Dude Ranching it Right- Saddle-up at the C Lazy U - My Family Travels

Find out what “rustic luxury” means at this fabulous dude ranch in Granby, Colorado.

If I could be reincarnated, I’d like to come back as a cowgirl at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado. After all, at the C Lazy U, you and 119 others can rough it while enjoying the service at America’s only AAA Five-Diamond (each year since 1979) and Mobil Four-Star (since 1968) dude ranch.

Rustic? Yes, but luxuriously so. The C Lazy U offers horse-lovers of all riding levels the utmost, not only in the quality of its 170 magnificent horses, riding equipment and guest training, but in cuisine, accommodations and all other amenities. You’ll get rock candy swizzle sticks with your coffee, logs and fire-starter pouches in your personal fireplace, sunscreen and lip gloss in every bathroom, and bigger smiles from staff members than in a Miss America pageant. This ranch is not for those who want to ‘rough it,’ rather, it is for those who love animals and the outdoors, packaged along with the kind of creature comforts they are accustomed to at home.

Service Above and Beyond

Dude ranches evolved in the late 1800’s to help visitors experience the romance, adventure and spirit of the Old West without giving up the basic creature comforts of home. Typically providing a complete package including lodging, horseback riding with instruction and three meals a day, most offer children’s programs and some other activities besides riding. The C Lazy U caters to those who want more, going above and beyond what most ranches offer from the moment of arrival. The ranch boasts a considerable return business, with many families from around the world now going into their third generation of C Lazy U vacations. Indeed, brothers Brian and Craig Murray, who have owned the ranch since 1988, vacationed there as children.

Mozying down the long three-mile-per-hour driveway of the 8,000-acre ranch, my kids cried out as they spotted the C Lazy U sign. Eustace, a lanky youth clad in a crisp fire-engine red Western shirt and a chocolate brown cowboy hat, greeted us as we pulled up. “You-all are my first guests,” he drawled at us with a big grin. “I’m from Mississippi, how about you?” Eustace helped us to our log-walled cabin, where I was captivated by the thick red and blue cowboy-printed fleece duvet on the big bed, the stone fireplace heaped with wood, and the log furniture piled with pillows.

The sitting area’s table was well-stocked with granola bars, fresh fruit, stationery and literature, along with a coffee machine, a hefty assortment of teas, hot chocolate and coffee. The closet held two plush terry robes, extra pillows and blankets and an ironing board, while the roomy, modern bathrooms were filled with a nice variety of amenities and appliances. I was delighted to find that the rooms are free of telephones and televisions, although both are available in the main lodge and poolside activity center, while wireless Internet access and modem lines are offered in the Executive Corral.

Relaxing and Pampering Action

After a busy two weeks of end-of-the-school year activities, this looked like heaven. I couldn’t wait until bedtime to soak in all this luxurious coziness. But the kids had other things on their minds — like petting the ranch’s adorable Sicilian miniature donkeys. Sunday afternoons are designated for arrivals for the week-long stays. We enjoyed a hearty poolside lunch buffet and complimentary daily cocktail and then were free to explore and experience. The kids rushed to the rainbow trout and bass-stocked fishing pond, where we tried out the paddle boats and met some of the other families. Guests can also hike, fly-fish in the two-mile-long stream meandering through the property, play basketball, horseshoes, volleyball, shuffleboard or tennis (complimentary lessons) or shoot trap or skeet.

Then it was back to the very comfortably heated (thank you!) pool for a lazy afternoon. The leaves of the lush aspen trees quivered pleasantly in the breeze while the tall pines sheltered us and the rainbows of petunias and pansies from the blazing sun. Next to the pool, the indoor hot tub was blissfully hot, the exercise room was well-equipped and the locker/shower rooms were conveniently stocked with shampoo, sunscreen, lip gloss, shavers, fluffy towels and other amenities. We loved the daily 4pm poolside ice cream bar, featuring an extensive selection of about 20 flavors and toppings. My brood never tired of creating new concoctions, even though the whole shebang was repeated nightly at 9pm.

“Don’t worry, you’re on vacation,” the ice-cream servers begged (unsuccessfully) to all those of the stalwart adults reluctantly refusing to indulge. (No, I wasn’t one of them!)

Gourmet Cuisine for All Ages

Sunday dinnertime is the beginning of the Childrens and Teen programs. Kids go off with their respective groups (3-5 years, 6-12 years, teens) nightly for their own dinners (pizzas, hot dogs, taco bars, chicken nuggets and such kid-friendly fare, along with a veggie or two and creative desserts like cookie pizzas.) Then, outdoor games, time in the indoor gameroom, scavenger hunts, preparing for the weekly talent show, and other activities keep the youngsters engaged while the adults head off to their cocktail hour and dinners, served in the main lodge, a lovely lodgepole pine log building, furnished with cushy couches, grand piano, cozy reading nooks, fine Western and Southwestern art and sculpture, a hefty library and crackling fireplace. Most dude ranches dish up Sloppy Joes, burgers and chili.

The C Lazy U attracts those who demand much more, from mountaintop breakfasts of Swiss granola with fresh blackberries to salmon with shrimp and dill cream sauce, crab ravioli, osso bucco and buffalo prime rib au jus, the fare at this dude ranch is consistently gourmet with a Western twist. Chef Ian Ritchie specializes in fresh, locally-grown produce and regional meats. Dinners always include two entrees, with staff scurrying to service any special requests. After dinner, parents regroup with their kids for evening programs, which might feature an extraordinary local bluegrass band (including owner Craig Murray), the weekly talent show The Shodeo, an ice cream social, or the Sunday night opening orientation. Most families then head off to bed.

Each morning, coffee is served on the front porch of the main lodge at 7am, in preparation for the early hike at 7:30 for any who wish to work up an appetite. This was a perfect time for a little family togetherness before we would all separate for our rides. One morning we walked over to view the mother cows and their calves, while another we took a brisk walk up an aspen grove to see the mist rising from the blue reservoir. Friday mornings everyone enjoys the hike together with a cookout breakfast, while the other days breakfast is served in the lodge.

The Riding Program

Kids and teens quickly leave for their 8:45am roundups, while adult rides begin at 9:10am. As for the horseback riding, which is, after all, what brings us all to the ranch, the C Lazy U’s program is exemplary. Sunday evening, head wrangler Bill Fisher, who has been at the ranch longer than anyone can remember, approaches each adult guest and familiarizes himself with their riding experience and preferences. Meanwhile, the youngsters are also being fitted for saddles and being matched with the horses they’ll be paired with all week. Rental boots (for those who don’t have their own) are provided for $5 per week, and children’s helmets are mandatory (yes) and free. On bad weather days, the ranch uses the 12,000-square-foot indoor riding arena.

On Monday morning, the adults meet by the stables, and chose their desired type of ride, ranging from instructional, scenic, moderate to advanced. All are 2.5 hours long and guests can change their riding preference for each new ride if they choose. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a cattle ride is offered. This was extremely relaxing and enjoyable – an easy ride over to a verdant meadow to the C Lazy U’s grazing herd of 50 cows and their frolicking calves, along with two impressive bulls. The wranglers patiently answered our incessant cattle questions and we learned to maneuver our horses quietly and gently through the nursing cows and calves without frightening them.

The crisp mornings were especially delightful, as the horses softly trampled the endless sagebrush below us until it emitted an unforgettable fragrance. I was dazzled by the expanse of purple lupine and brilliant dandelions against the blue sky, and the panoramic Rockies all around. Yes, I could easily get used to this kind of life – as long as someone else did all of the real cowboy work. The ranch’s horses are truly exquisite, exceptionally well-cared for creatures. Sleek, muscular and beautifully groomed, we enjoyed gazing at them and petting them as much as riding them.

Details, Details

Since 1946, the C Lazy U has provided a high level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, elegant cuisine, outstanding children’s and teen programs, first-class amenities and a breathtaking Rocky Mountain setting. It is more expensive and perhaps a bit more “snob” than many other ranches, but everything is high-end, including the riding program designed to suit all levels.

C Lazy U (970-887-3344) vacations are also all-inclusive; rates vary by season but always include all scheduled activities and three meals a day (even free laundry facilities.) In summer, week-long stays cost $2,975 per person, double occupancy, while the late summer and adult-only Fall season fees drop to an average $2,525 per adult. Fees for outside activities, such as river-rafting, golf, downhill skiing and snowmobiling, are not included. During the winter playtime season (January-February) two-night stays are permitted, with rates averaging $245/N for adults with 20 percent discounts for children under 17. During the holidays, rates average $315/N adults with the same under 17 discount. Accommodations vary from multi-room suites to twin-bedded rooms for kids to deluxe rooms with fireplaces and whirlpool baths. Check their website for information on early and late season discounts.

The ranch is about a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport, near Winter Park, Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park. Free shuttle service is provided to Winter Park, Grand Lake and other locations in Grand County. Rustic elegance, exciting adventure and family togetherness (as well as adults-only weeks) — the C Lazy U serves it all up cowboy style.

Thomas Family Tips

An excellent source of information on dude ranches is Gene Kilgore’s book “Ranch Vacations” as well as his website, www.ranchweb.com. The website has a new service for last-minute dude ranch availability searches. The Dude Rancher’s Association website is also very informative, with listings of ranches throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.


Irene Thomas is the 2004 winner of the Pluma de Plata award, given by the Mexican Ministry of Tourism for the best English-language travel story published in a newspaper. She is a Colorado-based writer for such publications as The Ritz-Carlton, Family Fun, Long Island Parent & Child, South Florida Parenting, Colorado Parent, TWINS, etc. Her three children (Henry, 12 and twins Amanda and Emily, 10) travel with her frequently.

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