Nestled in a verdant valley about 70 miles west of Denver, North Fork Ranch looks like something out of a storybook. With the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, the ranch sits next to a sparkling river surrounded by green pastures, where horses graze peacefully on lush green grass. My family has been looking forward to our first-ever dude ranch vacation for months, and as we drive into this hidden valley, I’m pretty sure we’ve chosen the perfect spot.
I know, dude ranches seem so ’70s, but today’s ranches offer families more activities than ever. Besides horseback riding (natch), you can go fly-fishing, white water rafting, mountain biking, zip lining, hiking, and more.
Then there’s the food – no more beans and franks. In fact, North Fork Ranch, is nicknamed a “food ranch” – the meals are that good. After checking in and getting settled in our cozy cabin, my husband, Peter, son Ross, and I head over to the ranch house, where meals are served family style, and chow down on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, prepared by owner Karen May, who runs the ranch with her husband, Dean. The couple met in their 20s working at another dude ranch and have welcomed countless happy guests in the 27 years since North Fork opened.
Their son and daughter help on the ranch, too. The next morning we meet daughter Hayley, who will take us on our first ride. I’m amazed at how clean the stables are – no flies – and the horses are super gentle and well behaved. In fact, kids as young as 6 can ride, and for the pre-K set, pony rides are available. Horses are assigned to guests for their entire stay. Mine’s named Dundee, Peter’s is Jaybee, and Ross gets Rosco. We ride through woods, across meadows, and up slopes where amazing views of the Rockies unfurl. The weather during our late August visit was perfect – stunning blue sky, wispy white clouds, and gentle breezes.
You can ride as little or as much as you like. What’s unique about North Fork Ranch is there are lots of options if someone in your family doesn’t enjoy riding. For example, you can spend an afternoon fly-fishing with an Orvis-endorsed guide right on the ranch. That afternoon, my family and I relax by the pool and watch guests reeling in good-sized speckled trout from the river. Nearby a hot tub bubbles, and Ross jumps in to soak his muscles. For those who like a little more in-depth pampering, you can get a deep-tissue massage on site as well. (read more)