Horses, Stetson hats and cowboy boots. Corrals, campfires and scenic trail rides through Colorado forests. Wide open spaces and the biggest skies you ever saw. Two idyllic days at a Colorado Dude Ranch have left me with a new love. The western lifestyle. Saddle up, come along for the ride, and discover why I think everyone heading to Colorado should take a dude ranch vacation and soak up some Wild West heritage.
A ride in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado
Colorado dude ranch
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in Red Feather Lakes is a unique ‘home from home’ dude ranch set amid the dramatic landscape of Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado. Deer graze nearby, hummingbirds flit through the air and Chipmunks scurry between the rocks. If you’re really lucky you’ll spot a Jackelope. The rustic ranch is the perfect place to connect with nature, enjoy the great outdoors and release your inner cowboy. If you’re taking a north Colorado road trip then Sundance will fit into your route perfectly.
Read more about my South West US Road Trip
Dawn at the ranch
Dude Ranch Activities
Outdoor activities at a Colorado Dude Ranch are many, as well as the twice-daily horseback rides, which makes it the perfect family holiday. There’s something that’ll appeal to all ages. The family I chatted to were loving their first ranch experience. A dude ranch vacation would also suit couples, solo travellers and groups.
Like most dude ranches, Sundance Trail offers tomahawk throwing, rifle shooting and archery, fishing and rock-climbing. Some activities vary depending on the season and some, like white-water rafting, are extra. You’ll learn to square dance and there are morning yoga sessions to help stretch out those saddle sore muscles.
Take sunset hikes, picnic hikes and hikes where you’ll discover the flora that thrives in the area and how they can be used to cure certain ailments. The plants found around the ranch are numerous and it’s amazing how many of them have healing properties. I’d been bitten by an insect and the stone rock plant I rubbed on it helped the bite stop itching reduced swelling within minutes.
You can be as busy or as laid back as you like at a dude ranch but, sure as a cowboy wears a hat, you’ll end the day tired and happy.
Campfires and S’mores
Evenings can be spent in the parlour telling ghost stories, chilling on the back porch or around the camp fire singing songs and eating S’mores under a star-studded sky. We had an amazing evening sitting under the trees around the campfire. Local couple, Amy on fiddle and Lars on guitar, sang Colorado country songs and entertained in good old cowboy style. We all joined in. There was whip cracking, belt thwacking (you need to see it) and marshmallows toasted on sticks over the fire. I had my first s’more.
I adored horse riding with my trusty steed Indigo. The smell of the pine forests, epic mountain views, ranch dogs running alongside the horses and the feeling of being totally at one with nature. It doesn’t get any better. The ranch is surrounded by Rocky Mountain views and taking them in at a gentle pace from the saddle gives an added appreciation of their beauty.
Do you need to be an experienced rider to go on a dude ranch vacation?
No! I’ve only ridden a couple of times before so I’m not overly confident but that didn’t matter. We watched a mandatory video before we were allowed on a horse. Part safety, part information and part comedy, I Iearnt more about horses in 35 minutes from that video than in my entire life.
The scenery around the ranch is stunning and there’s no better way to see it than from the saddle. In the 2.5 days we were there we went on three rides. Two shorter rides and a longer half day ride with picnic lunch although, as rain threatened, we went back to the ranch to eat. On the longer ride we tethered the horses and found an outlook with fabulous views. Two of the ranch dogs came too.
The wranglers are a massive help with getting you acquainted with your horse and teaching the principles of riding. We covered the basics before we set off on our first ride. How to mount and dismount, stop, start and turn left and right. We were soon out on our first ride breathing in the fresh clean air and enjoying the scenery. I soon worked out the difference between the saddle horn and the snaffle bit.
The wranglers picked my horse for me based both on my size/weight and riding ability. Indigo (my boy!) was the perfect choice and was very gentle and steady. He looked after me beautifully apart from when he tried to stop and eat grass every five minutes but as soon as we sorted that we were fine. We even did a bit of trotting!
Me and my boy, Indigo
If you’ve not ridden before or are a little unsure then a dude ranch vacation is a great way to grab the reins and learn the ropes. I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again – we’ve booked another dude ranch stay as part of our Texas road trip in October.
Sundance Trail and Guest Ranch
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch is owned by Dan and Ellen Morin who are both very hands on in day-to-day ranch life. Dan is also a master raconteur and will spin some ripping yarns. The story of the ghost of Sundance Ranch springs to mind…
Dan Morin telling stories
Sundance is one of the smallest Colorado dude ranches accommodating up to 24 guests which makes it very personal and friendly. Accommodation is spread over seven cabin suites and rooms in the main lodge. From cabins with three bedrooms and two bathrooms to double rooms there’s a good range to choose from. Sundance Ranch is accessible and wheelchair friendly.
The Parlour is a comfy room with huge fireplace, sofas and chairs for chatting and chilling and there’s a recreation barn with pool table, Foosball, books and seating areas. A guest laundry is also available – things can get messy on a dude ranch. You’ll find WiFi in the barn but it’s encouraged to get off-grid and for guests, especially families, to spend their time making memories together.
A Jacuzzi on the outside deck is perfect for relaxing and there’s a massage suite too.
Every time the triangle rang for breakfast, lunch or dinner my eyes lit up! All that fresh air and activity makes you hungry. The food is good, really good and it’s the kind of food you need after a full-on day – healthy and filling.
At breakfast there’s fresh orange juice, mugs of steaming coffee with fruit, yoghurt, pancakes, eggs, bacon and cinnamon oatmeal or porridge. For lunches and dinners, soup or salad starters are followed by home-cooked dishes which vary from day to day. Beef skewers, ribs, steaks and chilli beans with loads of vegetables and salads and a dessert to finish.
Vegetarians are well looked after too and it’s all washed down with fresh home-made lemonade. Alcoholic beverages are extra. Meals are taken in the dining room with the wranglers and staff so you really get a chance to get to know them and your fellow ranch goers. Tea, coffee and lemonade are available all day and there’s a huge sideboard laden with freshly baked cookies and cake. Ranch life needs a full belly!
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch can be booked from 2 days to a week, or more. Prices are all-inclusive with accommodation, meals and most activities included.
If you’re heading to Colorado, and I highly recommend you do, be sure to include a few days at a dude ranch. You’ll leave feeling at one with the great outdoors, you’ll have learnt a bit about cowboy life and you’ll have made the most amazing memories. Get more information about dude ranches at the Dude Ranch Association.
I was a guest of Visit Colorado during my time at Sundance Trail Guest Ranch. However, all views and opinions expressed here are entirely my own and I retain full editorial rights.