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Vista Verde in Steamboat Springs, Colorado: Family Dude Ranch Dreams With a Side of Luxury

When it is safe to travel and you start to search for a delightfully raucous family vacation with the kids or you’re ready to leave them at home for some quality grown-up time, Vista Verde Ranch is the perfect destination when it’s time for a change of scenery. And though we’ve committed to life in this beautiful bustling concrete jungle, we all need a change or at least to start thinking of planning a new scenery for the family, especially now. This one just happens to come with fresh air, stunning Colorado landscapes, and lots of low-risk outdoor activities with regard to Covid-19 from horseback riding to fly fishing and more. Not to mention the super friendly and knowledgeable staff do the planning for you so you can get away even if you don’t have the bandwidth for organizing a trip. All you have to decide is which fun activity you’d like to try and which wine you’d like stocked in your mini-fridge. 

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Getting There

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Clark, CO, the little ski town on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs where the ranch is located, is the perfect antidote to cabin fever and international travel restrictions. This gorgeous ski town lies Northwest of Denver International Airport and is accessible by plane with a layover in Denver. Or you can opt for a car rental or the GoAlpine shuttle from the Denver airport and take in 4 hours worth of open road against the impressive landscape of the American West. Think Ralph Lauren ad meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. However you get there, it is absolutely worth the trip and the car ride is a sight to see in its own right. 

The Ranch 

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Set upon 160 acres of land and surrounded by sprawling mountain ranges and forestland are 12 luxury cabins of various sizes depending on your travel crew, stocked with complimentary snacks, wine, cider, beer, and each with its own outdoor jacuzzi. Need we say more? The jacuzzi is located right on the deck for easy access and stargazing. You might even catch a family of reindeer taking a stroll while you soak. Gravel paths interconnect most of the property which includes a sizeable but cozy lodge for gathering (plenty of room for social distancing) with an adjacent dining room, a swimming pool, an adventure center stocked with high-end adventure equipment, an indoor riding arena, a barn where you’ll meet your horse, and a “Kid’s Hut” where your little ones will meet instructors for their daily adventures. 

Kid’s Program

The Kid’s program at Vista Verde runs during the summer until the end of August and reopens President’s Day weekend through March spring break weeks, while September and October are dedicated to adults-only vacations. Kids summer programs are designed for ages 6-18 with programs broken down and geared towards age ranges that roughly follow the US school breakdown of elementary, middle school, and high school. Your kids will participate in age and season appropriate adventures from horseback riding to scavenger hunts with skilled guides and counselors while you embark on your own adventure (or just soak in the hot tub again, you do you). But don’t worry, the ranch also provides options for joint family adventures. There are even dedicated evenings for separate kid’s dining followed by fun activities so you can enjoy your candlelit gourmet meal with adult conversations. Vista Verde truly thinks of everything so you can optimize your trip as you wish with your preferred combination of quality family time and quality adult time. 

Adventures and Activities

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Oh the adventures! We were truly impressed with the adventures and activities, the knowledgeable guides and horse wranglers, and the top notch equipment at our disposal. During our three-night stay, our weekend kicked off with an outdoor happy hour by the lake during which staff introduced themselves and helped us decide which activities to try the next day; no need to plan in advance. The staff and guides will arrange activity logistics according to what guests would like to do and their skill level. The activities run the gamut from active and adventurous like mountain biking to skill building like photography. You can even take a cooking class, try your hand at leatherworking, or melt your stress away with a massage. In the winter families can try skiing and snowboarding, ice fishing, snow biking, sleigh rides, tubing, and more. 

After having been fitted for a saddle and matched with a horse for the weekend, our Friday morning began with a horse orientation in the barn, followed by a morning of riding around the ranch’s sprawling property. After lunch, we opted for an afternoon of fly fishing along the babbling Elk River. On our last day, we took advantage of the robust riding program and met with our horses again for a morning group trail ride led by two skilled wranglers. For our final afternoon adventure, a guide paired us with the most high-quality bikes we have ever ridden (a far cry from those clunky Citi-bikes!), and drove our group of four about thirty minutes from the ranch for a moderate but adrenaline-inducing and dreamy bike ride through Steamboat Lake State Park. 

The Food

Vista Verde vacation packages are all-inclusive, including three delicious meals a day from culinary-institute trained chefs. As is aptly described on the ranch’s website, the menu balances “ranchy with fancy” and we couldn’t agree more. Each meal, guests are provided a menu with at least two options for each course that allow you to fill up on well-balanced comfort food or tasty lighter options (or both!), and the chefs are more than happy to accommodate any dietary restrictions. Breakfast is scheduled with both grab-and-go options like fresh fruit and muffins as well as a sit-down meal. When weather permits, lunch is served daily after morning activities on the outdoor patio with gorgeous lake views, while dinner takes place in the lodge dining room, with ample space to social distance, and the option for your party’s own table or group dining. 

Packing Essentials

The Vista Verde website provides a thorough list of packing essentials according to each season. Bring cowboy boots if you have them but my western-style snake print boots intended for traipsing about NYC turned out to work just fine, and the ranch will provide boots as well as all other equipment if you don’t have your own. Other important items include comfortable jeans for riding, layers for all sorts of weather, a bathing suit for the jacuzzi, and one thing this particular writer overlooked: allergy medicine. Fall/winter in Colorado brings a host of new allergy sources you may not have known existed, so be sure to pack non-drowsy allergy medicine because you never know how your body will react to the change. Shout out to the incredibly kind and accommodating staff who will go above and beyond to make sure you are comfortable in the event that you forget this packing essential!