10 Best Things about a Dude Ranch Vacation

March 20th, 2017 by Elk Mountain Ranch

10 Best Things about a Dude Ranch Vacation

There are many great things about a dude ranch vacation, especially one at Elk Mountain Ranch, so we have compiled a list of the top 10 best parts about our life in the West:

1. Enjoying the beauty of your surroundingsIMG_9795
At Elk Mountain, you have the opportunity to spend time outdoors, enjoying the beauty of Colorado, with breathtaking views of the Collegiate Peaks, whether on a trail ride or hiking in the San Isabel National Forest.



2. Slowing down and relaxingIMG_7515
Time moves differently here. You can take the time for some R&R, read a good book, enjoy the hot tub, play a board game or spend the day at the hot springs. There are simple pleasures in activities that we may have forgotten about in our busy day to day lives. Take a moment for yourself, breathe and take it all in.

The ranch is a little oasis in the middle of the beautiful state of Colorado. At 11 p.m. the generator turns off, and all of a sudden it is quiet and dark. Take a moment to look up at the millions of stars above you and find the Milky Way. Depending on where you live, you may never have an opportunity quite like this to view such a spectacular sky, where it is actually harder to pick out the constellations because there are so many more stars in sight. This place is a change from your everyday life, which is what makes it so special. Embrace this break from reality and enjoy all it has to offer.

3. Disconnecting and having great conversationsIMG_5289
The remote nature of Elk Mountain gives you an excuse to disconnect from the world, leaving email and the internet behind (there is connectivity but it is limited). This gives you an opportunity to focus on those around you and engage in great conversations at dinner, around the campfire, or out on the trail.


4. Creating new bondsIMG_5190
There is something special that happens over a week – many different bonds are created. You find a connection with your horse, learning their personality and how you can work together. The intimate nature of the ranch allows you to get to know your fellow guests and you learn more about the staff. The experience is similar to the intense bonds created when you were a child a summer camp. There is an EMR alumni network of sorts – friends of the ranch who have shared a special week with us and can relate to the amazing experience. It is like one big family that extends beyond Buena Vista.

5. Reconnecting with othersIMG_6025
The atmosphere at the ranch allows you to reconnect with your family members and friends. It also gives you time to have moments to yourself and take in your surroundings. Conversations can start during happy hour and continue all the way through a campfire after dessert. Seeing your family in a new setting also shakes things up a bit and gives you new ways to connect.


6. Adventures!activities21
If trail rides are not adventurous enough, you also have the opportunity to go whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River, or test your skills on an adventure course. Rafting is great fun as you make your way through Browns Canyon – be sure to keep an eye out for local wildlife as you paddle by! The adventure course allows you to challenge yourself, tackling new heights, overcoming obstacles and possibly even unleashing your competitive side.

7. Trying something newIMG_5802
Maybe you have always wanted to ride a horse, or try your hand at shooting a .22 or take aim at clay pigeons? Are you an adventurous eater and want to try some Rocky Mountain Oysters? This is your opportunity to try something new, or even check off an item on your bucket list. You are in the Wild West – challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.


8. Great food dude ranch dining
You will never go hungry at EMR – I promise. Between the hearty breakfasts, on the trail lunches, happy hour appetizers and filling dinners, there is something for everyone’s palate. We take food as seriously as we do our horses, and make accommodations for those with special dietary needs. We also want to help you celebrate any major occasion, whether a milestone birthday, anniversary or a big family reunion. Our surroundings may be more rustic, but the menu is nothing but top notch – and always save room for dessert!

9. Amazing horsesIMG_9628
The passion that the Murphys have for their horses and for the ranch is clear from the first moment you interact with them. Tom and Sue first met at the ranch in 1985 as wranglers, and the attention they pay to their herd is evident. Safety is always important, and even the housekeeping staff attends Horse Orientation to learn how to properly interact with the horses on and off the trail. The horses are well taken care of and are happy and eager to do their work. Each rider is matched with the right horse based on their personality, experience, comfort level and the type of riding they would like to do during the week. This process ensures that you have the best experience possible. Also, each horse has a great story, so take a moment to talk with Tom or one of the wranglers to learn more about your horse’s biography.

10. Making memories
All of these factors help make for an amazing week and give you memories that last a lifetime. It could be quiet time spent with your spouse while your kids are busy panning for gold or hunting for arrow heads. It could be the wonder of watching a herd of antelope go by while you are on horseback. Maybe you have a laugh while square dancing, or are touched by the music by Carin Mari. Or it could be toasting champagne at the top of a plateau while eating brunch and looking out at Mt. Princeton and the surrounding 14ers. By the end of the week, you will have new memories that will last long after the dirt is off of your cowboy boots.

Top50ranches.com announces Elk Mountain Ranch as esteemed Award Winner in their Inaugural Ranch Vacation Awards of Excellence, 2015!

March 13th, 2016 by Elk Mountain Ranch

2015AwardofExcellenceTop50Family Reunion Email Template

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.

Top 50 Ranches – Elk Mountain

An Inside Look at What It’s Like to Work as a Chef at a Dude Ranch

February 20th, 2016 by Elk Mountain Ranch

Claire Waggoner
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.IMG_5842

An Inside Look at What It’s Like to Work as a Chef at a Dude Ranch

Guest testimonial

January 24th, 2016 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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.

Rodeo Week in Buena Vista – June 5, 2016

October 4th, 2015 by Elk Mountain Ranch

The Annual Collegiate Peaks Rodeo will take place in Buena Vista. Saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding. Team roping. Barrel racing. Bull-dogging. Enjoy the week at the ranch and let us treat you to this special event on Saturday evening.



Carin Mari releases her new CD

August 18th, 2015 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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 entertainment

Cool Colorado Places to Stay

May 4th, 2015 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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.



Partial Week Stays

April 29th, 2015 by Elk Mountain Ranch

Join us for a three-night stay.  $845 per person includes meals, lodging and activities.

August 26/27/28

August 30/31/September 1

September 6/7/8



5 Places I Can’t Wait to Visit with My Kids

March 17th, 2015 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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.

Kid friendly ranch

Enjoy our ranch video slide show

November 20th, 2014 by Elk Mountain Ranch

ranch videoCapturing a week at Elk Mountain Ranch with lovely photos by Beverly VanDell.  Enjoy the ranch video slide show.

Grandchildren – Cherish the Moments at a Dude Ranch

November 6th, 2014 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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.Grandchildren at ranch

4th of July Celebration

November 3rd, 2014 by Elk Mountain Ranch

Week of June 28, 2015. Join us for a down-home, western celebration – carnival, fireworks, parade1157565_10204827335787661_8804280181402724728_n255317_490933737586801_134819131_n.

Mt Princeton

February 25th, 2014 by Elk Mountain Ranch

January 2014 108Mt. Princeton in all it’s Glory!

Happy Herd

February 22nd, 2014 by Elk Mountain Ranch

Tom is keeping your horses fat and sassy. Testing your memory – can you name that horse?

Horses Winter 012 Horses Winter 013 Horses Winter 017 Horses Winter 020 Horses Winter 024 Horses Winter 031 Horses Winter 034 Horses Winter 037

Horses Winter 011


Adult Only Ranch Weeks in September

November 25th, 2013 by Elk Mountain Ranch

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 weeksriding37. 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.


Family Reunion Ranch Special – Build memories to last a lifetime

November 7th, 2013 by Elk Mountain Ranch








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.

An All-Inclusive Colorado Vacation!

May 1st, 2013 by Elk Mountain Ranch

DSC_0200When you come to Elk Mountain, you aren’t just getting a standard vacation.  Our all-inclusive week-long packages include three hearty meals a day, horseback riding (we match you with your perfect horse!), pack trips, camping, river rafting, lodging in our private cabins, “me time”, and so much more than we can put into words. We welcome families with children of all ages, and even have an adults-only week. Just check out some of our great reviews from TripAdvisor:

“Trip of a lifetime – Tom, Sue and all their staff were amazing, food was superb and horses were simply the best, felt so safe and cared for. The scenery was spectacular and to top off great days out cosy and comfortable accommodation. A truly magical place to stay.”

“What a welcome! Tom and Sue and their wonderful staff could not do enough to make our stay perfect. Next to the last week of the season and we were treated as though it was the first week. Nothing was too much trouble. We had a ball – adults only and we all got on so well. So many laughs, so many new friends and so many fabulous memories. Loved the horse orientation with Tom on Monday morning – so informative and certainly made us all think! Great riding, and just couldn’t get enough of those magnificent Colorado views! Sue’s meals were out of this world and the only down side are the extra pounds around the waistline!”

“We just returned from our vacation at Elk Mountain Ranch. It was an amazing family vacation. The hospitality provided by the owners and the staff are second to none. Everyone has a smile and always eager to please and accommodate. There are so many things to do… horseback riding, white water rafting, fishing, hot springs.”

So what are you waiting for? Come to Elk Mountain Ranch and experience the dude ranch vacation of a lifetime!