Bison can outrun a horse, and out-jump a standard ranch fence.
At night, we snuggled in our comfortable and tastefully decorated chink log room, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and sent to sleep by the sound of coyotes and Great Horned Owls.
7904 Shea Rd., Austin
This fisherman’s paradise, a century-old 1,400-acre farm with orchards, rests between two large bends in the Gunnison. The only private lodge on the lower Gunnison River, this farm stay provides access to 3.5privatemiles of river alongside 100-plus acres of peaches, apricots, cherries, plums and apples.
During my family’s stay, my husband pulled in a 20-inch brown trout while I and the kids picked and ate as many peaches as we could manage. Mid-day activities included swimming in a private pond diverted from the river, and my son learning to fish in a pond stocked with sunfish and trout.
Dinner in the lodge is sourced from local agriculture but not the local trout. The farm practices catch-and-release and sources its fish from outside the farm. Bison (from High Wire Ranch) and cocktails (Peak Spirits) served here can be sourced to Hotchkiss, eight miles away. An on-site greenhouse supplies tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and lettuce.
Guests can choose from three upper cabins or three lower cabins. The upper cabins include a screened-in porch, with chairs and end tables for appetizers or a lazy riverside lunch.
On the property, guests can see Ute petroglyphs and upstream an archeology dig that uncovered 700-year-old fire pits. Added plus: The Black Canyon is nearby.
120 Grand Ave., Paonia
In 2010, my then-10-month-old son Hank and I met the Gillespie family, owners of this 212-acre farm, one warm and stormy April evening. The farmers had just received a gift of baby lambs. Hank and I witnessed the sheep nursing their lambs, and as we played in the neighboring sty with 5-week-old lambs, I knew the touch of sheep’s wool would always have a special love and significance for my son. He cooed at every stroke.
As storms rolled in, we escaped into one of the five greenhouses on the farm just as the sun was setting against the dark-clouding sky. In the greenhouse, I had my first encounter with tomatoes grown in winter, inside glass enclosures.
Next we toured the chicken coup, then the pigs, and walked past grass-fed beef. As rain intensified, we drove off onto the dirt road back to another B&B in Paonia, because the Living Farm had not yet become a farm stay. Three years later, Mike Gillespie, grandson of the original cattle rancher who purchased the Living Farm in 1938, opened up his year-round, in-town, five-room inn.
The restaurant is downstairs but extends into an outdoor patio where kids can play. On our return visit our dinner included lamb enchiladas with local corn tortillas, tomato and lime crème, which I and my children enjoyed. My husband chose braised grass fed beef shank with blue cheese mashers and sautéed veggies. We ordered a side of Mike’s apple fries. It was worth the wait—a three-year wait.
Julie Bielenberg is a Denver-based writer focused on lifestyle editorial. She writes more than 100 stories a year about her adventures with family throughout the United States, with special attention to her beloved Colorado.
Tarryall River, Colorado Springs
Launched in summer of 2015 within the Tarryall River Valley is The Broadmoor Fishing Camp, a 14-person experience on private waters. “At the camp proper we are going to beyond farm-to-table and have a river to table opportunity where our guests can catch, clean, cook and eat their trout,” says Scott E. Tarrant, manager.
40345 Virtus Way, Steamboat Springs
Owner Terry Huffington offers tours of her permaculture greenhouses, where combinations of plants promote growth and inhibit bugs with minimal use of chemicals. Produce such as squash blossoms find their way onto the plates of diners at swank restaurants along the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat, a town with a growing season usually measured in days, not months. Elkstone’s banana tree may soon produce its first fruit.
Farm and ranch stay etiquette
Whether they intend to or not, guests of Colorado’s hot new farm-stay destinations sometimes inflict severe damage to delicate produce and vulnerable animals, ignoring common-sense laws of the land. Among the damage that farm and ranch inn operators report: trampled plants, trees picked bare, chemical contamination, inappropriate feed thrown at animals, and killing of animals.
Here are a few rules to follow on your next farm-to-table vacation to preserve and protect plants and animals and their owners:
- Before you go, read The Colorado Department of Tourism offers a guide to off-the-beaten path heritage and agritourism activities in Colorado at colorado.com. Among the tips you’ll find there: consider befriending a farmer.
- Dress appropriately Leave your Sunday best behind. Covered-toe shoes will be your primary “must-have” item.
- Be prepared to listen “In most cases, you won’t receive in advance an email list of rules,” says Laura Grey, director of the Heritage & Agritourism Program for Colorado Tourism Office. “Once you arrive at the farm or ranch, put away your phone, pay attention, be curious, and learn. Every farmer or rancher knows his or her crop and will happily share that knowledge with you.”
- Ask first before you touch It’s tempting to grab a juicy peach, but guests should never pick anything without consent and explicit instruction from produce owners. While you may have picked an apple before, fruits and vegetables are harvested in dozens of ways, and what goes for one fruit doesn’t hold true for the next. Did you know you gently tear off lettuce from the outside of the bunch first? Or did you know too much of a simple fruit, such as apple, can kill a horse?
- Know your limits “Whether you are pitching in with the daily chores or just relaxing and taking it all in, make sure you ask your host where you are allowed to explore and what is off limits,” Grey says. “The ins and outs of each farm or ranch will vary depending on what is being raised, the property’s topography, and the time of year, whether growing season or harvest time.”
- Restrain your pets “If you are lucky enough to find a pet-friendly farm, know that most dogs will have an immediate prey instinct to run after the livestock and poultry,” says Gina Marcell of Mountain Goat Lodge in Salida. “Not only is this intolerable, in some cases it will result in an unfortunate injury or even death. Please keep them far, far away from the critters on the farm.”
- Catch and release Derek R. Kehmeier with Black Canyon Anglers/Gunnison River Farms in Austin says he instructs visitors to “practice catch and release, and use barbless hooks, to help protect the fish. We encourage pack-it-in, pack-it-out practices that help keep the precious resource of the Black Canyon and the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area pristine for everyone to enjoy.”
Other Colorado ranches
The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) offers online and in print form a guide, Colorado Roots for Local Food Eaters, Craft Beer Lovers, Scenic Byway Drivers, Fresh Fruit Pickers, History Museum Browsers, Tiny Lamb Petters, and Dude Ranch Fanciers.
“Agritourism is a fairly new term that showcases the intersection between travel and agriculture,” reads the guide’s introduction. “It is a traveler’s authentic interaction with farmers, ranchers, hunters, gatherers, artists, naturalists and food enthusiasts that leads to the discovery of geographically distinctive food, drink and experiences. Given the trends in eating local and knowing where your food comes from, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and visit Colorado to plant, harvest, distill, brew, hunt, forage, butcher, cook, create and savor what sets the state apart. Colorado is known as a healthy, outdoorsy and active state, and its agritourism adventures can be experienced by foot, hoof or pedal.”
Among the working ranch experiences listed in the guide:
0275 County Road 222, De Beque
On the Western Slope of Colorado, this ranch offers guided big-game hunting, fly-fishing and wing shooting. Following their guided hunt, guests may partake in field dressing their mule deer or elk to learn more about the animal’s anatomy. Once hunters select their jerky marinade of choice, the bounty of the hunt is processed and then sent home with them. Guests may also select produce from the ranch’s large garden to be included in the day’s meals, and their head chef offers tailored cooking classes using freshly harvested produce.
23486 CountyRoad 501, Bayfield
Near Durango, this ranch offers a real cowboy and cowgirl experience. Guests participate in handling cattle, horseback riding and cattle drives. The ranch’s herd of 20 yearlings assists visitors in learning basic skills during Cattle 101, such as blocking, herd work, driving and cutting. Guests will learn how to effectively move a herd through mountain terrain during an authentic cattle round-up on a day or overnight trip. (Wilderness Trails Ranch is a AAA Three Diamond rated property. Pick up a copy of the Colorado & Utah TourBook®, at one of 11 AAA Colorado’s retail stores, for more detail.)
4880 County Road 129, Clark
Just beyond Steamboat Springs, this ranch has extended what was typically a short growing season with a kitchen garden to almost year-round fresh produce from their greenhouse. Early May marks the start of harvesting greens and spring veggies, and the season lasts through December with root vegetables. Guests harvest the fresh produce and learn about gardening, as well as take cooking classes with freshly plucked products from the greenhouse to help prepare the evening’s meal. The Home Ranch owners teach their guests the history of the Elk River Valley and the heritage of agriculture in the region over wine during harvest meals on Thursday nights.
45362 Needle Rock Rd., Crawford
855-539-1492, Ranch Office 970-921-3454
Located in the fertile valley of the Smith Fork River, this ranch boasts a rich history of hunting and growing. Smith Fork Ranch has embraced the land’s history and started an organic farmstead that is nurtured with organic waste from around the ranch. Guests can visit a local winemaker and then enjoy regional wines expertly paired with a locally sourced meal or help chefs gather fresh-laid eggs and harvest vegetables from the garden. Smith Fork Ranch’s gardener encourages guests visiting the garden to pick and taste the variety of fruits and vegetables to help visitors establish a stronger connection to the land.
58000 Cowboy Way, Clark
A luxury dude and guest ranch in northwestern Colorado, this ranch strives to establish and nurture a connection between human and horse. Their extensive horse program and horsemanship clinics instruct guests how to better understand and communicate with horses. The in-depth program invites guests to help gently familiarize newborn colts with people. (Vista Verde Ranch is a AAA Four Diamond rated property. Pick up a copy of the Colorado & Utah TourBook®, at one of 11 AAA Colorado’s retail stores, for more detail.)
22500 Peyton Hwy South, Colorado Springs
On the high prairie southeast of Colorado Springs, this rustic, family-managed working cattle ranch has five spring-fed lakes that are home to an abundance of bass and bluebell. After fishing, guests may have their fish prepared and learn how to de-bone their catch of the day and help cook the meal.
70008 County Road 132, New Raymer
In the northeastern corner of the state, this adults-only working cattle ranch is home to more than 70 horses and 800 head of cattle on thousands of sprawling acres. Guests are bound to get their hands dirty as they participate in all the ranch chores right alongside the cowboys. Guests may further their ranch education by participating in Cowboy School, which includes branding, penning, roping, sorting, gathering and doctoring the cattle. Colorado Cattle Company offers guests a real taste of Western ranching, as six or more hours are spent on horseback per day against the beautiful backdrop of canyons, buttes and ravines.
Go online for a copy of the Colorado Roots guide or call 800-265-6723.