When someone mentions an all-inclusive family vacation, I’ll bet your first thought is one of those huge resorts in Mexico or the Dominican Republic. We’ve done those types of vacations and enjoyed them, but when we discovered an entirely different kind of all-inclusive family vacation I knew I had to learn more.
Imagine spending a week with your family in the spectacular Colorado mountains. Imagine exploring mountain trails, aspen forests, and alpine meadows on horseback. Imagine a meditative afternoon fly fishing on the Elk River. Imagine delicious gourmet meals lovingly prepared from fresh, local produce. Imagine camp songs and s’mores around a campfire. Imagine an all-inclusive luxury guest ranch where everything is taken care of by warm and friendly staff.
When you’re one of thousands of guests at a monster Caribbean resort, you’re just another body in the pool or at the buffet. But when you’re one of a handful of guests, everybody really does know your name and you’re treated like family. That was our week at The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado this summer.
Located about 17 miles north of Steamboat Springs, near the Denver-Wyoming border, The Home Ranch is a 600-acre luxury guest ranch catering to families eager to unplug from technology and connect with each other in the stunning beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
During the summer, The Home Ranch offers week-long, Sunday to Sunday stays. One Sunday in late July, after a scenic four-hour drive from Denver through dramatic rock formations, ranch lands, and river country, we were welcomed to the ranch by rolling green hills and pastures set against a backdrop of distant mountaintops.
Led by our warmhearted host, Selina, the entire staff team was dedicated to ensuring every guest’s comfort. With a maximum of 45 guests, every meal, every activity, and every interaction was personalized just for us. Everything is included in your stay including accommodations, all meals (wine at dinner not included), the all-day kids program, horseback riding, fly fishing, and other ranch activities. All we had to do was relax and enjoy.
The Home Ranch can accommodate up to 45 guests in its six rooms in the main lodge and eight self-contained cabins on the lush grounds. We stayed in the Birdhouse Cabin, a clean and cozy cabin with a comfortable queen bed, a separate nook containing a twin bed perfect for our six-year-old, and a loft containing another twin bed that our nine-year-old immediately claimed for her own. The bathroom boasts a large glass walk-in shower big enough for two and a good supply of toiletries.
We were greeted with a beautiful gift basket of Colorado goodies and complimentary drinks in the mini fridge. Staff brought ice to our doorstep every afternoon, and housekeeping visited in the late morning to freshen the room and again in the evening for turndown service.
But if you ask my kids, they’ll tell you the best part of our cabin was the private hot tub on our deck!
An Outstanding Kids Program
We love travelling as a family, but let’s be real. It’s not really a vacation if I have to supervise and entertain the kids all day long. I mean, I could do that at home and for a lot less, you know? So when I’m planning our family vacations, I always look for some kind of kids club, but I have to say I’ve never experienced a program like the one at The Home Ranch.
The kids program at The Home Ranch is second to none. Kid counsellors are available every day from 8:30 am-9:00 pm, giving parents the freedom to relax in the hot tub, go for a hike, fish, go for a horseback ride, enjoy a gourmet meal in peace, or even – brace yourself – take a nap.
On the day we arrived, my kids were a little nervous about leaving us, but they were quickly enchanted by the friendly and welcoming counsellors. They spent the rest of the evening playing games, leaping over the tiny creek running in front of the kids clubhouse, and getting to know the other kids.
The kids had the run of the ranch the whole time we were there. The patient counsellors were willing and able to take the children horseback riding, biking, hiking, swimming, and fishing. They also gave piggy back rides, taught crafts, and organized games like Jenga, Uno, four corners, dodge ball, capture the flag, and Marco Polo in the pool.
My first full day at the ranch, the kids went horseback riding and swam in the pool under the supervision of a team of caring and attentive counsellors (all are certified in First Aid and CPR) while I lazed in the hot tub reading my book and then took a nap before dinner. It was incredible!
While some events like the kids pool party and the teen camp out are planned in advance, activities are usually organized based on which kids are around and what they want to do. By the end of the week, my kids had made fast friends with all the counsellors and the other kids at the ranch.
Not to worry, there was plenty of family time too. We went on a family ride every day, ate breakfast and lunch together, and enjoyed a nightly ritual of a dip in the hot tub before bed. The kids never once complained about being bored or missing TV or their 3DS game systems. The adults relaxed and recharged. It was a perfect week.
Farm to Table Cuisine
I can’t tell you about The Home Ranch without talking about the incredible food. The Home Ranch is a member of the Relais & Châteaux Association so you know guests can expect to find the ultimate in personalized luxury and food here. Executive Chef Jonathan Gillespie creates three gourmet meals a day from ranch-raised livestock and fresh produce harvested from the ranch’s organic garden and greenhouses only a few hundred feet away from the dining room.
The service and attention to detail is impeccable. All the staff knew our names and were already briefed on any food allergies. At our first breakfast, my youngest asked for apple juice. The kitchen didn’t have any, so they made sure to have some on hand the rest of the week, just for her. The servers learned that I like honey and lemon in my tea, so they added them to the tea service. I’ve never felt so spoiled!
Meals at The Home Ranch are communal, allowing us the chance to talk to and get to know our fellow guests throughout our stay. Breakfast and formal dinners are served at trestle tables in the dining room, casual lunches on the patio, and family dinners on picnic tables by the outdoor kitchen situated in the gardens themselves.
Meals were generally eaten all together, with the exception of four evenings when the kids ate with the counsellors while the adults enjoyed a leisurely, three course “formal” dinner. I loved having the freedom to enjoy the chef’s unique take on old favourites and emphasis on local food without the kids complaining about being bored or the food being “weird”. One of those evenings was an exquisite five course wine-tasting meal, each course paired with a wine carefully selected by the chef to complement the dish.
On pizza night, the kids were thrilled with the cheese and pepperoni pizzas, but for those of us with more adventurous palates, other pizzas featured gourmet toppings like porcini mushrooms, bacon, chicken, ricotta, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, pesto, spinach, and fresh peas from the garden.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the divine desserts made in house every day like elderflower mousse served over shortbread, rich caramel flan, homemade raspberry-passion fruit sorbet, coconut cake, and my personal favourite, Basque burnt cheesecake. Every day’s menu revolved around the fresh produce harvested from the ranch’s garden that morning, and the kitchen easily accommodated dietary restrictions like my husband’s gluten allergy so he never felt deprived.
On our final night, the chef pulled out all the stops with stunning floral “sushi” hors d’oeuvres, roast bison and prime rib, grilled garden vegetables, sauteed Brussels sprouts, potato skins, green salad, ambrosia salad, a fruit platter, and apple cobbler for dessert.
Horseback Riding Program
Naturally, the main attraction at The Home Ranch is its horseback riding program. The horse program operates under the close supervision of head wrangler Michael Moon, a soft-spoken man with decades of experience riding horses and working ranches.
The ranch boasts a herd of 75 cherished and well cared for horses that work two weeks on, one week off. During the summer, the horses run free and graze in the pastures up on the hill, coming down to the barn early in the morning and returning to the pasture in the afternoon for the rest of the night. It was clear from day one that Michael and his team of wranglers loved and understood their equine charges.
Michael personally matches each guest with the right horse for the week according to the horse’s personality and each guest’s abilities and experience. Once assigned, we rode the same horses all week long allowing us to really get to know and build a working relationship with our horses.
When we arrived we were complete novices, but by the end of the week we were comfortably riding, trotting, and even loping a bit. The experienced wranglers were always available to lead guests out on a ride or even provide some one-on-one instruction as needed. We didn’t just learn how to ride though, we also learned how to work with and respect our horses’ natures.
The ranch itself sits on around 600 acres, but guests are able to ride on an additional 4000 acres owned by the same Stranahan family that owns The Home Ranch, as well as into the Routt/Medicine Bow National Forest on the ranch’s eastern edge.
With more than 50 trails into the mountains, along the Elk River, through an aspen forest, and across alpine meadows, our rides were never boring. The expert and friendly wranglers are able to lead rides for every level of expertise, from an easy walk to more challenging rides for more experienced riders.
Not everyone rides of course. While we were at the ranch, some guests chose to spend their time fly fishing or just relaxing by the pool instead. That’s the beauty of a place like this though. There’s something for everyone!
Activities for Everyone
Of course horseback riding is a big deal here, but The Home Ranch boasts lots of different activities for those who prefer not to ride or who want to add more outdoor activities to their stay. Expert guides are available to take guests mountain biking, hiking, and fly fishing, or to assist guests in booking off-ranch activities like a hot air balloon ride. Guests can also take an early morning yoga class, swim in the pool, or relax in the hot tub.
The Home Ranch is an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing lodge. Guests can catch and release wild rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout thriving in the Elk River that flows through the northern section of the ranch property. There’s also a private pond just behind the lodge plentifully stocked with rainbow trout.
For novices interested in learning basic fly fishing techniques, the ranch guides also offer a fly fishing clinic. We didn’t end up going fishing, but it was fun to practice casting under the tutelage of the expert guides.
A typical day at The Home Ranch has time scheduled for activities after breakfast and again after lunch. Within that rough schedule, there’s plenty of flexibility to choose an activity (or none at all), spend the day in Steamboat Springs, or plan something with the kids. With no major population centres nearby, there’s virtually no light pollution so be sure to stay up late at least one night to stargaze.
Live Music and Line Dancing
Things move slower here. We went for a ride every morning, and spent most afternoons rambling over the sprawling property, relaxing in the hot tub, or reading quietly. More than once we sat quietly on the deck watching deer browse the tall grass at our front door. There are no television sets, but the ranch does have WiFi in the main lodge and in the cabins.
Most nights we jumped into the hot tub for a last dip before bed, but on some evenings we were entertained with live music after dinner. One night we listened to a lively bass, guitar, and mandolin trio.
On another night we were treated to a performance from Michael Moon, the ranch’s own head wrangler and singer-songwriter. Apparently Michael’s wife, Dawn, usually performs as well, but she was away the week we were there so we missed out.
Later in the week we went to our first barn dance. Line dancing was harder than I thought it would be, but we gave it a good try!
Visit The Home Ranch
Our all-inclusive guest ranch family vacation at The Home Ranch is an experience we’ll remember forever. The only thing we didn’t like was leaving. We already miss this place, miss the staff, and miss our horses. We can’t wait to come back!
Curious about dude ranches and where to find more? The Dude Ranchers’ Association is a fantastic resource where you can learn more about the history of dude ranching, what you can expect from a dude ranch vacation, and listings for the top 100 dude and guest ranches in North America.
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary stay to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed are completely honest and my own, based on my personal experience. Your experience may differ.