Have you ever considered a Dude Ranch holiday? My super fun stay at the Sundance Trail Dude Ranch in Colorado makes me wish that I have discovered this years ago. If you like horse riding, outdoor adventures and a taste of the Western lifestyle, this is the ideal choice.
The Sundance Trail Dude Ranch is a 120 acre ranch in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. The ranch borders the rugged high desert terrain of the Arapahoe National Park. Unlike other dude ranches, this is not a working cattle farms but more of a guest ranch who cater for all inclusive family holidays.
As the names Red Feathers suggest, this area was once inhabited by the Ute people who have since been moved on to their own reservations. In the Denver History Museum, you can learn a lot about the people who made their home in the Rocky Mountains and surrounding areas for hundreds of years.
Horse Riding on a Dude Ranch for all levels
We arrived to a warm welcome and a home cooked lunch. As we didn’t carry a lot of riding gear with us, we borrowed some cowboy boots for riding and just rode in jeans or leggings.
Even on our short stay at the ranch, we managed to fit in 3 rides, each one on a different trail. Some of the shorter rides (about an hour) are on the 120 acre ranch, which took us through some woods and up to some ridges where the views were great. The longer ride (2-3 hours) took us into the Arapaho National Park.
The rides are led by the wranglers who are on hand to help the guests and show us the sights. Marissa, the head wrangler has been with the ranch for 2 years and her rescue pitbull, Rosie and the Drago the hound accompanied us on every ride or rather, they led the way.
The flora and fauna of this high desert region is quite unfamiliar. The air is arid and just on the ranch, there are many microclimates. On the ride, you see vast plains, pine forests, lush green valleys surrounded by mountains, sculptural rocky ridges and more. We saw chipmunks scurrying around the rocks, some wild elk and hoped to see a bear but there weren’t many in this part of Colorado. If you look carefully, you might even spot a Jackalope.
You don’t have to be very experienced to ride on the ranch. If you are not too familiar, the wranglers can help you with some tips or even a lesson in the corral before you go out to ride on the trail. Their aim on the ranch is to make sure everyone gets to a have fun.
Our fun began by watching a really hilarious safety video on horse riding made by Dan ( who needs to have his own show on Youtube). The wranglers will pair you up with a horse that will suit your riding experience and size.
If you were wondering how difficult it is to ride along these trails, it isn’t. All the horses are very used to the trails and they like to follow the leader. We were mostly walking although some horses will break into a trot when given free rein but they listen to instructions well and you can stop them by pulling the reins. One thing to look out for are low lying branches of the Ponderosa pine trees lining the trails. Not a single one of our group fell off.
Lady Moon Trailhead
The Lady Moon Trailhead is one of the most popular riding/ hiking trails that leads you through meadows and forests and leads to a waterfall in the national forest in Red Feather Lakes. Named after a notorious resident Lady Moon, an Irish immigrant who married an English Lord. They owned a large ranch and a lot of property in the area but had lost most of it by the time she died. She might be the white spectre seen on the ranch, if you believe the tall tale that Dan spins for his guests on Sundance.
Outdoor Activities on a Dude Ranch
Sundance ranch is not just famous for being a dude ranch, they are a popular choice for fans of frisbee golf -which is a bit like golf but played with a frisbee. In case you get bored, every hour has non-riding activities scheduled. Morning yoga, followed by rifle shooting, tomahawk throwing or even archery.
We went on a nature walk with Amy around the ranch where we learnt about the edible and medicinal plants of this region. That little succelent growing in the rock is great for insect bites.
Square Dancing, Campfires, Sing-a-longs and S’mores
Evenings at the Dude Ranch are filled with entertainment. On one night, we learnt to square dance. It’s quite tricky, but a few rounds, you will have got the hang of Allemande Left, Allemande Right, Do-di-Do and all that.
Another night by the campfire, Amy Brackebury and Lars Larson entertained us with some old cowboy songs, complete with audience participation. Of course, when by a campfire, you have to make s’mores. They laid out all the fixings, graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate, and we were shown the finer points of grilling marshmallows on an open fire.
Amy, daughter of local Colorado ranchers, is also a renowned local artist. You’ll see her art displayed in the ranch house.
What food do they serve on a Dude Ranch?
We were so well fed on the Sundance Trail Ranch. Breakfast was either cereal, sausages, eggs and also that exotic American dish, biscuits and gravy. To us from the other side of the pond, it was a weird thing to eat scones with gravy but I have changed my mind.
Biscuits is the American version of scones but gravy is a lot more than a jug of Bisto. It is actually sausages in a gravy that you pour over your biscuits and teh combination was delicious. Who knew?
Lunches and dinners are served family style in the dining room. Guests and wranglers are encouraged to move around and sit next to different people at each meal. The food is rustic and delicious and they even cater for vegetarians.
Rustic cabins and family rooms at Sundance Trail
There is a choice of accomodation at the Sundance Trail. From family rooms to cabins. There are ensuite bathrooms, hand made quilts and it is all very warm and cosy.
Our hosts – The Morin family and their Wranglers
Dan and Ellen have been running this ranch for about 20 years, after careers in the corporate world. Their aim to get families to play together. Of the families that we met on the ranch, they certainly do their utmost to organise activities for families. One day, there was a full day ride with a picnic lunch in the National Forest.
The wranglers work at the ranch for the busy summer season. Most of them are college kids who are studying animal husbandry, and all have had a lot of experience with horses. They are a fun bunch and we got to know them quite well as they sat with us at meals, joined us square dancing and took us horse riding.
Our stay at the Sundance Trail Dude Ranch was short but full of fun and activities. For us city slickers, it gave us a taste of the Western way of life. I’m now sold on Dude ranch holidays and you should consider it too. You can get more information from the Colorado Dude Ranch Association
To help you plan for a complete Colorado road trip, go here :
Sundance Trail Dude Ranch
17931 W County Rd 74e,
Red Feather Lakes,
EatCookExplore was a guest of Colorado Tourism and the Sundance Trail Dude Ranch