Summer Fun 2019: Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Roundup

Julie Bielenberg

One of the best ways to experience the Old West lifestyle is spending time at a dude ranch.  Dude ranch vacations are a great way to disconnect from your day-to-day life (including your technology), immerse yourself in as many (or as little) of the activities as you’d like, and simply enjoy the peace and quiet of your surroundings. You’ll wind up feeling refreshed and invigorated, and you might even learn a new skill or two.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best Colorado dude ranches for first-timers, luxury escapes, foodies, off-the-saddle journeys, and celebrations. Saddle up!

Best for First Timers

Lost Valley Ranch

29555 Goose Creek Rd., Sedalia, 303-647-2311

The AAA Four Diamond Lost Valley Ranch is one of the closest dude ranches to the Denver-metro area and has been welcoming guests since 1961. The ranch’s lush green pastures border 26,000 acres of Pike National Forest offering dozens of all-level riding trails. Intimate, well-stocked, confortable cabins with bonus porches create an authentic experience. “If you want to get hooked on dude ranches, choose Lost Valley Ranch,” describes Courtney Frazier, executive director of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association. “It’s common to meet families who return year after year, and it’s easy to see why. Between the kids’ activities, separate activities for teens, and their infamous Friday night Melodrama, you’ll want to come back to relive your favorite moments and find new ones.”

Evening activities include a hayloft melodrama, country dance nights, cowboy cookouts, campfire sing-alongs, and more. There is an onsite pool, game room, and library. Bonus, the ranch offers rare weekend stays and partial weeks in spring, fall and winter to sample the dude ranch experience.

Best for Off-The-Saddle

Yoga is just one of the many off-the-saddle activities at the AAA Four Diamond Vista Verde Ranch. Courtesy of Vista Verde Guest Ranch

Vista Verde Guest Ranch

58000 Cowboy Way, Clark, 970-879-3858

The AAA Four Diamond Vista Verde Guest Ranch, located 35 minutes from Steamboat Springs, is open June–October, and December–March. Both seasons run daily horse programs, but it’s the abundant off-the-saddle activities that define the ranch. The summer season is busy with families before autumn gives way to cattle roundups and adult-only weeks. For animal lovers who don’t want to mount up, year-round, there’s a herd of horses to photograph or help feed, and a team of draft horses to pull a sleigh. This year, the ranch added a mid-August family week.

Come snow season, there are fat bikes, leather working, culinary classes, sleigh rides, wine and beer tastings, tubing, snowmobiling, and horsemanship clinics in the heated indoor arena to entertain guests, along with a continuously-roaring fire in the 4,500-square-foot lodge.

Most Luxurious

Luxury awaits you at the Emerald Valley Ranch. © Chad Chisholm

The Ranch at Emerald Valley

1 Lake Ave., Colorado Springs, 855-420-8348

A newer addition to the AAA Five Diamond Broadmoor Resort, and one of the trifectas of Wilderness Properties, The Ranch at Emerald Valley is as posh, private, and picturesque as the main resort. There are 13 cabins and a main, historic lodge, which can accommodate up to 32 guests. Guests are immediately whisked away in opulence, as chauffeured vehicles shuttle ranch guests to and from the property. Upon arrival, the splendor of activity is outstanding. There’s an onsite, stocked trout pond to immediately give your reflexes a quick go. With daily 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, The Ranch at Emerald Valley is a bucket list trip for any guest.

Best Kids Corral

Cherokee Park Ranch offers one of the youngest kids’ programs, beginning at age two. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Cherokee Park Ranch

436 Cherokee Hills Drive, Livermore, 970-493-6522

The main lodge of Cherokee Park Ranch was the original stagecoach stop between Fort Collins and Laramie. Nowadays, it’s been transformed into westernized guest suites for the 40 weekly ranch guests, and offers kids’ programs for children as young as two years old. Children are divided into age groups and experience a variety of activities, such as arrowhead hunting, archery, crafting, horseshoe painting, gold panning, hiking, scavenger hunts, daily horseback riding, and more.

The ranch’s new barn houses the Cowpoke Corral, 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. Plus, Cherokee Park Ranch has the largest herd of horses, averaging 140 head. Luckily, the 300-acre ranch touches 900,000 acres of Roosevelt National Forest to truly roam with the horses.

Best for Foodies

The Home Ranch offers some of the best farm-to-table cuisine. Courtesy of The Home Ranch

The Home Ranch

54880 County Rd. 129, Clark, 970-879-1780

Nestled in the Elk River Valley is The Home Ranch, a Relais & Châteaux property which focuses on cuisine year-round. During the summer and fall, crispy pizzas loaded with the ranch’s fresh produce from its gardens and greenhouse, are toasted in the outdoor brick oven, creating a special sunset surprise. The background sounds of horses munching hay and views of The Home Ranch’s stunning barn and luxury cabins are impressive. Watch the wranglers drive the herd out for evening as the stars twinkle above.

Best Summer Adult-Only Weekends

Guests can have a little “grown-up fun” at one of the special adults-only weekends at Black Mountain Ranch. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Black Mountain Colorado Dude Ranch

4000 Conger Mesa Rd., McCoy, 970-653-4226

The 50,000-acre, family-run dude ranch, located 45 minutes from Vail Valley, is known for its longhorn cattle, stunning backdrop, and adult-only weeks scattered throughout the summer. Guests choose between standard lodge rooms, cabins, and premium cabins. This all-inclusive ranch offers guests all meals, unlimited horseback riding, an overnight pack trip, a longhorn cattle drive, whitewater rafting, fly and spin fishing, rifle and trap shooting, a trip to a local rodeo, and more.

Most Affordable Weekend Retreat

Sundance Trail Ranch offers all the amenities on a smaller scale for a smaller price. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Sundance Trail Ranch

17931 W. County Rd. 74e, Red Feather Lakes, 970-224-1222

Located in the resort area of Red Feather Lakes, northwest of Fort Collins, the 145-acre Sundance is open for four distinct seasons 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.

Best Bison Herd

Zapata Ranch offers Bison Tours to learn about, view, and photograph these magnificent creatures. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Zapata Ranch

5305 Highway 150, Mosca, 719-378-2356

This is one of the nation’s only working bison guest ranches, managing a herd of approximately 2,200 bison head. Located in remote San Luis Valley, the landscape is as mysterious as the history of the land. The 103,000-acre ranch is minutes from the Great Sand Dunes National Park where guests can enjoy the Medano Creek flowing in spring and starry nights come summer, with a full moon, self-guided tour through the Sand Dunes. The ranch is open March–October, weather dependent, and numerous guest activities, with opportunities to view and learn about the bison.

Best for Fly Fishing

Nestled near the Wyoming border, Laramie River Ranch offers some of the most exquisite fly-fishing in the state because their private stretch of riverfront on the Laramie River. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Laramie River Ranch

25777 County Rd. 103, Glendevey, 970-435-5716

Nestled in the Rawah Wilderness Area, near the Wyoming border, Laramie River Ranch lies on 1,400 acres with some of the most exquisite fly-fishing in the state because their private, one-plus mile of riverfront on the Laramie River has little-to-no fishing pressure due to restricted access on the trout-filled waters. Guests can choose between five different cabins, for a total of 25 visitors per week, with a daily horseback riding program, kids’ program, and more. Laramie River Ranch runs one of the shorter seasons for Colorado dude ranches due to its extreme location, making this an angler’s dream and a family fortnight for only a short time—snag it while you can.

Largest Dude Ranch

At more than 400 square miles, High Lonesome Ranch has the largest acreage of any ranch in Colorado. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

High Lonesome Ranch

0275 County Rd. 222, DeBeque, 970-283-9420

High Lonesome Ranch, one of the most Western ranches in the state, has the largest acreage of any ranch in Colorado at more than 400 square miles. The property is unique due to its approach to conservation and restoration. With such massive landscape, activity options are plentiful from fly-fishing for five different trout species, cattle drives, daily riding lessons, trail rides, Western obstacle courses, team penning, roping, sporting clays, wild horse viewing, and more. The ranch’s season extends well past summer for various sports including sport shooting, fishing and a hunting season with fully-stocked kitchens, and large outdoor kennels for bird hunters who like to bring their dogs.

Best Baseball Diamond

Guests at the Majestic Dude Ranch in Mancos can experience their own “field of dreams.” Courtesy of Majestic Dude Ranch

Majestic Dude Ranch

42688 Road N, Mancos, 970-533-7900

Picture the movie Field of Dreams amongst hay meadows. Majestic Dude Ranch, in the extreme southwest portion of the state, offers plenty of authentic Western activity, and there are some rarities on this ranch, including a certified baseball diamond. “Majestic Dude Ranch certainly has tons to do on the activity side, but for me, the fire engine red cabins will forever be an icon of the ranch. People will call me and ask about a ranch they went to 40 years ago with these bright red cabins and loved it—do I have any idea of the name of it? There’s only one ranch that matches that description, Majestic!” exclaims Frazier.

Most Creative Horseback Rides

Bar Lazy J, near Rocky Mountain National Park, is considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado and offers some of the most creative horseback rides. Courtesy of Bar Lazy J Ranch

Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch

447 County Rd. 3, Parshall, 970-725-3437

Bar Lazy J is a family-friendly, all-inclusive dude ranch, located near Rocky Mountain National Park, that is considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado. One of the ranch’s guest-favorite activities is the half-day hot springs ride on Fridays. Guests eat lunch at one of the ranch’s favorite scenic spots—the top of Byers Canyon—before working the horses into the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. There, 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.

Most Exciting Celebration

C Lazy U Ranch celebrates its centennial this summer with a spectacular schedule, including weekly fireworks displays. Courtesy of C Lazy U Ranch

C Lazy U

3640 Highway 125, Granby, 720-669-7894

The 8,500-acre Granby all-inclusive, luxury ranch celebrates its centennial this summer with a spectacular schedule—weekly fireworks, pre-Prohibition era cocktail making classes (the ranch was founded the year the 18th Amendment was ratified)—in addition to classic offerings, such as horseback riding, the full-service Lazy You Spa, a children’s program, nightly entertainment, Orvis-endorsed fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, zip line and ropes course, and more. The C Lazy U Ranch has become known as Colorado’s premier guest ranch.

Best Dude Ranch for Hot Springs Lovers

Guest can enjoy Deer Valley Ranch's two hot springs-heated pools and Jacuzzis, or visit the nearby Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Courtesy of Deer Valley Ranch

Deer Valley Ranch

16825 County Rd. 162, Nathrop, 719-395-2353

Nestled in the Chalk Creek Valley, between Salida and Buena Vista, and steps from Mt. Princeton Hot Springs is Deer Valley Ranch. The ranch is open year-round and offers a variety of activities for everyone. “The ranch has two of their own hot springs-heated pools and two hot springs Jacuzzis on site,” adds Frazier. Guests can be as active or as relaxed as they want, and the friendly and caring staff’s exceptional service help ensure everyone will have a truly memorable vacation. 

Most Authentic Dude Ranch Experience

For more than 90 years, Drowsy Water Rancy has provided guests from around the world with an authentic western ranch vacation. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Drowsy Water Ranch

1454 County Rd. 219, Granby, 800-845-2292

“You will never feel more at home than when the Fosha Family welcomes you to a week-long stay. Highlights for my family always include the carnival night, zip line, and the shallow, gentle running stream that flows through the ranch,” describes Frazier of the legacy ranch.

Located in Grand County, Drowsy Water is a 700-acre oasis that houses comfortable cabins and a main lodge where guests gather to dine. A fresh pot of coffee is always on idle and board games, playing cards, and a library help invite families into the historical space. During the summer, guest can enjoy a weekly kids’ program for three different age groups, daily adult rides, and clinics on one of the stunning horses from the ranch’s 100-plus animal herd.

Best Overnight Pack Trip

Start your day with a lunch ride and an old-fashioned cookout in the woods. After lunch, venture to an abandoned mine high up above the tree line. Then finish the day at an overnight camp situated just under the mine. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Tumbling River Dude Ranch

3715 Park City Rd., Grant, 303-838-5981

“The overnight pack trip at Tumbling River is truly second to none. Start your day with a lunch ride, where you’ll join other guests for an old-fashioned cookout in the woods. After lunch, you and the smaller overnight group venture to an abandoned mine high up above the tree line, and then you finish the day at an overnight camp situated just under the mine. It’s truly an experience not to be missed,” describes Frazier.

For those who choose to stay on ranch, there are numerous weekly highlights including a brunch cookout in Geneva Park, all-day fly-fishing excursion to Boxwood Gulch, Georgetown-Silver Plume Loop railroad ride, yoga class, trap shooting, group capture the flag and more.

The Sweetheart Ranch

Weddings are a popular event at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, “The Sweetheart Ranch.” Courtesy of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

2939 North County Rd. 31D, Loveland, 970-667-3915

Spread across 3,100 acres in the foothills, just minutes west of downtown Loveland, is the family-owned-and-operated Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. The ranch is known for their quarter horses, which are born, raised, trained, and registered from their land, and offers a full range of activities, including horseback riding, challenge course, fishing, game courts, wedding packages, and nature hikes. You can even participate in a riding program or trail ride separate from dude ranch guest stays. There is also an outdoor heated pool, nearby bike trails for fall foliage packages, and more festivities for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Sylvan Dale Ranch has one of the most extensive holiday event schedules of any ranch!

Best Ranch to Disconnect from Technology

With plenty of activities, there's no need to check in on your electronic devices. Courtesy of Elk Mountain Ranch

Elk Mountain Ranch

13000 81211, Road 185B, Salida, 800-432-8818

At 9,600 feet, Elk Mountain Ranch, is the highest elevation ranch in the state. That doesn’t stop the play, as the ranch has plenty of activities, including hayrides, hiking, whitewater rafting, outdoor volleyball and basketball courts, and more. But come evening, the generators are turned off!

“One of my favorite things about Elk Mountain, aside from their top-notch kids’ activities and riding program, is that every night around 10 or 11 p.m. they turn the generators off and the stargazing is second to none,” exclaims Frazier. “It’s amazing how little you miss having traditional “lights” at night.”

Smallest Guest Count Ranch

Badger Creek Ranch is a working cattle ranch that can accommodate a maximum of eight guests. Courtesy of Badger Creek Ranch

Badger Creek Ranch

5795 County Rd. 2, Cañon City, 719-837-2962

One of the most remote ranches in Colorado, with barely a tree on the property, is a working cattle ranch that can accommodate up to six guests. At 9,000 feet, there are two guest rooms and two canvas tents, a main ranch house for meals, and thousands of acres of solitude. After an epic cattle drive in the Colorado sun, sneak off to the secret river, a stone’s throw from the ranch, loaded with trout, waterfalls, and incredible stream activity. Located on the property is a bison cliff where Native Americans chased the herds over the edge. And for a bonus offering, take a ride to the ancient volcano, located on property, that is loaded with minerals and gems.

Best Specialty Weeks

Known for its peaceful and beautiful setting in an uplifting, Christian environment, Wubd River Christina Dude Ranch offers several specialty vacation weeks. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Wind River Christian Dude Ranch

5770 Highway 7, Estes Park, 970-586-4212

The Wind River Ranch is perfectly placed between the majestic Longs Peak and the Twin Sisters Mountain range. Known for its peaceful and beautiful setting in an uplifting, Christian environment, the ranch offers several family vacation weeks with guest speakers; Healing 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. You’ll have the opportunity to reconnect with God, yourself and your family.

Raw Wilderness Experience

The Rawah Ranch occupies a private stretch of the Laramie River with spectacular trout fishing and more than 15 hiking trails. Courtesy of Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Rawah Guest Ranch

11447 N. County Rd. 103, Glendevey, 800-510-7071

One of the most recent transformations in of all dude ranches is Rawah Guest Ranch, a historic property in extreme northern Colorado. The ranch occupies a private stretch of the Laramie River with spectacular trout fishing and more than 15 hiking trails. The rustic lodge is where the families and guests gather for stellar cuisine, that’s only after daily breakfast coffee, tea, hot chocolate and pastries are served to each cabin and suite. Daily horseback ridings, kids’ program, fishing, shooting and archery, and massage services followed by a cowboy soak round out their program.

Best Lodge in Colorado

The 18,000-square-foot Grand Lodge at Rainbow Trout Ranch brings guests together, not only for meals and activity, but intimate moments rocking porch side with hummingbirds and a breeze. Courtesy of Rainbow Trout Ranch

Rainbow Trout Ranch

1484 FDR 250, Antonito, 719-376-2440

There is no better lodge in the West to experience dance nights, sing-alongs, cowboy poetry, or tales by the fire than at Rainbow Trout Ranch. The multiple-generation-owned, family ranch has 16 log cabins onsite which were built in the 1920s—all with fireplaces, and can sleep from one to eight people. However, it’s the impressive 18,000-square-foot lodge, that brings guests together, not only for meals and activity, but intimate moments rocking porch side with hummingbirds and a breeze. The ranch sits on 600 acres and has plenty of mares, foals, a Percheron team, and 1.5 miles of a private banks along the Conejos River, prime for nabbing supreme-sized trout.

Best for Family Reunions

Colorado Trails Ranch provides the perfect family reunion location, and a chance for relatives to enjoy a week to reconnect and rekindle close ties. Courtesy of Colorado Trails Ranch

Colorado Trails Ranch

12161 County Rd. 240, Durango, 970-247-5055

The 430-acre ranch in Southwest Colorado started in 1960 and has been delivering the exact same experience decades later, making it the true family reunion ranch. “When I took over in 2007, the one thing that always sticks out is how many people came as children and want to bring back their children, and grandchildren. I field more phone calls and host more family reunions than any other type of guest, and we love it!” exclaims Jeanne Ross, general manager of Colorado Trails Ranch. “We have two-, three-, and four-bedroom cabins to accommodate larger families.”

Roaming with the herd of 80-plus horses throughout trails in the San Juan National Forest is memorable; nonetheless, it’s other activity such as swimming in the heated outdoor pool, guided nature hikes, power tubing on Vallecito Lake, hay wagon dinners, fly-fishing, or a classic ride in the ranch’s antique vehicles that Colorado Trails has mastered. Their approach to multi-generational adventure and lodging, along with nearby Durango for easy access to flights and road trips is ideal for varying demographics.

Most Recent Ranch Recovery

Latigo Dude Ranch came back even stronger after surviving the 2018 Silver Creek Fire that burned more than 20,000 acres of Medicine Bow National Forest. Courtesy of Latigo Ranch

Latigo Ranch

201 County Rd. 1911, Kremmling, 970-724-9008

Almost every dude ranch in Colorado has faced fire, flood, drought, and worse. Latigo Dude Ranch not only survived the 2018 Silver Creek Fire that burned more than 20,000 acres of Medicine Bow National Forest in their backyard, but came back even stronger. “We had the most incredible sense of community from the other ranches, it was overwhelming. That’s what sets our profession apart, the support. From housing our guests to rescuing horses, it was tremendous,” reiterates Lisa George, owner of Latigo Ranch.

The George family reopened 10 accommodations by summer’s end, and the multi-season, 500-acre ranch was able to sally forth into a picturesque autumn on horseback loaded with aspen glade, cool mornings and 360-degree views of absolute wild beauty. Latigo is often able to accommodate last minute summer bookings due to their more remote spot.

Julie Bielenberg is Colorado’s leading dude ranch and agritourism writer, and regular contributor to EnCompass.