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There was a time when feeding the cattle and cleaning out the stables was the antithesis of a relaxing vacation. Now, in our nature-deprived lives, there’s a growing interest in disconnecting from tech, getting back to basics and enjoying a quiet ranch life.
Many families are choosing the classic American West dude ranch experience for their vacations. But these days, going from city slicker to real cowboy doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it. There are high-end, luxury ranches all across the US that blend the comforts of a five-star resort with that homey rustic vibe of a working farm. These upscale dude ranches offer luxurious all-inclusive wilderness adventures, with activities ranging from horseback riding to fly fishing, yoga to photography classes. By day, families can roll up their sleeves to sheer sheep and drive cattle. By night, they can enjoy gourmet meals, spa treatments, top-notch service and beds made with Egyptian cotton.
For those considering a family-friendly farm experience, here are a few of Colorado’s top luxury dude ranch getaways to consider for your next family vacation.
C Lazy U Ranch
Located in Grand County in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, C Lazy U Ranch sits on a sprawling 8,500-acre estate just a two-hour drive west of Denver. This top-ranked family-owned spot is one of Colorado’s premier luxury guest ranch getaways. It’s an all-inclusive resort made up of 40 luxe cabins and one multi-bedroom luxury private home, perfect for multigenerational travelers.
C Lazy U Ranch is known for its robust kids programs offering activities for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. As a mom of two kids under 5, I find it refreshing to see a lodge that incorporates even its littlest guests with year-round family-friendly activities as that is not the case at all dude ranches.
During the summer months, children can enjoy unlimited horseback riding lessons, golf, tennis, yoga, fly fishing, mountain biking, archery and a variety of ropes courses and ziplines. The winter season allows for activities like horseback riding, snow tubing, ice hockey, skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Kids aged 3 to 5 (who are potty-trained) can join their “Cowpokes” kids program. Activities include pony rides, nature hikes, gold panning, donkey carriage rides and even a “Sho-Deo” (a family rodeo held at the end of the week). All activities are held under the watchful eye of an experienced ranch counselor, so mom and dad can explore interest of their own while the kiddos have fun.
Kids 6 to 12 years old can enjoy the “Mustang” program offering horseback riding, trail adventures, cookouts, scavenger hunts, hayrides and Western-themed games both on and off horseback. Note that the minimum riding age is 6-years-old. Teens 13–17 will be given their own horses, the freedom to roam with their counselors and are participate to in off-ranch trips or spa appointments. C Lazy U doesn’t offer child care for kids under 3.
While the kids are enjoying the programs, parents can pamper themselves at the full-service spa. Once you take a look at the spa facilities, you quickly realize they aren’t typical. During the summer months, the spa is located in several luxury tents suspended over the river. Each tent has a glass floor, allowing guests to gaze down at the flowing water below while being massaged. The ranch even offers a late-night signature treatment called the “Cowboy Soak”, described as a romantic moonlit soak in a copper tub with mountain views, champagne and strawberries.
Meals in the restaurant are served family-style, so you can mingle with other guests as you munch on regional specialties such as Rocky Mountain trout and rosemary rack of lamb.
During the busiest months and holidays, dinner is an adults-only formal dining experience served in the Main Lodge. The kiddos dine with their new friends and their counselors. Post dinner, the family reunites for ice cream and entertainment.
Next year, this historic dude ranch celebrate its 100th anniversary, making it one of the longest-running ranches in the state. Off-season pricing is about $366 per person per night with high-season summer rates range from $375–$550 per person per night.
The Home Ranch
Located just 18 miles from Steamboat Springs, on the edge of the million-acre Routt National Forest, the Home Ranch is a gateway to wilderness adventures in the Colorado Rockies.
With just six lodge rooms and eight cabins (accommodating up to 45 people), the Home Ranch is rustic chic meets Western comfort. Its boutique feel makes for a extremely personalized experience in an intimate setting.
It’s also Colorado’s only Relais & Chateaux-affiliated guest ranch. If you’ve ever stayed at Relais & Chateaux property before, you’ll know that this prestigious brand equals complete luxury. They have some 569 member properties across 66 countries around the world, from vineyards to villas, chateaux to chalets. I’ve learned from experience a few years ago, while traveling with my kids through Provence, France, that the Relais & Chateaux brand means super posh. The Home Ranch lives up to the hype.
The Home Ranch is renowned for its all-inclusive children’s program for families with kiddos aged 6 and up. Trained counselors keep young guests entertained daily from 8:30am to 9pm, teaching them how to ride, saddle and groom their horses. There is a junior wrangler program, which takes a deep-dive into horsemanship, culminating in a showcase where kids show off their new synchronized riding skills.
Every family member gets their very own horse for the week and visitors are encouraged to take advantage of all the seasonal activities from horseback riding lessons and trail rides, to biking and fishing excursions where you can fish the Elk River for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.
During the winter months, guests can try Nordic skiing, sleigh rides, snowshoeing and winter horseback riding. The kids, in particular, will love winter tubing!
Don’t forget that everything is included in the price of your stay — lodging, food, transportation, fishing gear, all ranch activities and kids counselors — with nightly rates during the winter months ranging from $800 to $2,900 a night. Summer reservations require a seven-night stay from Sunday to Sunday.
The restaurant features nightly wine pairings, the wow-factor of molecular gastronomy and fresh ingredients from the ranch’s own organic farm. The menu is described as “walking the line between ranchy and fancy” so expect more than just hot dogs with chili or some other stereotypical ranch fare.
Vista Verde Guest Ranch
Vista Verde Ranch, 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, offers a luxury guest ranch experience that is truly all-inclusive with accommodations, activities, food, equipment, beer, wine, airport transfers and staff tips all bundled up into the price.
The ranch can accommodate about 50 people at a time and offers a variety of lodging options, from rooms to private cabins (ranging from one to three bedrooms) each with a wood-burning stove, balcony and private hot tub. Vista Verde may be in the woods, but guests certainly aren’t roughing it at this swanky joint.
While there is wireless internet in the Main Lodge, there are no phones or TVs in the cabins, offering the perfect opportunity to unplug, escape work emails and actually unwind. With all the activities Vista Verde offers, you’ll likely be too busy to check Facebook anyway.
If you’re traveling with your family in tow, rest assured that even the younger guests are treated like VIPs. Its fully supervised kids’ program is broken down by age, ranging from 6 to 17. The resort doesn’t specifically cater to children younger than 6 years. Kids 6 and up will have the opportunity to learn how to ride, groom and care for their horses, explore the trails on horseback and herd cattle, pan for gold and challenge themselves on low ropes courses. Programs typically run daily mornings from 9:30am–12pm and then in the afternoon from 2–4pm.
In addition to traditional ranching activities, Vista Verde offers guided hiking tours of Mount Zirkel Wilderness area, rock climbing, rafting, leatherworking, hands-on cooking class and photography workshops with local pros.
This winter, beyond the current snowshoeing, skiing, tubing, fat tire biking and sleigh rides, the ranch is adding two new outdoor activities to their program: Snoga (where guests snowshoe to a remote cabin for some fire-side yoga) and ice fishing (where you can drill your own hole in the ice and fish from the comfort of a heated shelter).
One of the best parts about a visit to Vista Verde is its large indoor riding arena that can be used year-round. Guests of all skill levels can receive riding instruction and horsemanship clinics, no matter the season or gnarly weather conditions.
At mealtimes, the chef serves up gourmet fare created with locally sourced ingredients. Adults can dine by candlelight while the young ones are in the company of kid wranglers, who keep them busy post-dinner with treasure hunts, hayrides or outdoor play.
In the winter, there is a three-night minimum with pricing at $1,725 per adult and $1,425 for kids. In the summer, you must lock in on a week’s stay when adults are charged $5,125 per person and kids are $4,425 each.
Use Points to Cover a Dude Ranch Stay
These — and most other — dude ranches can’t be booked with hotel points in the traditional manner. But, there are still options to defray some (or all) of the cost with some fixed-value hotel points. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard currently has a welcome bonus of 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. This translates to $700 in points to use on travel charges — just charge a travel expense to the card (such as a dude ranch stay) and then use points to wipe away some or all of the charge.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card works in much the same way and currently has a bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. That is $500 to use towards travel charges made to the card! You can learn more about these and other good options here.
Charge the Ranch to the Right Card
If you don’t have points to use this time around, you can at least earn points on the stay. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is always a good choice since it confers 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel. The Citi Premier Card also awards 3x points for travel purchases. If your ranch vacation falls within your first year of Discover it® Miles Credit Card membership, you’ll earn 1.5x miles which are matched at the end of your first year, essentially earning 3x miles or 3% cash back.
Ranch getaways create bonding opportunities for families and can introduce (or reintroduce) the natural world to your children. Many of us will never experience life on the range unless we seek out a ranch vacation, but ranch doesn’t have to mean roughing it.
Have you visited a ranch with your kids? Tell us what you liked (or disliked)!
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