My family took a detour from the old Disney route and planned a first-time trip to a high mountain ranch (in June 2011). There were lots of expectations and a little anxiety about the unknown. I say " a little anxiety" because there were so many positive reviews about Elk Mountain that it made the plans seem less risky.
We were met at the Denver IAP, at the precise time, in the precise location, by ranch owner Tom and cowgirl Tally. They loaded up the vans and we took off for the three hour drive to Elk Mountain Ranch. First, coming from sea level, you may want to prepare for the altitude. The air's thin as I found out when I carried my daughter to the bathroom. Drink lots of water and acclimate yourself slowly. (It may take a few days to get used to the altitude.) The drive is a little long so, as I also found out, bring some motion sickness medicine since everyone can't sit in the front seat. This is about the only downside of the trip. The drive contains incredibly beautiful views of Colorado which changes by the hour. By the time you get to the ranch entrance, you'll be hungry and ready for the adventure.
There's a 20 minute ride to the ranch from the blacktop on a washboard road. Elk, mountain goats, and antelope are watching you from the many cliffs, open fields and Aspen groves. The ranch is exactly as pictured on the website.
The cabins are comfortable, clean and quiet. In June, the temps. were in the 70's during the day and 40's at night...great sleeping conditions. At night, it's as dark as the millions of stars allows and it's quieter than you can imagine. One night, almost our entire group walked the gravel road as a former cowhand pointed out constellations. The moonlight made the gravel road glow while the mountains stuck out like dark, pointy walls. We sipped coffee and hot chocolate while some of the kids sang songs. No TV, electronic games or phones needed, we had good old fashioned fun. Another night, we took a hayride to spot and sat by a big ol' fire roasting marshmallows. There was a square dance, a multi-talented violin player (skinny jeans I think) that told stories and recited poems. It's the kind of thing that makes you say to yourself, "How lucky am I to be part of this world." Many more activities are available to experience also. There's no pressure to follow an itinerary either. Tom and Sue make it clear you can participate, just spend time wandering or just clear your mind (you can do that in the hot-tub nestled in the Aspen trees).
The days were filled with plenty of activities. On day one, the cowboys and cowgirls match you to a horse after Tom's informative horse class. Then, you're off to the mountain trails. Quickly, I learned alot, especially that horses have a range of personalities. The trails are varied in geography so they offer different views. If you are new to horses, you'll get plenty of real experience to build your resume. One of the best trails was the one leading to the mountain top breakfast. You have to experience a delicious, fresh-cooked, champagne breakfast at 10,000 feet overlooking snow-capped mountains and green valleys. Afterwards, everyone played a game of wiffle ball on a mountain field. One of my favorite experiences was watching Tom try to sneak clay pigeons past me during the trap shoot. He definitley tried!
Speaking of food, it starts this way...a giant food-bell is rung. It's heard far away. That's your signal to mosey down to the ranch's dining room. They don't serve fast food here. The ranch has its own certified chef. She, along with her team, creates delicious meal after delicious meal. I'm not exaggerating either. We eat out alot and found the Elk Mt. dinners to be much better than most high-end eating establishments. The service is outstanding too. Just try to empty your plate or glass before someone is asking you to refill it. One evening, my daughter got a little headache and wanted to sleep through dinner. Elk Mtn. staff was not going to simply let her miss dinner. Instead, the staff delivered her dinner a little later and came back even later with some homemade ice cream! That's extra care that makes a real difference to a parent. Kids especially, will form bonds with the cowhands. It's amazing how Tom and Sue pick the right kids to become their cowhands. As a parent, you'll have no problem trusting them to take care of your little ones if you want to go off with your spouse on your own adventure.
There are a few choices to make while you're there, do I go on the Aspen roadtrip or go mountain fishing? Do I take the overnight camping trip of go white-water rafting? Well the rafting trip was awesome and I think Aspen is the place I'd live if I had alot of money. They are both "must dos." Some people stayed in and massage therapy from a licensed pro. (Something for everyone.)
This review is abbreviated, but I hope it gives you an idea that we had a great time and found it to be an excellent value with excellent services. One couple extended their trip while we were there. That's another point to be made. The ranch holds a limited amount of people. With a small group, you can certainly make new friends here if you choose. We now know why people go back to Elk Mountain!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Colorado's highest guest ranch at 9600 feet. Adjacent to the Browns Canyon National Monument. Weekly package includes meals, lodging and activities - horseback riding, white water rafting, shooting sports, van trip to Aspen, excursion to ropes & adventure park, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, hayride, square dance, childrens' program and more. Massage extra. 35 pampered guests. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Elk Mountain Ranch Hotel Buena Vista