We all smile when we share stories from our week at Colorado Trails Ranch in Durango, Colorado. There was nothing not to like, from the wonderful iconic Western setting to the steady stream of engaging outdoor activities. Dude ranch vacations deliver fun for all ages and Colorado Trails epitomizes everything we like about this family vacation category.
Here’s our review of Colorado Trails’ exceptional experience for families:
A dude ranch vacation is a uniquely American holiday and, to that end, having an authentic Western venue and setting is part of the fun. Colorado Trails has a new, gorgeous barn at its entrance that forms the heart of the ranch. The main guest amenities and cabins sit above the barn, which works well as flies and other barn unpleasantries are contained in that area.
Colorado Trails was built as a guest ranch almost 50 years ago. The setup is optimal, as it was conceived with guests in mind and has a cute Western-themed “town” with the main dining hall, ranch office, a store for supplies, a kids’ game room, and a hall for group gatherings, including the very entertaining square dance night.
There’s a swimming pool for afternoon breaks, as well as a petting zoo filled with fuzzy baby animals.
The cabins at Colorado Trails have been entirely rebuilt and redone — they are most definitely a ranch highlight! Fresh and pristine wood cabins have plenty of indoor and outdoor private space for family downtime. Bunk beds add to the sleeping capacity and some of the cabins have wonderful porches with seating.
They are designed for comfort and function, not fashion. In-room coffee makers are available for a pre-breakfast caffeine fix, but cabins do not have refrigerators. Screened doors and windows mean guests can enjoy fresh mountain air while sleeping.
Multi-room options include a four-bedroom cabin that is perfect for larger families. The cabins are all set away from the main area so they are quiet and private, a nice plus for a balanced “group” and “independent” atmosphere.
Every meal at Colorado Trails Ranch is included in the weekly rate. The food served is always fresh, with a variety from which to choose. It’s hearty fare in line with the activity level, but not greasy and heavy. There’s variety both in terms of what guests eat and where they eat. Throughout the week there are dinner and breakfast cookouts, picnic possibilities, and even a real chuck wagon for a historic meal on the trail.
The ranch policy is bring to your own liquor, beer, and wine (although wine and beer is served at the weekly “fancy dinner”). At first we wondered if this would be negative part of the ranch experience, but we found it to be a non-issue. We had an evening glass of wine before dinner in our room and were always free to bring a bottle to dinner. The upside is that it takes the focus away from drinking as a focused activity, which really does create a more relaxed all-family atmosphere.
Every dude ranch has a unique way of structuring their activity programs. At Colorado Trails, the kids’ program is very strong. The dedicated team who runs their activities throughout the week focuses on making sure kids are safe and have a good time. Every day kids have their own schedule of activities that are separate from their parents; families come together for meals and downtime.
One of the things I love about this ranch is that there is a high degree of personalization. If guests want to do extra activities with kids, they can, but the core structure enables everyone to spend the week doing the things they want. There’s no need for the traditional family activity negotiation. And there is still plenty of together time — it’s not like you don’t see one another.
The kids do incredible things throughout the week, including riding, fishing, and archery. You never know what the age range of the guests will be for a given week — ours had a nice spread from ages 7 to 15, and activities were tailored accordingly. Kids also have the option of a cookout and overnight in a teepee in the woods. Despite, or maybe because of, little sleep, our son had a blast on this overnight.
A fun part of the ranch experience for kids and adults alike are the social connections forged during the week. You start out in that awkward “stranger” place, but by the end of week, after sharing so many great memories together, guests connect in a meaningful way.
Tried and tested tips for families with kids of all ages >
Colorado Trails is most definitely an authentic dude ranch, not a resort ranch, and to that end, horseback riding is a big part of the experience. Guests who decide not to ride still have a good time, but it’s an awfully special part of the week.
The horses are wonderfully cared for at Colorado Trails. In fact, the owner is so focused on the humane treatment of horses that she runs an equine care investigators’ academy at the ranch. Teaching guests of all ages love and respect for horses is an integral part of the Colorado Trails environment.
The large 70- to 80-head herd has a horse that fits the needs of every rider and more. My travel partner and I were able to test out a few different horses to understand the differences in their gait and handling. So fun! Experienced wranglers accompany kids and adults on their rides. And unlike other ranches where the terrain dictates a slow tempo, there are plenty of places for fast rides here, and guests who are up for it get all the loping they could ever want.
Fly fishing is top-notch in and around Durango, and Colorado Trails has amazing guides who go out with guests and teach skills on request. I arrived at the ranch with only one other fly fishing lesson under my belt. I left the ranch having caught fish in the spectacular local lakes and rivers. I adore horseback riding, but was surprised that I wanted to fish as much as I wanted to ride.
Other activities include river rafting, tubing, hiking, and trap shooting. There are plenty of interesting excursions to take farther afield, including a special tour to Mesa Verde, as well as fishing trips out to the iconic San Juan River. There are more excursions than free time available!
The Durango airport is a 40-minute drive from the ranch and has frequent connections from Denver and Phoenix. With time, a trip on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad or a road trip to Telluride would be a great pairing.
Colorado Trails is the kind of place that gets under your skin. It has a high guest repeat rate and we understand why. It’s as sure a thing as you can get in terms of vacation fun and relaxation in a beautiful setting. Our week included Europeans who traveled all the way from Germany … for a second year in a row. Quite the testimonial.
The starting rate for a family of four (kids 5-12) including accommodations, all meals, and virtually all activities and the gratuity is $10,300 per week.
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Editor’s Note: Colorado Trails Ranch provided a media package for our review. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy, except where noted.
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