When escaping the city hubbub to visit a dude (also known as ‘guest) ranch, expect nights consisting of inky skies glittering with stars, aspen leaves rustling gently and cool mountain air snuggling you into the cozy blankets.
The only sound might be a whinny or two from the horses in the pasture below.
It truly is paradise.
Guest, or dude, ranches have been around for 100 years or so, when real working ranchers first realized what a lure the cowboy lifestyle was for us regular folks.
The attraction of the Old West is just as, if not more, enticing nowadays, with many of us city and suburb dwellers so far removed from country life and its pleasures.
Today’s dude ranches help visitors experience the romance, adventure and spirit of the Old West without giving up the basic creature comforts of home (in fact, the ranches typically boast BETTER creature comforts than home).
Year-Round Colorado Dude Ranches
During the warmer months, dude ranches are all about the riding.
But the open-year-round Colorado ranches we’ve listed here offer many other activities and programs as well, as do dozens of other ranches around the U.S.
Most are priced as weekly stays with a complete package that includes lodging, horseback riding with instruction (during the warm weather months) and three meals daily, while many offer children’s programs as well.
In summer, you’ll be entranced by hillsides blooming with fluorescent orange Indian paintbrushes, purple and white columbines, purple and pink locoweed, daisies, blue bells and more — nestled among lush ferns and dense vegetation.
In winter, you’ll be dazzled by robin’s egg-blue skies set against snowy white pastures, groomed Nordic ski trails beckoning you to explore.
Check for minimum stays, children’s policies and programs, accommodation classes, types of cuisine, tipping policy, alcohol policy, additional offerings, campout nights and nightly entertainment — that’s where ranches differ most.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa
3530 County Rd 83, Tabernash, CO 80478
This sumptuous “ranch,” just west of Winter Park is truly more of a resort than a traditional dude or guest ranch.
Accommodations are lavish and luxurious, the gorgeous lodge facilities are enormous and modeled after the famed National Park lodges of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, with stone insets, lodgepole pine and towering ceilings.
Here, dining is not included in the rates, (except for a few packages,) and guests can opt from the Ranch House for fine dining (think scallops, elk wrapped in bacon, etc.) or the more casual, rustic elegance Heck’s Tavern, or the sandwich and coffee shop.
The 6,000-acre Devil’s Thumb does not operate as an all-inclusive, although several packages are available – including some for Nordic skiing, spa treatments, and romance.
Horseback rides, available from May to October, are priced a la carte, starting at $55 per person.
The ranch’s Nordic skiing and snowshoe trails are famed – with more than 100 kilometers of expertly groomed trails in the pristine, private Ranch Creek valley at the base of the Continental Divide.
Skate and classic skies are available in the rental shop, as are snowshoes, along with private, group, and advanced technique instruction if desired.
Some adventurers opt for skijoring rigs, winter fat bikes or might ski along with their leashed dogs. With a daily trail pass, one can pay one rental fee that allows for skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking and skijoring that day.
At Devil’s Thumb, there is a wide variety of lodging options, price ranges between $199-$399 per night for lodge rooms, and $399-$1299 per night per cabin.
(Budget conscious travelers can opt for the “Bunkhouse,” with prices ranging from $69 to $159 per night.)
201 Co Rd 1911, Kremmling, CO 80459
Latigo Ranch is just right for families, couples and singles looking for a conventional ranching retreat with a family-oriented, kid-friendly ambiance, accommodating riders of all levels.
Situated about 130 miles northwest of Denver, equidistant from Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Vail, Latigo Ranch is set at over 9,000 feet above sea level, among pine and spruce forests with aspen-filled meadows and gurgling streams.
It utilizes more than 50,000 acres of land for its riding, including parts of the Routt Medicine Bow National Forest, with all-encompassing views of the Continental Divide.
Modern log structures form duplex cabins, tucked into the trees around the ranch.
Each features fully carpeted floors, fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, small refrigerators and porches with chairs. (Ah, and endless homemade caramel corn in every room!)
Meals at the ranch are held in the comfortable, homey lodge, except for the chuck wagon dinner, breakfast and sunset rides.
The foodie-friendly ranch touts its ‘nouveau ranch cuisine,’ and serves up meals such as yellow fin tuna with teriyaki sauce, brown basmati rice, and steamed asparagus. Picky kids will be happy with their special fare like mac’n’cheese and hot dogs.
Square and western dancing night, overnight pack trips to a campsite area on property, team penning activities, covered wagon rides, heated swimming pool and hot tub
The room rates include gratuities for wranglers and other staff AND taxes, highly unusual among ranches. Another unusual offering is the possibility of partial week stays (at least three nights,) depending upon availability.
Summer rates range from $2775 – $3150 per adult, per 7-day, 6-night week, while the winter rate (last day March 19) is $195 per day, per adult.
The week of June 4 – 10 is the women’s-only Cowgirls & Working Women of the West week. The week of September 9 – 16 is reserved for adults only.
There will be no children 13 or younger at the ranch as guests. The week of September 17 – 23 is the week that guests help local ranchers gather and work with their cattle herds. You need to have prior horse experience to participate in this program.
Children’s supervised activity program includes Wild West ‘activities’ such as learn-to-brand, learn-to-lasso, etc.
The ranch offers five levels of rides, ranging from walk-only to walk and lope, with both arena and trail instruction. Latigo’s goal is that all guests will be able to lope by the end of their week.
Capacity is 35 guests.
Rates for adults 14 and older $2,400, children 6 to 13 $1725, children 3 to 5 $1,250; Sunday-to-Wednesday and Wednesday-to-Saturday stays are available during the first two weeks of June and throughout September.
Vista Verde Guest Ranch
58000 Cowboy Way, Clark, CO 80428
The Vista Verde sign indicates you are finally “home” at the ranch, a luxury setup with magnificent horses, delicious aromas of leather, hay and sweet equine sweat, and folks gussied up in Western apparel.
Vista Verde offers that Western experience, tailored for those who also want to be “on vacation” with all of the amenities. You won’t be roughing it here.
Just outside of Steamboat Springs, a bit past tiny Clark, Vista Verde is a three-hour drive from Denver.
It’s one of Colorado’s handful of upscale guest ranches, and it offers truly gourmet cuisine and fine wines, luxurious accommodations (think fancy log homes), and meticulous customer service.
You get the dude ranch experience but in a supremely pampering way. Yet, Vista Verde’s lack of pretension makes all the luxuries feel natural and cozy.
You’ll want to settle in here and stay, and you’ll feel like you belong.
Vista Verde is also one of a few ranches open in the winter. Even in late March, there is abundant, deep, powdery snow — so much that the ranch has to plow out a path for the horses.
The log homes for guests surround the snowy meadow used for winter horseback riding (too much snow for free riding in the surrounding national forest) and for Nordic skiing.
Vista Verde sports beautiful design materials throughout — stone, slate, wood, pottery and earth-tone fabrics that delight the senses and relax the mind.
The great room is where you’ll partake of the nightly “happy half hour” before dinner, with amuse-bouches worthy of any top restaurant along with wine and beer.
Romantic winter getaways are found here, too, with each large log cabin having a private porch hot tub, a stocked fridge with wine, beer, soft drinks and juices, and a roaring fireplace.
After an invigorating afternoon of snowshoeing, skiing or horseback riding, snuggle and prepare for the evening’s culinary delights, or take in a wine-tasting, photography or cooking class.
If you’re not into cold weather, you can always ride in the ranch’s new full-sized, heated indoor riding arena.
You can enjoy backcountry Nordic skiing and telemarking, with full equipment included. The terrain at Vista Verde gets plenty of snow and affords spectacular scenery as well as tranquility.
You can also snowshoe, skate ski, or do classic track skiing if you choose, and again, all equipment and instruction are included.
Just into some no-skill-required fun? The ranch hands will take you up the hill on the snowmobile and you can whisk down in a snow tube, over and over until you and your rear are tired.
Another special perk of Vista Verde is its proximity to world-class downhill skiing at Steamboat Springs, just 30 or so minutes away.
The ranch’s unusual B&B stays, or as they quip, their BL&D stays (breakfast, lunch and dinner), include meals and on-your-own activities.
Guests are on their own to just enjoy their cabins, hot tubs, ski and snowshoe trails, and the views.
There are also evening programs. Some ranch activities are available at an extra charge.
Rates for a weeklong, all-inclusive stay from June 4-October 8 range from $2,795 to $4,695 per person. Rates for winter stays (until March 23) range from $1,295 (three-night stay) to $2,975 (seven-night stay) per person.
There is no additional service charge or gratuity, and there is no expectation of tipping.
Thinking about a new way to get away from your everyday life? There is nothing like listening to horses being saddled to rouse you up out of the blankets — and when you smell that coffee brewing, it just gets better.
Dude ranches have something for just about everyone — surprise yourself and try one, and you just may find a new regular vacation getaway you never knew you’d love.
Author bio: Irene Middleman Thomas is a Colorado-based writer for a variety of local, national and international publications and websites. She will never forget Joseph and the mango-stealing monkey. www.irenethomas.com