It has been an amazing season – coming to an end all too quickly.
We hope that you can join us in 2017. Rates and dates are set and cabins are starting to fill. Plan your next ranch vacation.
The Top50ranches.com Ranch Vacation Awards of Excellence ~ 2015 were chosen from hundreds of online reviews written for the traveller, by the traveller and feature 10 categories; each category has been divided into a number of awards to celebrate everything the discerning guest, family or traveller requires for their perfect ranch vacation.
As winner of the ‘Best All-Round Activities For The Entire Family Award’ in the ‘Family Friendly’ category, Elk Mountain Ranch has left guests feeling that there was the most exciting and widest range of activities available on a dude ranch.
Guests to the ranch have commented:
“There are many activities to choose from: horseback riding, shooting, whitewater rafting, hiking, massage, kids program, etc.”
“The activities are diverse and interesting – our daughter enjoyed every single thing.”
“I really liked all the activities that were planned. You could pick out exactly what you wanted to do.”
Designed to celebrate all aspects of a dude, guest or working ranch vacation, the Top50ranches.com Ranch Vacation Awards of Excellence recognize ranches’ ability to deliver to their guests’ exceptional service, stunning locations and accommodations, outstanding food and wine, and life-changing experiences amongst other attributes.
Claire Waggoner at Indiana University
February 16, 2016
It’s not all ponies and cute cowboys, y’all.
After my freshman year of college, I decided to take the plunge and follow my dreams, so to speak. As odd as it may sound, I’ve always wanted to work at a dude ranch. In elementary school, my mom took my brother and I to Elk Mountain Ranch, a family ranch nestled in the mountains of Buena Vista, Colorado.
Greg Seiter is a freelance writer from Indiana whose work has been published in a variety of print publications and travel blogs. He also serves on the University of Indianapolis Alumni Board of Directors. We loved having he and his family!
Aspen and evergreen-covered mountainous terrain dominated a western-flavored landscape as we turned off Highway 285 near Buena Vista, Colorado in favor of a mostly dirt and gravel road. For our first dude ranch experience, we had selected Elk Mountain Ranch because of its elevation, small-group allowance, varying amenities and well-noted family-friendly atmosphere.
As Colorado’s highest guest ranch at 9,600 feet above sea level, Elk Mountain, which is surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest, overlooks the Arkansas Valley and is teeming with wildflowers, deer, antelope and, you guessed it, elk. Additionally, the family-owned facility allows no more than 30 guests at a time from late May through mid-September each year, a feature that provides more one-on-one guest to staff interaction and additional chances for ranchers to become acquainted with other vacationers beyond what would probably be available to them at larger dude ranches.
Upon arrival, we parked near the ranch’s dining hall and primary social gathering spot, a building simply referred to as the Main Lodge, in order to unload our own bags. However, it quickly became apparent that our good intentions were in vain as staff members warmly greeted us, introduced themselves and took charge of our luggage. Meanwhile, my eight-year-old daughter, Alaina, and her 11-year-old brother, Preston, took an immediate interest in a pair of overly friendly dogs who were also eager to meet them. As avid animal lovers, the Seiter children had formed a positive opinion of Elk Mountain Ranch from the start.
Shortly after unpacking, we gathered in the ranch’s intimate western-themed dining room, where circular and rectangular tables positioned close to one another allowed for introductory conversations prior to what would prove to be a spectacular family-style meal. While getting to know other guests, we enjoyed salad, dinner rolls and a pair of main course entrees including fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie for desert. Our kids, a couple of widely-recognized picky eaters, appreciated the fact that they were able to choose ice cream rather than pie.
Throughout the week, dining in The Main Lodge was fabulous with varying menus that always provided numerous options aimed at pleasing flexible and selective eaters alike. The accommodating kitchen staff was even prepared to swap peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwiches for steak, casserole or lasagna, if necessary.
My family and I stayed in the spacious Pioneer Lodge throughout the week—a simple but inviting one-story structure that consists of three separate lodge rooms, each equipped with its own bathroom, shower and exterior entrance. With nothing but the tranquil sounds of nature beckoning outside our door, that first night’s sleep, in particular, was the most peaceful one I’d experienced in a long time. Our children, on the other hand, were more enthused about having their own room than the prospect of enjoying a good night’s sleep. In fact, we quickly realized their bedtime excitement partially evolved around the challenge of trying to secretly smuggle a persistent tomcat into their room for an overnight stay.
After a hearty breakfast the morning after our arrival, I slipped on a pair of borrowed boots that the ranch provided, adjusted my recently purchased cowboy hat and moseyed over to the facility’s arena for a safety-themed “intro to horses” orientation by Elk Mountain Ranch owner, Tom Murphy. Later, we were introduced to our assigned horses, which had been handpicked by staff members based on each respective guest’s body type and riding experience.
My dark tawny-colored steed was named Tuffy, a muscular animal that boasted a calm and pleasant demeanor. However, as we ventured out for a morning trail ride on our first full day in camp, I quickly learned that Tuffy had a peculiar interest in the back side of Dumplin, the horse assigned to Alaina. In fact, as the week progressed, I often found myself having to work hard at keeping a safe distance between Tuffy and Dumplin. On the flip side, it was comforting to know that our children were able to enjoy the outdoor experiences alongside my wife Denise and me. It’s important to note that some of the offered riding excursions at Elk Mountain can last several hours and may not be appropriate for young, inexperienced riders but I can honestly say that our guide-accompanied mountain-ride outings throughout the week provided memorable bonding experiences for all four of us.
As rookie riders, we were sore in the saddle after that first day’s trip so it was refreshing to learn that Elk Mountain Ranch guests can ride as much or as little as they chose while visiting. In lieu of taking their horses out for a spin, some guests may prefer a peaceful afternoon nap or a trail hike while others may opt to go fishing, play horseshoes or battle a staff member in one of many on-site board games. While some workers specialize in horse care and serve as trail guides, others are assigned to tasks that include kitchen duty, cabin clean-up, ranch maintenance and recreational activities. No matter the need or the time of day, we found staff members readily available to assist with even the simplest of requests. Quite frequently, my kids opted for relaxation time in the facility’s hot tub during lazy afternoons but also enjoyed feeding and caring for ducklings near the ranch’s pond.
Additionally, we were pleased to learn that a dedicated children’s program counselor is always available to provide kids with opportunities to do things such as pan for gold in a nearby shallow creek bed, visit a hillside teepee (pre-supplied with plenty of easy-to-find arrowheads) and work on handmade crafts.
One day, our early-morning trail ride ended at a prairie-like clearing where we enjoyed brunch followed by a friendly game of “fat bat” softball. Alaina had fun displaying her speed on the base path during that contest but Preston was more focused on hitting the plastic wiffle ball as far as he possibly could. Later that evening, we all kicked our collective boot heels high while enjoying a ranch-wide square dance. Even the kids had fun learning how to do-si-do, promenade, chasse and swing on the deck of the Main Lodge.
The next day, many of us elected to ride the waves rather than our horses so we were transported to nearby Buena Vista for a full-day whitewater rafting experience on the Arkansas River. This proved to be another first-time, full-family experience for the Seiter party and even though we didn’t see any bighorn sheep or mountain lions while navigating rapids of various sizes that afternoon, I often felt like I was being watched from the breathtaking tree-laden rocky terrain that surrounded us.
Adult-only options at the ranch involved archery and skeet-shooting tournaments. Our children were eventually given a chance to experience archery themselves but only while under the careful supervision of a staff member. Additional family-friendly experiences that week included an evening musical concert provided by a well-known local artist and a day-long visit to the nearby city of Aspen.
Saturday highlights included a children’s rodeo, where the kids were able to show off some of the riding skills they had attained throughout our stay, along with a country-themed candlelight dinner. During the rodeo, Preston and Alaina carefully raced their respective steeds around barrels, displayed their roping skills while capturing a “willing” target and tried to navigate their horses while balancing an egg on a spoon. Throughout the exhibition, we were comforted in knowing that ranch employees were always nearby to ensure complete safety.
Admittedly, our Sunday morning departure from Elk Mountain Ranch was a difficult one, not only because of the enjoyable experiences we had shared in the midst of what was truly the most breathtaking scenery I had ever encountered, but also because of the meaningful relationships that had been developed in just one week’s time.
Carin Mari’s new CD, “Miles Per Hour,” is finally here! Get your copy today, CarinMariMusic.com
It will also be available to download on iTunes and CD Baby, soon!
Elk Mountain Ranch is No 2! Thank you Colorado Vacation Guide.
There are plenty of options for every type of getaway. Colorado is truly an amazing place for a vacation of a lifetime. Join us for week-long package full of adventure.
A 10-mile dirt road leads to the ranch – get away from the crowds.
Capacity of 35 guests – intimate atmosphere.
Best activities that Colorado has to offer – horseback riding, white water rafting, trapshooting, marksmanship, hayride & campfire, evening entertainment, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, children’s program and much more.
Topping the list is Elk Mountain Ranch! Bring your family for a vacation of a lifetime. Horseback riding, whitewater rafting, shooting sports, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, petting zoo, children’s program for the Little Buckaroos. A week of adventure.
Capturing a week at Elk Mountain Ranch with lovely photos by Beverly VanDell. Enjoy the ranch video slide show.
A week at Elk Mountain Dude Ranch with your grandchildren will not be forgotten. Create memories to last a lifetime. They will cherish this time. View this special video created by one very special and creative grandchild. The highlight of the triplet’s year is spending this week with “Bobo”. Vacation with your grandchildren; you will have no regrets.
Singles, couples, and parents who “need a break” – this is your time!
Adults Only – Weeks of August 31 and September 7, 2014 (Week of September 7 is booked, but please join us the prior week.)
Single occupancy fee of 10% is waived for our adult-only ranch weeks. Enjoy the mountains as we near the peak of the fall colors in the Colorado Rockies. The already spectacular scenery at the Ranch unveils more glory in the Autumn. Aspens crown the mountainside in golden grandeur.
We offer many of the same activities as summer, but take a maximum 20 guests. With a focus on riding and relaxation…the adult-only weeks have proven to be quite popular.
Ride, raft, fish & hike together. Sequester yourselves from the distractions of the outside world. Build memories to last a lifetime.
Offering a 10% discount to family reunion groups of 10 or more.
Weeks of June 1 and August 24 – 15% discount to groups of 15 or more.
Never a better time; or value.