10 Colorado Dude Ranch Getaways for Spring Break or Early Summer
posted by: Julie Bielenberg
I know, Dude Ranches can be even more expensive than a ski trip, but not if you are booking correctly. There’s no penny pinching at the ranches, usually sitters, activities and food are all included. However, if you pick the right time or are looking for a specific activity, here’s great deals and information on what ranches are open in Colorado, when to book, and what you’re going to get. You don’t have to stay seven nights at any ranch, horseback riding might not be available, but off-season doesn’t mean it’s not worth the trip. Ask for children’s rates, boutique pricing or even their bed & breakfast rates. All ranches offer different items, types of cuisine, lodging and activity from snow-shoeing to sleigh rides to cooking classes. Inquire for best rates and personal interests with a quick phone call. Saddle-up, these are authentic Colorado!
Wait, what’s a Colorado Dude Ranch? To be a member of the 80- year-old organization, the roughly 30-Ranch group must adhere to strict standards and include the following during summer season: 7-night lodging requirement in summer season, meals, daily horseback riding, a place to soak, and usually an entertainment hall or building as well as massive amounts of activities throughout the day for all ages of the family. Children typically need to be 6 years of age to participate in the Children’s Programming.
Deer Valley Ranch
Deer Valley backs up to Mt. Princeton, located between Buena Vista and Salida in the small town of Nathrop. Attractive and known for it’s Hot Springs, is also Deer Valley Ranch, one mile past Mt. Princeton Springs Resort. Open year-round, there is only 11 weeks of summer season filled with out-of state folk, the rest of the year, guests can rent out cabins, kitchen included to cook their own meals or mosey down the road to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Restaurant. No horseback riding is available, activity in spring is mostly-snow related, and you are 45 minutes from Monarch Ski Mountain or you can cross-country to the ghost town Saint Elmo. The pools are not open during the off season, except one outdoor hot tub. There are 14 cabins to choose from that are two, three and four bedroom, with a wood-burning fireplace, except one with a gas fireplace. The cabins have fully equipped kitchens. With lots of return visitors during the off-season, the escape at the ranch really resonates with its guests. Occupancy is 75 – 80, as their 10-room lodge is only available when meals are in service from the main lodge. Spring and early summer for the end of ski season and last bits of snow with really warm days are abundant at Deer Valley and a good find.
C Lazy U
This might be one of the most infamous ranches in the State. Located just outside of Granby, Colorado (less than two hours from Denver), the ranch was recently rated the #1 resort in Colorado by Condé Naste Traveler. The ranch offers an authentic experience with comfortable lodging, gorgeous family-style meals, an old fashioned bar, and hosts an abundance of outdoor activities including horse-back riding through the surrounding forest or in the enclosed riding arena, Orvis endorsed fly fishing, shooting, and much more. The morning fire in front of the main lodge amongst views of the horse drive, or “jingle” as they call it, are worth getting up early and enjoying some cowboy coffee. They also offer an entertaining kids program with an extensive list of activities for those starting at age three. The ranch’s quintessential family-catered style boasts itself as one of the most popular and historic dude ranches in the state. Don’t assume a luxury experience is not in the cards; this ranch is far from rustic. One of my favorite experiences was a massage in their award-winning spa made of wall tents located along the on-site river. There’s phenomenal winter activity as well including downhill skiing, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing all on site. Check out clazyu.com to book your stay. They are open year round including holidays and offer discounted rates depending on the time of year.
Clark, homeranch.com (Work Week May 5 – 10)
This is one of the more high-end ranches in our state, The Home Ranch is known for it’s cuisine, remoteness 18 miles North of Steamboat Springs, and luxury accommodations. Their age limit is 6 years to join the ranch family, so note that the wee ones will need to stay home. An incredible experience for the teen or college student who can swing taking days off in May, is The Home Ranch’s Work Week were their prices are the lowest of the year, and you become a working member of the ranch. Tasks include rebuilding trails, helping to get the horses ready for the summer after their winter season off, the surrounding 4,000 acres and assisting Master Gardner Adele Carlson in preparing the beds in the greenhouse. You can still book a winter getaway until March 26th before they close for a few weeks. Call for specialty weeks.
We visited this spot on very cold NYE four years ago, instantly fell in love, and could only imagine what warmer weather would bring. There is no horseback riding in the off-season; but, that’s ok, because the high elevation and incredible amount of snow result in one of its most popular activities—cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, plus lessons. Miles of terrain, landscape, animal, solitude—Latigo deserves the recognition. This ranch is super affordable for the first time ranch visit. Meals are delicious, there is plenty of space between guests as almost everyone stays in their private cabins ranging from single to three-bedroom cabins. A hot tub for the masses, and a separate large lodge with a game hall, dance hall, bar, pool, small workout facility and more provide any other winter and spring activity such as old fashioned games, movies, etc. The remoteness is a gem, and there is plenty of spunk in this place for a young family with children who want to explore a Dude Ranch for the first time. Latigo closes on March 20 and reopens June 5 for the summer.
Lost Valley Ranch
Located on a 9-mile dirt road near Cheesman Reservoir, this easily accessible Front Range ranch is about 1.5 hours Southwest of Denver. Open from March 7 through Thanksgiving weekend there are one, two and three bedroom cabin suites with a living room, fireplace, coffee service, mini fridge and porch with a swing. During spring there is only a 2-night minimum stay. Horseback riding, hiking, fishing (pond and creek on site when thawed), trap shooting, three hot tubs, recreational facilities, tennis court, ½ basketball court, horseshoe pit and sand volleyball court are available. Spring is a slower pace at night, but over the weekend there will be a bonfire and s’mores on Friday, Saturday, a square dance. Meals in off-season are all included and the 14,000 acres to ride the horses, year-round is remarkable so close to the urban corridor. Wifi is available in the main lodge, but no wifi in the cabins or telephones or TVs so be prepared and retreat back to yesteryear.
Sundance Trail Ranch
Red Feathers Lake, sundancetrail.com
We gave this ranch a test run during one very chilly December weekend. This ranch is very homey and close to Fort Collins and other metro areas. It’s quite affordable for a dude ranch in winter, spring is a bit pricier but offers more activities. The current owners, Dan & Ellen have owned/operated the ranch since 2000 and make it extremely friendly for the really small of tots and spacious enough for the teens. The food is simple and filling served family-style. We stayed in two-bedroom room right off the dinning room and my 2 and 4-year old had a blast. My husband enjoyed the daily 2-hour horseback rides included in the price and dips in the outdoor hot tub.
Waunita Hot Springs
Ideal family spring break get-a-way, simply because of the hot springs pool. Open year-round, they offer dinners to add on to a Bed & Breakfast stay. Proximity to Crested Butte Ski Mountain and Monarch Ski Mountain along with wilderness for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling or even a dog sled tour can be planned from this locale. There is a small entertainment area with game’s, puzzles, a pool table in the TV room and a library. Families enjoy getting out during the day and coming back to family-style meals and comfort. March usually has availability and the beginning of April is open as well. There are 35 – 45 guest spots available in the lodge that was rebuilt in 1915 from a fire. Its original 1890 inception was for healing water and spa purpose. Plus, it’s a good time to sample the ranch and see if a summer return is in order. Come sport and soak at this dude ranch.
This is probably one of the most accessible for spring break and early summer, it’s open year round and located just outside of Loveland. This ranch took a huge hit in the 2013 flood. My husband, kids, parents and I were one of the first visitors for the reopen, and the magic has not been lost. From year-round horseback riding, to cabins and guest house quaint and large cabin options, this ranch really offers the classic dude ranch experiences and allows riders as young as six three years of age. We all sang happily around the fire as the owners strummed their guitars and played the classics. The food and dinning area is perfect for big or small groups and there is even an outdoor pool for the warm weather. They do shorter stays in the off-season and this one is very special to my folks and I. There is a real sense of family and it’s the perfect multi-generational ranch. Also, don’t forget to look for heart-shaped rocks for add to their collection. I still have one I keep outside my studio door for good luck.
Steamboat Springs , vistaverde.com
This is the most expensive dude ranch in the State, and for good reason —diversity of activities and depth to each program. People who come don’t have enough time to get through all the activity, regardless of season. The hefty staff return rate combined with the over 1 to 1 staff / guest ratio, screams luxury. Truly all inclusive, only add on for hot air balloon rides and massages. From pick up at the airport, to alcohol, it’s all taken care. Dec through late March is their winter / spring season and only requires a 3-night stay. There’s trail riding, daily horse clinics, tubing, sleigh rides, back-country skiing, yoga, cooking classes, photography, Pilates, wine tasting, you name it, it’s available. Ranch maximum is 50 guests with families. Early June and late fall are discounted and winter is always their best deal. Families will especially love the children’s program as it is one of the most extensive with a great balance of new things and classics on horse and ranch to really create a well-rounded experience. They flex either way, families together or in separate programming.
This dude ranch experience is quite possibly the most unique in all of North America as it is one of the largest working and guest bison ranches in the world. Yes, that’s correct! Open at the very beginning of March, you can book for weeks or just a couple nights at a time, and at the best discounts. This ranch is a bit pricier, but you are amongst one of the great herds of our nation, some of the most pure specimens of the plains bison that originally brought many people out West. Their riding program offers horsemanship for ages 8 and older, and this is the oldest limit in the State, and for good reason. You are riding through the Sand Dunes National Park and through one of the largest Valley’s imaginable, the San Luis. It’s an aquifer; streams and small ponds suddenly appear each spring. Spring is also birthing time for the bison, and it’s a majestic black horizon on their guided bison tour (costs extra) where car seats are available to be placed in their vehicles. Food is protein-heavy with emphasis on none other than the bison. We took an extra afternoon just to visit the Sand Dunes in early May and play in the stream (Medano Creek) that only appears for a couple weeks at a time during peak run-off. Save up, this ranch is one for a lifetime of memory.