Going to a dude ranch has been on my bucket list since watching the movie City Slickers with Billy Crystal. There was just something intriguing about going back to simpler times on cattle ranches—of wide open spaces, cowboys, and clear blue skies. A place with no television sets, zero bars of cellular service and such limited internet that it’s as good as not having any.
So, I grabbed my cowboy hat and some of my favorite girlfriends, then traded the San Francisco skyscrapers for mountain ranges, cars for horses, and the ocean for icy rivers. I vacationed at the Drowsy Water Ranch in Grand County Colorado to see if the wild, wild west lived up to its romantic appeal.
… and I’m so glad I did. Giddy up!
A Colorado Dude Ranch Vacation: Drowsy Water Ranch in Grand County
What is a Dude Ranch?
Dude ranches celebrate the western lifestyle. They are typically functioning ranches and interactive guest accommodations. Each dude ranch has their own set of activities available on site but the most popular activities are horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.
Dude ranches are typically family homes first, and guest accommodation second. So visitors are considered guests of the family and are treated as such (this was especially true at Drowsy Water!).
The term “dude” was coined ages ago by the Yellowstone Park rangers. In the late 1800’s they used the term “dude” to refer to visitors from out East. Soon enough it came to include anyone who was not a long term resident of the Rocky Mountain area too. This included tourists, as well as new settlers to the area.
Dude ranching really began when the railway started making it easier than ever for people to travel out west. Travelers, and hunters especially, began popping up in remote western areas to see for themselves the mythical west. They would hire locals to show them the area, the best places to hunt, and to set up camp for them.
Somewhere along the way these western locals started renting out part of their ranches to dudes, while they acted as a local guide for them. From there the dude ranches grew into the modern agro-tourist industry it is today.
About Drowsy Water Ranch
The Drowsy Water Ranch I visited in Colorado, is exemplary of a modern dude ranch despite feeling like I stepped back in time. The Fosha family has been operating the ranch in Grand County since the 1970’s, and they will surely greet you with a ‘howdy’ upon arrival—it won’t take long for you to begin using the greeting regularly too.
Their dude ranch is set on over 700 acres of pristine land just a few miles west of Granby. It is set amongst iconic Western scenery like deep mountain valleys, and rolling meadows dotted with wildflowers.
This dude ranch is not a luxury spa, it’s a genuine ranch. There are No TVs, and only WiFi in the main lodge, otherwise you can truly disconnect. You are on vacation forget about everything back home—for a week you are a cowboy or cowgirl.
The ranch is typically very family-friendly, and even has a fantastic children’s program. However, during the fall the Drowsy Water Ranch is reserved for adults only.
Dudes and dudettes stay in lodge rooms or utterly cozy cabins tucked into the woods. I stayed in the main lodge which was rustic-chic with exposed wooden beams, Country & Western blankets and several bedrooms. There are cabins and rooms to suit couples, and families alike.
Horseback Riding Program
The dude ranch is home to almost 120 horses of all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities. And they are the main reason vacationer’s choose to come dude ranching.
The crew matches each guest to a horse based on the rider’s abilities, and the horse’s temperament. For newbies lessons are given, experienced riders are given more freedom with an option to learn advanced skills at daily clinics. I saw the wranglers turn the most nervous guests, into confident horsemen in no time at all. I was jogging with my horse on my first ride, and loping (a little slower than a gallop and faster than a trot) by my second! You will learn something new and become a better rider.
On the first day I was give a brief introduction on how to mount and basic riding instructions like an explanation on different gaits and how to properly sit in the saddle. Then I got to meet my horse. You are assigned one for your entire stay so you can learn about their personality. The challenge for the week is to learn to work with your horse as a team. My horse was named Black Jack and I quickly learned that he couldn’t poop and walk at the same time. Can you really blame him?
Each day there are two trail rides, a morning and afternoon. On some days there will be a full-day ride too. You will be taken to peaks and valley, through forested areas and open meadows, plus through all sorts of different terrain, rocks, dirt and streams. And the huge property means you will never bore of the scenery. Make sure to ask to ride the Irrigation Ditch trail, it’s the most requested half day ride and is a beauty.
Wildlife spotting is not uncommon during these rides. Lots of elk, moose, antelope, coyote, foxes, badgers and dozens of varieties of birds (bald eagles, golden eagles, blue herons, hawks, robins, hummingbirds).
- It gets windy in the mountains, so if you wear a hat make sure it has a tie around your neck. If it doesn’t, the wranglers will help you make one out of your name tag.
- A flat-soled, heeled boot is a must (no hiking or tennis shoes). If you don’t have a pair, you cam rent them upon arrival.
- It’s a western ride, which means the saddle is larger and has a horn.
- Horseback riding is an athletic sport and they know that, so you don’t need to be embarrassed if you are having a difficult time or are sore afterwards. That’s why they have the hot tub, yoga and massage!
- At least once during your stay ask the wranglers when they will be moving the horses from the stable to the pasture. During this time you will see 120 horses running down the street and it is quite a spectacle!
Drowsy Water Ranch also has a long list of horse-free activities for guests to join at their leisure. These include guided hikes after breakfast, cattle work, swimming, and a fly fishing clinic in the catch and release pond. For the adventurous, there is an adrenaline pumping zip lining course and a fun white water rafting trip. But, if you want something more relaxing take the yoga clinic in the teepee building or soak in the hot tub (It’s only for adults for therapeutic reasons after the horse ride. You’re gonna need it!)
For the kids and teen’s, there are supervised children’s program’s during the summer months. Some of the parents I chatted to even mentioned that their kids loved the camp-like atmosphere so much that they begged their parents to come back year after year!
All that fun and I still haven’t even mentioned the nightly activities and entertainment. Each evening there are fun events planned. My favorite was the country dancing where I got to do the hokey pokey, learn the popcorn and how to dosey doe.
Nightly Activities and Entertainment:
- Country dancing with the staff
- Adult dinner while the kids have a campfire
- Adult Hay ride with s’mores
- Staff show where they all do skits
- Carnival which is great for the kids
If all that isn’t enough to occupy your time there are so many more attractions nearby. You could play a round of golf at one of the 4 courses, soak in the pools at Hot Sulphur Springs, visit the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park or go to a fancy dinner at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa (this luxury property is where I had the BEST steak of my life!).
During my time at the ranch, all the outdoor activity really made me work up an appetite, so I was pleased at the quality of food at meal times. Food is simple, but good. Something that would appeal to all ages. Since the packages at Drowsy Water Ranch are all-inclusive all meals are included, there are no kitchen facilities for guest use on site.
Most of the meals take their inspiration from the ranches western roots, and aims to be healthy and hearty. Occasionally we were even treated by having our meals outdoors in the fresh mountain air for cowboy barbecues, and mid-trail picnics.
Some things served during my stay:
- Turkey Dinner in June
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- The best fresh rhubarb pie with rhubarb they picked in the morning.
- Italian night with spaghetti and garlic bread
- Chicken Salad and Ham & Cheese Sandwiches
Take note that there is no alcohol sold at the ranch, you must bring your own. A girls getaway wouldn’t be complete without some wine, so me and my girlfriends simply hit up the liquor store a couple miles away before we got to the ranch.
Drowsy Water Ranch has won countless awards for their iconic dude ranch, and with good reason. They have a stunning property, with clean cozy accommodations, and great food. However, what makes Drowsy Water Ranch truly special is the hospitality shown by the Fosha family, and their outstanding team. They made me feel like part of their larger family in no time. And It’s also a magical place because of the friendships that are created there with all the other guests.
Ready to giddy up and be a cowboy/cowgirl? Book your stay here. Yee-ha!
One last tip: In the summer bring mosquito repellent, but if you forget they have a tiny gift shop that works on an honor system. Pick what you want, fill out a card and it will be settled at the end.
Me & My Cowgirls (Kelly of Food, Fun & Faraway Places, Cacinda of Points and Travel and Susan of Wander with Wonder)
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