How to Choose the Right Colorado Dude Ranch for Your Vacation

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I am just tickled when anyone asks me my opinion about… anything! So sit back, and get comfortable. This may take a while…

1First and most important. Don’t panic! Planning your vacation should be fun! Ellen and I enjoyed dude ranch vacations on a wide variety of dude ranches and guest ranches before buying our own. In all of those years we had only one bad experience, in a state far from here.

2Getting the timing right sets you up for the best family vacations. The Arizona guest ranches run from October through May, which offers a perfect ranch getaway during the winter! The Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado dude ranches generally run over the summer months of May/June through September.

3Start with a list of Colorado ranch activities that you might enjoy. Be ready to change that list as you study ranches. For example, everyone starts with a swimming pool. Not once when we vacationed on dude ranches did we ever get in a pool or see anyone else get in one. In the mountains the air is too cool, and we always walked around the pool to get to the Jacuzzi. So when we built our own ranch we put in a big Jacuzzi.

4When you’re planning the best family vacations, don’t forget disc golf, mountain climbing and belaying, riflery and shotgun shooting trap, fishing, hiking throwing tomahawks, and many other fun things to do in Colorado!

Family vacation on a Colorado ranch

5 Horseback riding Colorado should be very near the top of your list of activities. Does the dude ranch limit their horse riding to nose-to-tail riding, or do they provide instruction that leads to faster gaits (jogging and loping). If their literature does not specify, then call them and ask. We believe that a guest ranch should teach horseback riding.

If at all possible, limit your choices to a Colorado dude ranch that has Wrangler Safety Certification. There are a number of certifying associations, the CHA, the American Association of Horsemanship Safety and Dude Ranchers Association are three of them. Here at the Sundance Trail Guest Ranch, Dan is a certified instructor in the Dude Ranchers Association Wrangler Safety Certification Program. All of our wranglers are certified in horseback riding safety.

6Limit your search to ranches that belong to their state dude and guest ranch associations (like the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association) and/or the national Dude Ranchers Association. This will assure you that you are looking at ranches that are inspected and that meet standards for safety and cleanliness and authenticity. Better yet, limit yourself to those ranches that belong to both state and national inspections. Of *course* I’m saying this because we belong to both!!! (and I want you to visit our website chuckle chuckle!)

7There should be at least 6 or 7 dude ranches in our Colorado Dude Ranch group that will leave you delighted. For the most unique and best family vacations, there are multiple ranches that will give you the experience of a lifetime.

8 Consider locationHow difficult is it to get to the ranch you choose? One of my favorite dude ranches in the world is in Durango, CO. My wife is a paleontologist when she isn’t a nurse/cowgirl and she loves to crawl through Mesa Verde. It is her passion. But getting there is an all day affair and costs us two extra days of vacation. Sundance Trail Guest Ranch on the other hand is easy to get to, being only 2 hours from Denver International Airport.

9Look at (or ask about) the children’s program. Some are all-day comprehensive programs. Adults and kids have two different ranch experiences and literally never see each other. Some families need this. Other ranches, like us, prefer to help families play together – a “family dude ranch vacation.” Both approaches are valid. It depends on what you need.

10 Consider the expense. Some dude ranches are “bargains” so that larger families can afford them – maybe a bit rustic, maybe the menus is based on “hamburgers and beans.” Some ranches serve on linen with silver and crystal – you will not see hamburger anywhere. Most of us are in the middle somewhere.

11Quality Colorado dude ranches will offer you a “package price” for lodging, meals and all activities included. Unlike Disney, you will not have to pull out your wallet every meal. Nor will you faint from discovering hidden charges.

12Size. Small dude ranches are very flexible and personable and relaxed (that’s us) with lots of individualized attention. Larger ranches; however, can afford to offer you amenities that we cannot – we have no heated swimming pools, no tennis, and no water skiing.

13Being pet friendly might be important to you.
That’s why we made the Sundance Trail pet friendly!

14Consider visiting an association website ( or and play with their comparison charts – the chart sorts for you, so you can play around to compare ranches. Decide on what ranch vacation activities are most important, such as cost, sort the list and pick six ranches in the middle (of course you should find us in the middle!). Then look at just these six ranches’ for children’s horseback riding programs or locations or whatever.

15 Do you like more than just one Colorado dude ranch on your list for best family vacations? Call them! Tell them what you are looking for in your dude ranch vacation. See how they make you feel on the phone.

Oh oh, Monte the Clydesdale is kicking the water trough – I need to get some chores done.

Feel free to call with questions. If we don’t fit your needs, We know some good Colorado ranch neighbors who might.

Best Wishes,

Dan Morin; Sundance Trail Guest Ranch Owner

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures or family vacation ideas in Colorado, request our Dude Ranch brochure (you can also download it in a PDF here), and call us at at (970) 224-1222 today! Prefer email? Use our Contact page. We can’t wait to hear from you!