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Guest Ranching with Kids
In the Colorado & Wyoming Rockies

Sylvan Dale Ranch
The Lodge at Sylvan Dale Ranch
Loveland Colorado

When most people think of guest or dude ranches, they automatically think of the Old West ranches in the Southwest.

But Colorado has a little secret. Nestled in river valleys, and on mountain meadows in the Rocky Mountains, are some of the best and reasonably-priced guest ranches in America. These ranches offer riding, of course, but they also give visitors a chance to engage in much more diverse outdoor activity, including hiking, fishing, rafting down mountain rivers, and visiting nearby national parks and forests. And many offer all these activities, plus food and accommodations for an all-inclusive price.

More than 60 ranches are located in the most scenic areas of the Rockies, offering exciting family vacations. Having recently visited the Rockies, in the Fort Collins and Estes Park areas, (they're close together), I came away impressed with the friendly ranches, and the wealth of activities available.

Estes Park is the resort town adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado's top tourist attraction. Fort Collins lies just east of the Front Range of the Rockies -- just 40-minutes' drive from the national park, and an hour's drive north of Denver.

Here are just three of the dude and guest ranches ("dude" is not a bad word in Colorado), and they provide a wide range of vacation activities, as well as accommodations ranging from rustic-but-comfortable to deluxe, with everything in-between.

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

Set beside the Big Thompson River, in the foothills of the Rockies near Loveland, and only a short drive from Boulder, Sylvan Dale offers family vacations year-round, with summer months devoted to seven-day, six-night Dude Ranch Vacations, with planned activities for all family members. The 1998 season begins June 21st, and ends on August 29th, with the final week in August for adults only. The trailriding package offerss daily instruction and rides, an overnight pack trip, breakfast ride, and a gymkhana at the end of the week. Visitors also have the option of "ala-carte riding, with ranch wranglers saddling the horses and guiding the way on many miles of foothill trails.

This is also a fine place for bird watching, swimming in the heated pool, playing tennis, fishing in ponds, lakes, and rivers, and taking hay rides. A new whirlpool hot tub will be installed for May '98.

At other times of the year (including summer Saturday nights), the ranch is open for its "Bunk" and Breakfast program. Visitors stay in comfortable lodge rooms and cabins, all with private baths. Accommodations range from one- to three-bedroom units. Hearty ranch breakfasts are served.

The other option is to stay in the ranch's guest houses, which are equipped with full kitchens. Breakfast is not included in the guest house rates. These are large units, holding from 8 to 12 guests.

The ranch is situated in a scenic river valley, only ten minutes from Loveland, and 15 minutes from Fort Collins. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are located 30 minutes to the west. It's an exceptionally friendly place, with fine staff and a large dining room overlooking the Big Thompson. The ranch is a favorite location for weddings and other ceremonial occasions, and has been operated by the Jessup family since the ranch was opened to the public in 1946. Susan Jessup is the current manager.

Summer weekly rates per person are $1,063, or $838 without the riding package. Children -- 1 to 4 years -- stay for $481, and children 5 to 12 years stay for $669.

"Bunk" and Breakfast rates range from $75 for 2 in a lodge room, to $185 for up to six people in a three-bedroom loft unit. The Big Thompson Suite, in thenoriginal lodge, runs $175 per night for up to four occupants.

For more information, go to the Sylvan Dale Home Page, or call 970-667-3915

Aspen Lodge of Estes Park

Situated seven miles from downtown Ested Park, on 80 acres, the lodge provides incredible views of the Rocky Mountain peaks, including Long's Peak which is the tallest mountain in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. The lodge also leases a 3,000 acre ranch which borders the park and Roosevelt National Forest. Riders are given the opportunity to ride on more than 33,000 acres.

Estes Park is located an hour's drive west from Fort Collins, and 90 minutes from Denver via the Peak to Peak Byway Highway (State Route 72), which connects Estes Park with Interstate 70 (near Central City and Blackhawk).

The lodge is the largest log building in Colorado, and offers a superior level of accommodation. Cabins are also available. The operation is open year round, with winter activities including sleigh rides, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and hockey. Summer brings haywagon rides, a childrens activity program, fishing, and hiking, as well as riding and enjoying cowboy suppers. Evenings are taken up with country and western dancing, square dancing, and live entertainment. Meals range from traditional western dishes to Continental cuisine. The lodge's sports center provides facilities for tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, and raquetball, plus a sauna, weight room, ourtdoor hot tub, and an outdoor heated swimming pool. Riding is available year-round.

Guided hikes are offered, and mountain biking has become a favorite summer activity. The lodge has a special Christmas program, running from December 24 to 27. The package includes a lodge room or one-room cabin, three meals per night of lodging (including a Continental bfeakfast, buffet and dinner on Christmas Day. A sleigh ride or hayride is included per 2-night stay, and stocking are hung on the fireplace mantle for guests age 12 and under. The package is $185 per night for two people, with children 4 and under staying free.

The major attraction of Aspen Lodge is its close proximity to the national park, and together they offer an unforgettable experience. Rates vary, with riding activity charged by the hour

For more information, go to the Aspen Lodge Home websiteor call 970-586-8133 or toll-free at 855-788-4568. The lodge is located at 6120 Highway 7.

Wyomig's Gros Ventre River Ranch

What would you say to staying at a guest ranch where riding horses and fishing in two of the great rivers of the American West, The Gros Ventre and the Snake, could accompany side-trips to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, plus the activities of a working ranch with scavenger hunts and a recreation room for the kids, to river rafting. And the pleasures of downtown Jackson, Wyoming.

Then if the family is hungry at lunch-time, take a horeseback ride to a hamburger barbecue picnic. Made to order beakfasts are teh usual morning meal, and there's a buffet for those short of time.

The ranch is situated in the middle of beautiful Jackson Hole, the beautiful valley of the two rivers., with the stupendously wonderful Grand Teton mountains to the west. the Gros Ventre flows right through the guest ranch, and its a short drive to the other side of the Tetons to explore Henry's Fork and more fine fishing.

For a long list of guest ranches in the state, contact the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association -- to which these three ranches belong -- at P.O. Box D Shawnee, CO 80475, or call 866-942-3472, or visit their Web site.

The Wyoming Tourism Office has a comprehensive website listing many places to vacation in the state, including Guest ranches. Go Here for information. As well, the office has another tourism site for kids. Go Here.

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