Our modern is world is trending toward urbanization. Cities are swelling with new inhabitants, creating tight-knit neighbourhoods and vibrant micro cultures. Between compact lifestyles and the frenetic pulse of the city, it's in the wide open spaces of nature that we seek balance. It's in the immersion of the deep woods, in the current of a cool river, and the soil underfoot that causes us to take pause. It's little wonder why city-dwellers dream of a rustic retreat; after all, it's called a city break for a reason. If you're nostalgic for a bucolic diversion, a dude ranch is your ticket to ride. (Literally!) North America was pioneered on horseback, so it should be little stretch for each of us to conjure the cowboy (or cowgirl) that lives within us. Let the kids discover the joys of equine interaction; teach them the value of nature and agriculture, and most importantly, bond as a family.

More than just a vacation spot, many ranches are family owned, working cattle stations. The word “dude” came into use when easterners began arriving in the west. They were 'city folk', adventure starved and curious. Ranches who welcomed these inexperienced visitors became known as dudes, and their properties soon earned the moniker “Dude Ranch”. Since then, the name has come to signify any ranch that opens its doors to guests.

The origin of the business dates to local settlers who began acting as guides for hunters unfamiliar with the area. Some outfitters offered elaborate expeditions while others had all the luxury of sleeping on the ground. Over time ranches began to cater to visitors just as much as the cattle, and borne was the the dude ranch industry. 

Just as the pioneer ranchers did, today's dude ranch experience ranges from the simple to the luxurious. Here are five Colorado ranches for all travel styles and budgets. 

The Real Deal

Badger Creek Ranch
Credit: Badger Creek Ranch (c)

Badger Creek Ranch

Address: 5795 County Road No. 2, Canon City, CO 81212


Why stay here? For an authentic and off-the-grid experience on a working ranch.

About: This working cattle ranch borders two national forests, and is as much a photogenic destination as a ranch experience. It's also an intimate one, hosting only six visitors at a time. Each day guests are welcome to saddle up and hit the trail. If you love horseback riding, you'll get your fill of it at Badger Creek Ranch; it can take anywhere from two to five hours to check on the cattle. Later, hunt for Native American relics before relaxing around the campfire under a starry sky. There are no planned activities other than the daily ride. Guests can independently explore the area which has ample hiking, biking and a few old mining towns to visit. Wildlife inhabits the surrounding forests, and a walk around the property affords gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Collegiate Peaks. If you're after warm hospitality, tranquility and equine adventure, there's a saddle at Badger Creek Ranch with your name on it. 

While the kids are away, the adults will play!

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

Address: 17931 W County Rd 74e, Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545


Why stay here? To completely disconnect and create family memories. Technology is strong discouraged, emergency-only Wi-Fi, and a house rule bars you from disclosing your profession.  

About: With a focus on restorative relaxation, Sundance Trail Guest Ranch rejects regimented guest itineraries. Instead, week long visitors can pick from a 'menu' of activities and participate as they please. Some highlights include horseback riding (did we even have to say it?), rock climbing, Frisbee-golf, guided hikes, fishing, trap shooting and white water rafting. Limiting clientele to 24, the ranch feels personal; as if you are one of the family. Watches are highly discouraged but don't fret about missing what’s important; if your stomach doesn’t tell you when dinner is, the kitchen bell certainly will. So we say, unplug the phone and pick up the reins! It’s time to put the hectic world behind you. 


Family-Focused Fun

Credit: Brandon Sanders via Drowsy Water Ranch (c)

Drowsy Water Ranch

Address: PO. Box 147, Granby, Colorado 80446-0147


Why stay here? Fantastic programming for kids will keep them totally entertained. This resort also boasts 99% positive reviews on Trip Advisor, and in 2011 earned the distinction of #1 all-inclusive resort in the world. 

About: Nestled in a mountain valley, Drowsy Water Ranch is 700 acres of cowpoke adventure. It's a family run ranch that has been welcoming guests for over 90 years. The focus of this dude ranch is providing families with an authentic western experience. However, it's the summer camp feel and childminding services that allow mom and dad some personal time that makes it unique.  Kids six through thirteen can partake in the Rangerider program that sharpens equestrian skills in the arena before they hit the trail for morning and afternoon rides. Wranglers lead each group, ensuring fun and safety. The Buckaroo program sees counselours mind the tots, attending to naps and feeding. While the kids are away, find time to play; golf courses, mountain biking, Saturday rodeos and Georgetown Loop narrow gauge railroad are all nearby. Just make sure you all link up for dinner!


Family Friendly Dude Ranch

Tarryall River Ranch
Credit: Tarryall River Ranch

Tarryall River Ranch

Address: 27001.5 Co Rd 77, Lake George, CO 80827


Why stay here? Families with horse-crazy kids will love being paired up with their own pony. 

About: Owned and operated by a third generation cowboy and his wife, Tarryall River Ranch guarantees an authentic dude ranch experience. Riders of all skill levels will be partnered with their own steed for the duration of their stay. Following orientation and some practice, you'll be off exploring the throngs of Pike National Park in no time. The leisurely can wind through scenic forest trails while the adventurous divert into the bush; the original 4x4 experience! Rise early for a morning ride or sleep in and catch one under the afternoon sun. Guests are welcome to participate as much, or as little as they like. Non-riders can occupy their time fly fishing, white water rafting, hiking or river tubing. What's more, we love the close proximity to major gateways (2 hours from Denver and 1 hour 20 minutes from Colorado Springs), and close proximity to Pike's Peak


Luxe Lodgings & Amenities

Vista Verde Guest Ranch
Credit: Vista Verde Guest Ranch

Vista Verde

Address: PO. Box 770465, Steamboat Springs, Colorado 80477


Why stay here? All the glamour of a chalet style lodge that caters to just 48 guests. 

About: Italian linens, private hot tubs and cabins impress at this rustic-on-the-outside, luxurious-on-the-inside ranch. The trees surrounding the property ensure peace and solitude, while a dedicated staff provides world-class service. If Vista Verde sounds more like a spa and resort than a dude ranch, you'd be mistaken. The ranch has a regarded breeding program with champion bloodlines to boast about. Animals lovers will swoon over the handful of foals born each year. In addition to the riding program, the Vista Verde offers fly fishing, mountain biking, wilderness yoga, and dining that includes gourmet cookouts and organic plated entrées. A dedicated kids program will have the youngsters enjoying 'supervised freedom'.  So go ahead, let the kids run wild with the others while you dedicate a portion of your vacation to reconnecting with your partner. 


Ultra Gourmet Lodging

the home ranch
Credit: (c) https://www.flickr.com/photos/thehomeranch/

The Home Ranch

Address: PO Box 822, Clark, Colorado 80428


Why stay here? It's the only dude ranch in the state that is a member of the famed Relais & Chateaux, a luxury boutique hotel association.

About: Step out of ordinary and step into Home Ranch. Enveloped by the Elk River Valley, this luxury ranch sits against a backdrop of snow capped mountains and rolling foothills. The main lodge and private cabins are timber frame construction accented with signature green roofs. Oversized leather armchairs, cast iron wood stoves and tribal inspired area rugs all contribute to the rustic ambiance. Horseback riding programs are available to all equestrian skill levels, and the ranch sits next to 1.1 million acres of explorable parkland. Out of the saddle guests can fly fish, venture out on a hike or relax poolside. Foodies will revel in the farm-to-table cuisine, with ingredients harvested on site. Organic greens are grown in the garden and greenhouse, while livestock is raised on the ranch. Programs for kids six and up are led by experienced counselors and in the evening guests might experience anything from a rodeo to a barn dance. 

Ready to stir your inner cowboy or cowgirl? 
Click here to let Colorado Tourism plan your wild west adventure

Related content on Canadian Traveller