My family and I had never been to a dude ranch before. All my life I had dreamed of horses, of actually getting the chance to know one, to learn how to take care of it, and to learn how to ride. When I was a child, we couldn’t afford such luxuries, but Sundance Trail Ranch in Red Feather Lakes (about an hour from Fort Collins) changed all that, and my life, forever!
What did it? Everything, really. We flew into the Denver airport and took the airport shuttle (Shamrock usually) to Fort Collins, where we were picked up by the ranch van and driven up into the mountains. It was the end of August, warm and beautiful, a clear blue sky and bright sun. If you’re a city family, like we are, breathing in fresh clean air will be an experience in itself.
On arrival, we checked in and were taken to our cabin. The cabins are wonderful, most with one room and then a loft with an additional bed or two (plus bathroom w/shower or tub, of course), or in the case of the largest one, a main living area with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. (We hope to go back with friends and family to take over the large cabin sometime.) All of the cabins–and the rooms in the main lodge, too, which of course I had to check out–are beautifully decorated to reflect the natural beauty of the area.
Once we settled into our new beautiful cabin home for the week, we took a look around before dinner. We discovered that cheese, crackers, fruit and beverages would be served before dinner, as well, so we set our watches.
Sundance offers a week-long family ranch experience that is affordable and has something for every age to enjoy. An all-inclusive package includes, for the week: a charming cabin or room in the main lodge; a well-cared-for horse of your own that you get to know and ride all week (if you’re into it); riding lessons; three fabulous family-style meals a day; a hot tub outdoors under the stars; rec room with pool table, movies, games and more; an afternoon of simple rock climbing (complete with gear and lessons), appropriate for kids and adults; musical entertainment around the outdoor campfire and inside by the fireplace various nights of the week; an outdoor shooting range where you can try your hand at hitting stationary targets or launched targets; hiking; storytelling, and more.
In addition, if you’re there at the right time of the year and the nearby Poudre River is high enough, for a very reasonable additional fee you can take a terrific rafting trip (1/2 day). We got lucky with the water level and had a blast! Not too scary for those who’ve never been in a raft on a river before.
After a wonderful dinner our first night, and a funny but also serious welcome and safety talk about the ranch, the wilderness, the horses, the air (dry, drink lots of water) and anything else you might have questions about, we went for a twilight walk across the meadow to see the horses.
The horses! They are so wonderful – my family and I were concerned that the horses on a dude ranch would be neglected and the place would be run like a tourist trap. But we were thrilled to experience the exact opposite. The horses at Sundance are just beautiful, well-loved, well-cared for, and like all animals including ourselves, are of all sizes and personalities.
We also visited baby goats, chickens, some amazing black kittens with amazing blue eyes, a burro and a new foal! Every year, we were told, there are different animals on the ranch. They were all great.
The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast in the dining room and the first riding day began! We filled out our personal questionnaires and were each matched up with a horse whose temprement and size matched our level of experience. The matches proved to be good ones–the wranglers and owners of the ranch all participate in working with the guests. There were two wranglers just for the kids and they were fabulous. Since we were pretty much novice riders, we learned from step one and they were very patient, kind and helpful. By the middle of the week, we were shlepping our own saddles (only if you want to, most of the guests showed up to ride after the wranglers had saddled them up, but we wanted the full dude/dudette experience) and tying knots. It was great.
At the risk of going on endlessly, I’ll just add that one night the kids have a campout at the tipi built in the meadow–they have a campfire, roast hot dogs and marshmellows, tell stories and play games (including paint ball tag!), and then sleep in sleeping bags inside the tipi, if they want to, with a wrangler. That same night, the adults attend a lovely candlelit dinner in the dining room.
If you’d rather visit the ranch without the kids (which we haven’t done yet), Sundance offers the month of September as “Adults Only” month. A great time for a romantic getaway, from a weekend to the full fabulous week.
We’ll be back next year for sure! We’ve found only a few great places that are so family-friendly and true getaways. Sundance Trail Ranch is one of our favorites.
You can get more information on their website, which is how we found out about them: www.sundancetrail.com. Highly recommended.
– The Tanner Family
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