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Winter at Rocky Mountain Ranches: Colorado Dude Ranches Take us Back to the Wild West?


by Kate Meyers

Photo: Jad Davenport

A sleigh ride to a campfire, horseback riding through crystal forests, laughing children tubing down a hill, and adults feeling like kids again – that is winter  on Colorado’s ranches. If you’ve already done the hotels and condominiums that are close to winter activities, it might be time to do something different. All these ranches are easily accessible from main roads, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the snow or getting lost in the Rockies. Colorado’s dude ranches can provide a full range of experiences away from lift lines and crowds. The experiences they offer may be just your cup of tea – or hot cocoa.

We are fortunate to have so many great dude ranches within driving distance. Many ranches aren’t open in the winter which makes these ranches special for people who want a taste of winter in the Rockies. People travel from all over the world to experience a bit of life on working ranches, but we have these international destination resorts in our own backyard. Ranch life was hard in the heyday of western expansion [editor’s note: expansion is a polite but technically incorrect term for genocidal colonization and Manifest Destiny], but don’t worry, you won’t be saddle-sore and sleeping in a bunkhouse – unless you want to.

The dude ranches of today are luxury resorts that cater to the needs and wants of the sophisticated traveler. Gourmet food, beautifully appointed cabins and lodge rooms, and staff trained to make your stay a memory of a lifetime are all part of the ranch experience. If you don’t ride there are a multitude of activities to enjoy. Of course, you can always just relax and take a nap while enjoying the pristine wilderness.

Photo: Jad Davenport

Vista Verde Ranch

Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs is an all-inclusive luxury ranch with the feel of the Old West. If you want family activities, Vista Verde will provide you with most everything you desire; a family vacation or reunion can make memories for a lifetime. There are many family-friendly activities and tubing, sleigh rides, and feeding the horses are some of the favorites for kids. There is an age limit of 6 years old because it isn’t set up for little ones. You will need to leave your four-legged kids at home.

All this family fun may be a bit much if you and your partner want to get away from crowds. Vista Verde caters to romantic holidays and people who just want to spend their time on a retreat from busy lives. There are entire months that are adult only. Active couples or singles retreats are also part of the service at Vista Verde.

The ranch provides an amazing range of activities including snowshoeing, dog sledding, backcountry skiing, ice fishing, sleigh rides, wine tasting, cooking classes, photography classes, and yoga. If the trails are unmanageable for horseback riding, the ranch has an indoor riding arena. After all this fun, you might find a massage is just what you need. The staff can arrange this. After a full day, the ranch will have a roaring fire waiting for you.

Vista Verde follows all State and County requirements for COVID protection, but masks are not required, and vaccination status isn’t checked. They will accommodate visitors with COVID concerns.

You can reach reservations at (970) 879-3858 or visit the website at vistaverde.com.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

If you just can’t leave your fur family at home, Sundance Trail is the place for you. Dogs must be well-behaved because dogs aren’t required to be on leash. There is no extra charge for pets, but you’ll need to leave a deposit.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch near Red Feather Lakes is a relaxed and easy-going place. The ranch prides itself on treating visitors as family so that they can live the ranch life. People come to bond with family and many return year after year to experience this place of quiet beauty. But don’t think that there are not fun winter activities. One of the highlights of the ranch are their Murder Mystery Weekends. Weather permitting, there is a guided trail ride every day, hiking, yoga and, surprisingly, axe throwing. You can also reserve a professional massage to unwind.

The Winter is Country Inn Season is when you can choose to add meals or enjoy bed and breakfast. There is a three-day stay minimum in the winter. Rates vary with the type of accommodation and length of stay. There are three cabins and suites in the main lodge. The Montana cabin accommodates nine people and is perfect for family reunions. All accommodations pay attention to detail and are warm and cozy.

Since there is very limited indoor contact among guests, COVID precautions are minimal. Special arrangements, however, can be made for folks who want to limit contact.

To make reservations or learn more you can go to www.sundancetrail.com or call (970) 224-1222.

Photo: Emily Sierra

Latigo Ranch

Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, Colorado is a true family enterprise run by the owners, Lisa and Randy George, and their children. This ranch has a comfy, friendly feel with the addition of beautifully appointed cabins and attention to details that make visiting a memorable experience. Families, singles, and couples all find the ranch great for relaxing, enjoying the high-country wilderness, cross-country skiing, sledding, and other outdoor activities that center around the massive snowfalls the area enjoys. You will need to leave your dogs behind in the comfort of home with a pet sitter or at a kennel.

Because of its elevation at 9,000 feet there are no equine activities – the horses are wintered at 7,000 feet for their safety. This speaks to a real concern for the animals that contribute to the success of the ranch in spring, summer, and fall. But don’t worry, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities to keep visitors busy during the winter. Tubing, skiing, and snowshoeing take place on 50 km of groomed trails and 200 square miles. Every year the ranch hosts the Latigo Loppet where skiers go 1-2 laps around a 15 km course and there is even a short course for youngsters. When you would like to stay inside and relax a little, the main lodge has ping pong, foosball, pianos, board games, and more.

Tubing, skiing, and snowshoeing take place on 50 km of groomed trails and 200 square miles.

The cabins are luxurious and rustic. Large suites, which have three bedrooms and a pull-out couch, are great for families or couples and singles who want more room. The single bedroom cabins come in two styles: two are one large room with a separate bathroom and two have a separate sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom. The gourmet food is “wholesome and hardy” to fuel your days outside and your evenings by the fire.

The winter rates for the ranch are all-inclusive and very reasonable. Taxes and gratuities are included in the rates as are all activities (you do pay extra for axe throwing). This is a great place to take the family for an affordable winter vacation. There is no smoking of any kind on the ranch. Marijuana is strictly prohibited. Many out-of-state and even local guests are misinformed about Colorado marijuana laws. The ranch uses some federal lands in which marijuana possession is a felony. As for COVID regulations, they follow the law, but there are no mandates.

For more information go to latigoranch.com or call (970) 724-9008.

C Lazy U Ranch

It is difficult to cover all the special features of C Lazy U in Granby; luxury doesn’t cover it. If price is no object and indulgence is your aim, this ranch is for you and the experience should be on your bucket list. The ranch caters to your every request and the staff’s goal is to make your stay a transcendent experience. When a guest wanted to take his boy camping, which is not a standard amenity, the staff was able to provide a tent, sleeping bags, and all the accoutrements for a wilderness camping trip. No request is too much, unless it is impossible or illegal. A vacation at C Lazy U is fond memories in the making.

All the activities you can imagine are available. Trail riding, snowmobiling, trap shooting, a pond created for ice skating, and hockey (they bought a Zamboni to keep the ice in shape), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and a spectacular tubing hill. If the weather turns cruel, there is an indoor riding arena that also provides things like archery instruction. If you want to go for downhill skiing, the ranch provides transportation to local ski areas. There is a kids’ club for children 3-17 in the Activities Yurt which provides age-appropriate activities including donkey and pony rides. Children need to be 6 years old to go on trail rides.

The ranch maintains a full-service spa, which means any service you would expect at a city spa is available. If it isn’t, they will probably find a way to accommodate you. Spa services are not included in the all-inclusive rate.

There are 36 accommodations in cabins scattered throughout the property. Calling them cabins is a bit prosaic; these are rustic dreams come true. Most of them are family accommodations and perfect places for family reunions and for taking kids on a vacation they won’t forget. For romantic couples there is a very private honeymoon cabin. All of them are unique and many have fireplaces. Looking at the pictures you can almost smell the woodsmoke.

The ranch caters to your every request and the staff’s goal is to make your stay a transcendent experience.

There is a 1 to 1 staff to guest ratio, so you will never be lonely. Staff has a daily health evaluation and temperature check and there is a wellness checklist for all cabin cleaning employees. The ranch does everything possible to keep their guests safe. Dogs are not allowed for the safety of the dogs and horses.

The holidays at C Lazy U are unique. There is a great feast at Thanksgiving where you may meet people who could be lifetime friends. All cabins are decorated for Christmas and a Christmas tree is placed in each one. Santa visits on a horse-drawn sleigh on Christmas Eve. New Year’s is celebrated in style with dancing to a live band, a mechanical bull, and carnival games.

The phrase, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it” applies at C Lazy U Ranch. Most of us will never be able to afford this level of luxury but, for those who can, it will be a vacation of a lifetime.

Contact them at (970) 887-3344 or online at www.clazyu.com.

Final Thoughts

Colorado provides the unique opportunity to enjoy a different kind of vacation that makes memories, provides families a chance to unwind and get to know each other, creates an atmosphere of romance and peace, and allows you to experience nature in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Horsing Around: Local Day Horse Rides

There are lots of stables open in the winter in the Rockies. Trail rides and sleigh rides are available at most winter vacation destinations. Horses aren’t machines like snowmobiles; from Mustangs to Clydesdales, horses are sensitive, loving, and trusting of people who care about them. When choosing a stable for day or sleigh rides you should be aware that all stables are not the same in the way they respect their horses. Using common sense when choosing one is important. If the stable isn’t clean, horses don’t have access to water and dry bedding, look sad or depressed, or are kept saddled and bridled for hours waiting for a rider to come along, this is not the stable you want.

Note: I haven’t visited the following stables, but they have good reputations.

Fantasy Ranch

Half hour rides out to a warm fireplace at the lodge and cocoa is a fun way to spend part of the day wintering in the Rockies. In the winter, both horse and sleigh rides are taken daily. I spoke to Chuck, and he sounds like a cowboy with respect for his horses and consideration for his guests.

Almont Resort, 10209 Highway 135, Almont, CO 81210 | 970-349-5425 | chuck@fantasyranchoutfitters.com

Breckenridge Stables

This stable provides outstanding horse care. Many of their horses have been rescued from slaughter. The horses received excellent feed, veterinary care, farrier care and are not overused. Sleigh rides and trail rides are available in the winter.

970-453-4438 | breckstables.com

Snow Mountain Stables

Sleigh rides, pony rides, and horseback rides are provided year round. Sleigh and wagon rides have bonfires to warm up around depending on fire restrictions. Reservations needed.

Snow Mountain Stables, 1101 Co. Rd 53, Granby, CO 80446 | 970-509-9089 | snowmountainstables@yahoo.com

Beaver Meadows Ranch

Sleigh rides here are not only fun, but delicious, too. Hot chocolate and cookie rides make winter outdoors an event. Cozy blankets keep you warm while horses take you through scenery covered in snow and frost. The 20-minute ride goes to Homestead Cabin and a warm fire, yummy treats, and a kids’ craft table. There are also cowboy lunch rides and cut-your-own-Christmas tree excursions.

Beaver Meadows Stables, 100 Marmot Drive, Unit 15, Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545 | (970) 232-8326 | clarasprettyhorses@gmail.com.

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