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Embrace the West

Colorado ranches are heavenly places to gather with wide-open spaces, rich legacies, abundant activities, and a slower pace of life.

By Beth Buehler

Saddle up your team for a Colorado ranch retreat or a day of fun that will bring out inner cowboys and cowgirls. For overnight excursions, ranches are best suited for small- to medium-size groups, but many can host large numbers outside, where the vistas are big, and activities spur the best kinds of networking.

Adult horseback riding. May 1, 2023
Adult horseback riding at C Lazy U Ranch CREDIT C Lazy U Ranch

“Oftentimes, the simple act of having a retreat or meeting in a beautiful outdoor setting such as a dude ranch is enough to really engage the participants and brings about a sense of anticipation that might not otherwise come with staying at a hotel or resort,” says Courtney Frazier, executive director of the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association. 

Most guest ranches host corporate meetings and events during their shoulder season (typically from October through May), and Frazier recommends booking early. “Also, keep in mind [that] our ranches are not hotels, so single-occupancy rooms are limited,” she says. 

Activities vary greatly from ranch to ranch but typically range from zip lines, ropes courses, and trap shooting to horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and steer soccer, which Frazier describes as “herding a steer or cow from one side of an arena to another on horseback.”

The Ponderosa Room at Spruce Mountain Ranch. May 1, 2023
The Ponderosa Room at Spruce Mountain Ranch CREDIT Spruce Mountain Ranch Events

The Ranch at Emerald Valley, surrounded by 100,000 acres of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, is part of The Broadmoor-owned Wilderness Experience portfolio and is a 30-minute drive up the mountain from the main resort in Colorado Springs. Located in a scenic valley, it once was the summer retreat of Spencer Penrose, The Broadmoor’s founder.

Today, the all-inclusive retreat melds rustic charm with high-end service, delicious dining, and a wealth of activities. The 13 cabins range from one to three bedrooms and can host a total of 32 guests. Open seasonally from May through October, The Ranch promises fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, and kayaking before sipping wine on a terrace, playing lawn games, and gathering around a campfire to make s’mores. 

The land that makes up Spruce Mountain Ranch in Larkspur, 30 minutes south of Denver and 30 minutes north of Colorado Springs, has been part of Colorado ranching history since 1871. Tom and Lois Ames purchased what was last known as the Higginson Ranch in 1999 and transitioned it into Spruce Mountain Ranch Cattle Co. and Spruce Mountain Events, a beautiful events venue that can host 10 to 500 in a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces. “Spruce Mountain Ranch can help facilitate training days, team building, dinners, Jeep tours, fishing, tennis, games, live bands, line dancing, and more,” says Tara Ames, owner of Spruce Mountain Events. 

Last year, the ranch hosted and organized a dinner and fundraising event that generated $250,000 for Mount Saint Vincent, a pediatric and behavioral health home, and treated 300 guests to a memorable Colorado experience with cigar rolling, whiskey tasting, music, and a live auction. The ranch also holds annual Santa and Easter brunches, with all proceeds benefiting the children’s home. 

Located on 8,500 acres of land, C Lazy U Ranch near Granby also features nearly 8,500 square feet of meeting and event space, ranging from a barn and options in the Main Lodge to the Latigo and Patio House meeting rooms. Accommodations include 40 cabins and a four-bedroom luxury home. 

It’s the customizable activities that help make C Lazy U Ranch a standout for groups, along with a myriad of options available to all guests, such as yoga, beehive tours, fly-fishing, horseback riding, trap shooting, archery, snowmobiling, ice skating, sleigh rides, and tubing. Team-building activities include the ropes course, zip lining, horsemanship and cattle roping clinics, Amazing Races, or an event already on C Lazy U Ranch’s calendar like the four-day “Ladies and Lassos” Cowgirl Getaway retreat. 

Or it might be something imagined by planners, clients, or the C Lazy U team. Director of Sales and Marketing Brady Johnson provided several examples such as a sweat lodge and a bull riding and carnival event for two Young Presidents’ Organizations; a sound bath and silent disco for Mr. Hospitality Miami (a hospitality management group); and Horses and Happy Hour among the ranch’s 200-horse herd.

Colorado Energy & Water Institute (CEWI) has held its annual Western Power Players event at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash since 2021, with return visits on the schedule for about 135 attendees from across North America this year and next. “Our attendees love Devil’s Thumb Ranch,” says Gena Buhler, director of operations for CEWI. “They appreciate the attention to detail and the experience that we curate at the ranch, and they always want to come back.” 

Private outdoor event space at Flying W Ranch. May 1, 2023
Host a private outdoor party accompanied by live music at Flying W Ranch. CREDIT Flying W Ranch

The setting promotes dialogue, encourages in-depth conversation, and permits the group to move around the ranch’s gathering spaces that can hold up to 250 attendees. A morning of outdoor fun is always on the agenda, allowing attendees to try winter biathlon, fat bikes, snowshoeing, horseback riding, Nordic skiing, and more. Days are capped with a good night’s sleep in the ranch’s lodge rooms or cabins.

“[The ranch] allows our attendees to step away from their busy day-to-day lives and focus on the important discussions about the future of energy and water in North America,” Buhler says. “We host our largest gatherings and general sessions at High Lonesome Barn and Broad Axe Barn, and then spread eight breakout sessions across the smaller spaces including the Yager House & Loft, Timber House, Grotto Suraboza, library, executive boardroom, wine room, and even Ranch Creek Spa.”

Situated along the banks of the Big Thompson River about 7 miles west of Loveland, the 3,000-acre Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch has been in operation and owned by the Jessup family since 1946. The property’s indoor meeting space can host up to 80 theater-style or 120 for receptions. For outdoor picnics, it can host around 200 people. The ranch is able to lodge 18 guests with single-occupancy accommodations and 25 if houses and cabins are shared. 

“We can include activities such as horseback riding, bass fishing, guided fly-fishing, archery, rock climbing, and shooting, depending on the weather,” says Karen Burbank, dude ranch and lesson programs coordinator. “We have an outdoor heated swimming pool that is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as game courts, a game room, a volleyball pit, and horseshoe pits.”

One option without lodging that should be considered is the 1,400-acre Flying W Ranch, which launched its first horseback riding and campfire dinner experiences in 1953. Located minutes from Colorado Springs, the ranch is situated in the majestic red rock formations that serve as an awe-inspiring backdrop for rodeos, ax throwing, archery, horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides, and farrier, silversmithing, and Navajo rug weaving demonstrations. 

Views of the Rocky Mountains from Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. May 1, 2023
The Rocky Mountains rise from the Great Plains at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. CREDIT Ron Sweetin Photography

Groups of up to 900 people can be hosted indoors, and a maximum of 5,000 can be served outdoors. Constructed in 2019, the 6,000-square-foot Mountain Stream Lodge expands onto the 3,500-square-foot Western Plaza and delivers rustic-chic charm with handcrafted wood tables, Navajo rugs, a saddle collection, and woodburning fireplaces. Some additional outdoor options include the Ponderosa Pines Amphitheatre, Southern Lights Patio, Northern Lights Patio, and Red Mountain Valley. The Mercantile and Marian’s Library are smaller indoor spaces with plenty of character. 

Flying W Ranch is open year-round for meetings and events, and its well-known chuckwagon dinners complete with music by the Flying W Wranglers are offered from May 25 to Oct. 7. Named the “Western Group of the Year” for 2022 by the Academy of Western Artists, Flying W Wranglers also performs for the Cowboy Christmas Jubilee shows in December. 

What makes Colorado ranches such a memorable option for gatherings?
“The beauty, space, nature, and fresh air,” emphasizes Buhler. “Stepping onto a ranch means that we are supporting local agriculture and farming and are able to host a sustainable event.”