Considering a family stay at a dude ranch? This premier mountain location in Colorado is one of the few luxury guest ranches open year round. Outdoorsy TravelingMom has the scoop with an overview of the cabins, dining, kids program, and outdoor recreation at the beautiful Vista Verde Ranch. What to consider if visiting in winter, and what makes this a truly authentic dude ranch experience.
Colorado Dude Ranch
A dude ranch is cattle ranch converted to a vacation resort for tourists. No surprise that Colorado offers a selection of dude ranches, including Vista Verde Ranch, an all-inclusive luxury guest ranch in a beautiful mountain location. Accommodations are private family cabins. Each include a fireplace, small kitchenette, and private hot tub on the deck. All meals, drinks, activities, and kids program are included with your stay.
This is one of the few guest ranches in Colorado where travelers can visit year round. My family stayed for three nights in the snowy month of December. We discovered that if you dress right, there’s so much beauty to enjoy and outdoor fun to be had.
What Works for Families
- Cabins are spacious, private, well stocked and very comfortable for families.
- Variety of recreation options to meet everyone’s interests (not just horse lovers)
- Hugely popular kids program. Vista Verde Ranch was ranked #8 on USA Today’s “2016 Best Family Resorts” readers choice awards.
- Complimentary snack basket and mini fridge stocked with drinks in your cabin
- Gear is provided for all activities, such as helmets, loaner cowboy boots, cross country skis, or even fat tire bikes.
- Private guides will take your small group out for a hike, ride, or ski to help navigate the trails and provide any pointers.
- Certain nights feature “dine and dash” for kids, where they eat quickly and then leave for an evening activity while adults take their time savoring fine dining.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- There are January – February dates where Vista Verde Guest Ranch is adults only.
Vista Verde Ranch – The Details
Vista Verde’s prime location near the skiing destination of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, works as an advantage. This dude ranch is definitely a gorgeous spot, surrounded by sweeping mountain vistas in every direction. I met many fellow guests who had originally found Vista Verde Ranch when planning their ski trip to Steamboat. It has since turned into a two-fold vacation tradition for them.
Every day we headed to the stately Main Lodge for three hot, tasty meals. There’s a small gift shop near the entrance if you need to add some cowboy gear to your ensemble for the week. Both of my kids begged for hats. They did make a nice complement to the cowboy boots they had brought along.
Before our stay, I was provided a log-in link to view the calendar of events for both kids and adults for the week. This gave us a nice overview of what to expect. The kids’ program offered a variety of indoor and outdoor play activities lined up. For adults, there were two or three choices for each morning and afternoon.
Every evening at the Main Lodge, a friendly activities director approached us to ask what we’d like to do the next day.
Be aware that due to trail conditions and lower temperatures, in winter the horse trail rides are shorter, and happen only once per day. However, Vista Verde has a large indoor riding arena. We found this to be a pleasant, warmer alternative to outdoor play. We each had the chance to take riding clinics here, which provided helpful horsemanship tips for all riding levels.
Dude Ranch with Individual Family Cabins
Vista Verde Guest Ranch has ten individual cabins available, of varying sizes and designs. They are clustered around the Main Lodge, with a view of the ranch and horse pastures.
My husband was unable to join us due to a work conflict, so my mom joined us for our ranch stay. Our group of 4 stayed in the Farwell Cabin, a comfortable 3-bedroom log cabin. I loved the western art and lodge style decor, and it was more than spacious enough for us.
Our mini kitchen came stocked with a basket full of gourmet snacks, and a small fridge full of drinks including beer and wine. Drinks were replenished each day. Generous portions of locally ground coffee, Tazo tea bags, hot cider and hot cocoa mix were also provided.
Our fire burning stove served as a perfect drying station for hats and mittens at the end of our days spent playing in the snow. And even though it was 10 degrees outside, we couldn’t possibly resist a soak in our private hot tub on the deck.
Every evening housekeeping would hide Willie (a stuffed animal moose) with two treats for the kids to find. It was an exciting end to each day and an appreciated touch.
Main Lodge Dining & Amenities
A short 3-minute walk brought us to the Main Lodge for hot delicious meals three times per day. It’s a warm and beautiful gathering place, with one large dining room where we joined other guests to eat our meals.
A calendar of events had notified me ahead of time which evenings were fine dining with wine pairings, and which were family dining served buffet style. Both were highly enjoyable, and the cuisine was varied and impressive. When my picky eater kids couldn’t find anything on the lunch buffet line that they liked, the staff offered to bring something else from the kitchen.
Kids Cabin & Activity Program
The Vista Verde Kids Cabin is the headquarters for fun. Each morning and afternoon this proved to be the meeting point for whatever was queued up for the kids’ program. Sometimes the dude ranch festivities were indoors cooking lessons and a craft project. Other times they headed to the indoor riding arena for a horseback session.
The kids’ program directors at Vista Verde Guest Ranch are phenomenal, and my son and daughter absolutely loved them. Every day they were anxious to check in at the kids cabin and hang out, even before the start time of the program. Addie, who is also a special needs teacher at the local charter school, took them out one afternoon on the best tubing adventure of their lives. She truly nurtured my kids, and they adored her. She made sure my son was bundled up properly and spoiled him by pulling him in the tube.
Having Vista Verde staff members like this take amazing care of my children made my stay even better. Because I knew my kids were having a blast, were completely safe, and were not missing me at all… it allowed my mom and me to thoroughly savor our 5-course dinner, and daytime adventures of our own.
Winter Play Options
Why would vacation somewhere cold and snowy in winter?
I think this is a valid question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself many times. I’ll be the first to admit I’d rather be somewhere HOT, than COLD.
So I’m a good one to testify to the following fact: We had an absolute blast playing outside, during our winter stay at Vista Verde Ranch! I would do it again in a heartbeat.
And that was even with less than ideal weather. One day it snowed profusely, heavy and wet snow. The next day was sunny, but with chilly single digit temperatures. But we still had an amazing time. Morning and afternoon activities are both slated to be around 1-2 hours long, which is very doable. Because we were being active and were bundled up in layers, the winter weather didn’t even bother us.
My mom and I debated about snowshoeing, but opted for backcountry cross country skiing. After gearing up and a brief lesson, we actually had three staff members join us as guides. They helped break trail, making it a little easier on us through the deep powder. Vista Verde Ranch has been named in USA Today people’s choice awards as being in the Top 10 for ski trails, and I highly recommend trying this adventure.
The kids favorite was the tubing party. There’s no grueling walk up after sledding down the hill here. After sliding down on their cluster of tubes (a staff member went down with the kids on every run), a snowmobile would arrive to give them a lift back up. Pretty good service!
During all outdoor activities, the snowy forest and mountains surrounding us were stunning. And the variety of recreation offered, nice loaner gear, and friendly staff serving as guides guaranteed that we all had fun.
Authentic Dude Ranch Experiences
I’ve never lived on a ranch, but I find the lifestyle very appealing. For me, that’s part of the allure of staying at a dude ranch. The chance to be around horses, in particular.
The reality is this is an actual ranch. With over 100 horses on Vista Verde Ranch, there’s daily work to be done. One of my favorite parts of staying here was the welcoming attitude they have towards allowing guests to help with some of that work (if they’re so inclined).
For example, we joined the 3:15 pm hay ride out to feed the horses on our first day. A sleigh was loaded with hay bales and pulled slowly across the pasture by the team of Belgian horses, Kenai and Sitka. Meanwhile, we “workers” cut open the twine on each bale and tossed out portions for the herd of horses that quickly gathered behind the sleigh.
On another occasion after our indoor horse ride, Wrangler Chelsea showed me how to properly remove the horse’s halter and store it. Wrangler Brooke allowed my daughter to assist with tack after riding her horse, including removing the saddle and brushing her horse down.
These authentic ranch moments were some of our absolute favorite at Vista Verde.
Amazing Staff Made for a Memorable Stay
Vista Verde Ranch staff seemed to be one big family and were an integral part of the overall experience. They delivered top notch service and were incredibly helpful and friendly. We particularly enjoyed the “eat with the staff” lunches. Served buffet style, these were opportunities when staff would join us at the large dinner tables, making pleasant conversation.
My kids, mom and I all agreed that the staff were one of our favorite aspects of our stay at Vista Verde Ranch.
Comfortable cabins, excellent grub, and many good times await your family at Vista Verde Ranch.