Gene Kilgore’s Ranch Vacations

Ranch Vacations
The Leading Guide to Guest and Resort, Fly-Fishing, and Cross-Country Skiing Ranches in the United States and Canada, 6th Edition.

Autumn leaves: falling for a dude ranch


fall color ranch“Split rail fences zig-zagging into golden groves of aspen. Chocolate brown horses stepping across a meadow. A tangerine alpenglow melting over the top of a nearby mountain. Those are some of the hues of a typical fall day around some dude ranches. You see, not all of the Ranchweb ranches close for the season at summer’s end.”

That’s how we started the Ranchweb blog three years ago this fall. Today, the blog and the Ranchweb home site that the blog springs from still anchors our place in new media. But recently we launched a Facebook page that opens up another door of communications between Ranchweb members and those who love ranches and are eager to know more about them. The latest hot info about them.

So now, as the kids are back in school and the autumn leaves are turning in the mountains, it’s a good time to reflect. Maybe this is your time. A time to treat yourself to a guest ranch weekend with a little leaf-peeping on the side. Here are four choices. but they aren’t the only ranches with fall color right now (if you hurry). For more, roam around the Ranchweb home site, pardner…

Hidden Meadow Ranch

Celebrate autumn at this luxury ranch, set in eastern Arizona’s White Mountains and bordered by majestic national forest. Near the historic town of Greer, Hidden Meadow Ranch is an escape from urban life—a peaceful retreat for relaxing in a hammock under the whispering pines or for reveling in the wonders of nature. At 8,500 feet, the aspen are turning fast.
Details: Fall Foliage Package: October 1-18. “Book three nights during the most beautiful time of the year in the White Mountains, and receive a scrapbook, compliments of Hidden Meadow Ranch. Fall brings the changing of the color of the Aspen leaves to vibrant yellows and golds. Imagine riding a horse beneath a canopy of colored leaves. It is a sight to see! Not to mention the cool mountain air that gives you a break from the heat. Bring your camera and fill your scrapbook with amazing photographs of fall color! The aspen trees are quivering with excitement for this beautiful time of year.”

Hunewill Guest Ranch

Just east of Yosemite National Park in the lush Bridgeport Valley, the Hunewill Ranch is a family-owned and operated. Here, the big attraction is great horseback riding. Ride through shimmering groves of aspen. Bring your rod and reel: streams and lakes in the beautiful Bridgeport Valley offer an angler’s paradise. Or kick back in the evening with cookouts, roping lessons, hayrides, some bingo, square and round dancing, campfires and sing alongs. Its fun the old fashioned way.
Details: October 7-11, Columbus Day Weekend 4 Night Stay. You’ll love riding your horse through this 26,000 acre expanse of cool lush meadow, bordered by timbered peaks. Hunewill offers you a full ranch experience, including evening activities such as talent night, family dance night, barbecues on the creek, or watching as young foals and yearlings are being gentled. There is world class trout fishing in the nearby East Walker River, and in the many lakes and streams in the adjacent Toiyabe National Forest. Home style meals are served in the dining room in the founder’s Victorian ranch house. You’ll stay in comfortable cottages near the horse pasture; allowing you to watch the horses come thundering in early each morning.”

Coulter Lake Guest Ranch

Enjoy the unspoiled scenery in the remote White River National Forest of northwestern Colorado. This year-round resort fall colors mid September into early October (hurry!) from groves of quaking aspen. The ranch is also open for hunting season, September thru November. Details: after Labor Day, low season rates apply. “Full American Plan includes all lodging, meals, horseback riding, swimming, hiking, children’s programs, trout fishing (in our private lake), and all evening activities. For a 6-Night stay: Arrive Sunday after 3pm and depart Saturday by 1pm after lunch.
For a 3-Night stay: Arrive after 3pm and depart by 1pm on the day of your choice.”

Red Rock Ranch

Fall is for fly fishing at Red Rock. The ranch is home to over 2.5 miles of private fly fishing water. Crystal Creek flows through the Red Rock Ranch, and it’s a famous fishery, noted for abundant native Snake River (Fine Spotted) Cutthroat Trout. Angling on the private waters of Crystal Creek is for fly fishing/catch and release only with barbless hooks. The ranch offers a guide service with local fishing experts who know the subtleties of this stretch of water (please book fly fishing guides in advance; service rate can be added to your final billing). Details: The weekly all-inclusive per person rates include cabin accommodations (keeping an authentic western ranch feel), a private sitting area and sun porch, all ranch meals and snacks, complimentary house beer and wine during nightly cocktail hour and through dinner service,  ranch activities, horseback riding, kids program and fly fishing on stocked ponds. The rates for a six-night all-inclusive vacation (Sunday through Saturday) are: Adults 13 yrs. and older – $1,925; Children 6-12 yrs. – $1,425.


Ranch etiquette: how to tip at a guest ranch

Whether you’re at a restaurant, on a cruise ship, or visiting a guest ranch, knowing just how to tip can make you look like a sophisiticated world traveler…or a rube just off the boat. First, policies vary depending on the ranch, so you won’t be out of line by asking about tipping policies when you book your reservations. At one time, rates usually didn’t include gratuities, but that is changing. Some ranches now add on a gratuity of about 16 percent (of your total bill)  ‘for your convenience’ and are up front about it when you book. But do ask: an intimate, family-run ranch might have very different attitudes about tipping than a large, complex ranch.

Also, when you book outside excursions, you’re often expected to tip the outside guides (such as raft operators, fishing guides) directly (but ask ahead). Same goes for special services at the ranch, like a spa treatment; in that case, figure 15 percent as a base.



Take a tumble for Tumbling River Ranch

A mid-sized, family run ranch (capacity 50-55 guests), Tumbling River Ranch is best known for it’s fun-filled children’s and family programs. But the big news, say co-owners Scott and Megan Dugan, is in their shoulder seasons. “We’ve been really expanding our wedding offerings–just in the spring and fall–since we built a new Recreation Hall,” says Scott. “That gave us the space and options to hold events like weddings. Each wedding takes over the whole ranch, so wedding guests have their privacy. What makes a ranch a good choice as a venue for nuptials? “It’s a destination wedding-so guests who come here get a mini-vacation, too. That’s nice for everyone,” notes Scott.
“We don’t do it during our normal dude ranch season, so it doesn’t intrude on other guests,” notes Scott. And the new red hall has created a better venue for the ranch’s evening programs during dude ranch season: live music, square dancing, and such. So if you’ve got nuptials pending, consider heading for Tumbling River Ranch. “We’re on Guanella Pass, on the Front Range, about an hour from Denver, comments Scott.

Details: They’re open for weddings the last week in June and first week in Aug thru September (and may expand into October).


Eco-friendly and ‘green’ dude ranch vacations

Green dudes

What better way to vacation ‘green’ than to visit an eco-friendly dude or guest ranch. After all, ranches have had years of practice in being careful stewards of their lands in order to be successful.

In recent years, many dude or guest ranch ranches have gone beyond their regular practices of ensuring streams stay clean and pastures stay healthy. Now they’re actively working to make sure they use less energy, recycle, re-use, and compost whenever possible, and grow their own fruits and vegetables.

Some have harvested the power of the wind, others tap into geothermals, and a few have put lands into conservation easements, making sure they’ll stay ‘green’ for generations to come. If you want a fun, relaxing vacation that lets you stay ‘green’, think of a dude and guest ranch vacation. Here are some places to start:


Echo Valley Ranch & Spa

Echo Valley Ranch and Spa

Echo Valley Ranch and Spa

Owners Norm and Nan Dove believe that “our responsibility as stewards of the land extends to the community with whom we share this wilderness. We believe that all cultures can live and learn from each other in harmony, and make every effort that our staff reflects the traditions of many nationalities. This includes our working alongside the local First Nations peoples whose territory lies at our door, as well as with others in our local community so that we all might prosper.”

Since 1998, Echo Valley Ranch & Spa has embraced the values of a Triple Bottom Line philosophy (sustainability in environmental, social, and economic terms). Caring as much for its people as it does for the environment, the ranch has long enjoyed success as an eco-aware destination (in fact, well before ‘living green’ went mainstream).

Some of the things are possible simply because it is a ranch and not a hotel, including:

Food recycling: Echo Valley is practicing zero-waste in its food acquisition and production. “We have pigs–enough said!!”

Composting: The ranch composts everything it can for the organic vegetable gardens (including beans, beets, leeks onions, peas, salad greens, and more).

Recycling. Water: “We operate our own wells and have a large septic field so what come in goes out ( we do have ultra low flush toilets and water saver shower heads).”  Water comes from natural springs on site. Other: Guest rooms have recycling boxes for various recyclables, from paper to tin and plastic.

Energy: low energy light bulbs are in place throughout the ranch. Two self-sustaining geothermal systems heat the Baan Thai, swimming pool and Lookout Lodge. It works as a heat exchange system (owners say it’s “expensive to install but once its in, its pretty foolproof”.) Supplemental energy is generated hydraulically or with propane, both of which deliver zero to a low C02 emissions
Packaging and water bottles: They reduce the amount of package that comes into the ranch and provide all guests with stainless steel water bottles.

For more details, visit the sustainability section on their website.


Coulter Lake Guest Ranch

Coulter Lake Guest Ranch is nestled in a small mountain valley
twenty-one miles Northeast of Rifle, Colorado. Situated in the White River National Forest, the ranch is home to incredible natural beauty as well as a wide range of wildlife. That’s why being eco-friendly is so important here. Owner Jack Allard writes to tell us, “We are off the grid, using hydro, some solar, and a propane generator for our backup on all electrical needs.  And our water comes from underground springs.”

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

The new buzz—Going Green— isn’t new at Sylvan Dale.

According to ranch history, green practices have been in place on the ranch since 1946. Today, their philosophy—Renewable, Sustainable, Responsible— reflects their commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.
In fact, the ranch has been green ever since the lessons of the Great Depression. “Our parents, being children of the Great Depression, knew what it meant to recycle.” Which meant that nothing was ever thrown away. “Mom recycled plastic bags, and tin foil. Dad put things in storage, saying ‘We’ll use that some day!’”

In the 1990’s, the ranch made a major commitment to go green, initiating conservation easements. To date, Sylvan Dale has preserved over 1700 acres of foothill views and wildlife habitat.

“We’ll continue to follow the example our parents set to save the planet. It is so gratifying that doing the right thing and upholding the sustainable values we have held for years have become popular and important in today’s world,” says Susan Jessup, a second generation owner of the Sylvan Dale Ranch.

Sylvan Dale Ranch has a special Sustainability logo to reflect their Sustainability Mission: “To apply practices in our daily work routine that support a sustainable operation in harmony with the natural environment through the principles of “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle”.

(Congratulations:  Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, a Ranchweb Member, was recently selected as a member of The Green Hotel Association reflecting its status as an eco-friendly place to stay.)


Buck and Spurs Guest Ranch

A  haven set in the scenic Ozark Hills, Buck and Spurs Ranch has ‘just enough comforts to let you enjoy roughing it’. The 700 acre ranch has cattle, horses, and wildlife along with 2 miles of private frontage on Big Beaver River. At the ranch, you can try your hand at fishing, swimming, canoeing, and, of course, you can ride Missouri Fox Trotter ranch horses (famed for their smooth gait) trained by a ‘Horse Whisperer’. The ranch also specializes in natural horsemanship clinics.

But when I speak to Sonny Huff about their ‘green’ practices at the ranch, you can hear the excitement in her voice. “We started several years ago adding solar and wind generated power to the ranch,” she says. “And our guests often ask for a ‘solar tour’, so we know they’re interested, too. She ticks off a list of what’s powered by alternative energy: a solar well, the lights in the new barn, a solar kiln, blowers, and fan in their small sawmill.

C. Huff (nobody has called him Cecil since his school days) confirms that  “our barn, where we train our horses, is powered by wind and solar, including our lights and small tools.” How well does it work? “When its cloudy and the solar panels don’t get a full charge, then its windy, so the combo works well.” They recently added a solar well–it has four panels and two strings of batteries that runs the pump. “So during the day, those batteries are getting a full charge, so I could potentially pump water three or four days without any sun,” he says. “And here, its unusual to have more than four cloudy days.” The ranch guests are very curious when they see the solar and wind power setup. C notes that, “I’m happy to show them how it all works!”

Initially, the cost of running electric lines to their new barn was what drove them to explore alternatives. But then, it took on new meaning. “It’s nice to know we are using nature for our power, and not adding to the problem of energy use,” Sonny notes. “And of course, there’s never a shortage of wind and sun out here!” When a recent storm blew through, knocking down power lines to the house, she explains, ‘we simply took our coffeemaker down to the barn, plugged it into the solar-powered system, and had a high old time!”


T Cross Ranch

The T Cross Ranch lies inside the Shoshone National Forest at an elevation of 7,800 feet, surrounded by an untouched country of pine forests and open meadows, trout-rich streams and small lakes, country that is scenically magnificent. This historic (1920’s-era) dude ranch is protective of its magnificant mountain setting and pristine wilderness. Threaded by trout-rich streams and dotted with breathtaking alpine meadows of the greater Yellowstone area, the T Cross is both unspoiled and environmentally friendly.
Owner Gretchen says “We have a wind turban and we raise our own beef!”  And, the ranch has “always followed the principle of treading lightly in our wilderness, leaving no trace behind.”

The ranch opened in 1918, first called the Hermitage. But to ensure that this beautiful place will always retain its original beauty, the T Cross has been on a conservation easement since 1978. Beyond that, the T Cross has gone further in the green direction:

Once you reach the ranch, most transportation is done “a horseback” (There are no excessive greenhouse gases here!). The ranch raises its own beef to ensure a high standard of quality meat with no hormones and no steroids. And, as of 2008, the ranch is powered from a wind turbine, harnessing the wind and conserving energy.

The goal of the T Cross? To “provide an opportunity for all to come and enjoy their public lands, while working toward another 90 years.” Sounds pretty good to us!


Hot off the presses: Gene Kilgore’s latest Dude Ranch Vacations guide

There’s a NEW BOOK out that wraps up the world of dude and guest ranch vacations in a neat, well-organized and well-written package. Gene Kilgore’s  Ranch Vacations 2011 ($22.95), the ultimate guidebook to all the best dude and guest ranch resorts around. Featuring more than 100 ranches across the country and the world, the guide this year takes on a new format and an easier-to-use size.  Featured on the cover is Montana’s newest ranch, the luxurious Ranch at Rock Creek.

The book, Ranch Vacations 2011, is available now on Amazon and also on Look for it!


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We share ranch news, deals, features, and even a few laughs. Tell your friends about our new Facebook page ( on your Facebook page. And if you want to keep up with what we’re doing, become a fan and “like” us.


Spring break deals at Sylvan Dale’s Ranch Camp




Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch

Soaring red cliffs, deep forests of ponderosa pine, and the roaring Big Thompson River. That’s Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch country. And if you need a spring break idea, Sylvan Dale had got some deals coming up. For two weeks only, from March 18-22 or April 1-5, families get a deal–only $387 per child (ages 8 to 12) for the whole week!

It’s called the Sylvan Dale Ranch Camp for ages 8 to 12. If you’re ready for some Colorado adventure that’s not too far from civilization (Denver is about an hour and a half drive away), then saddle up the young’uns for a dude ranch vacation today.

When you arrive, you’ll find that Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch keeps alive authentic Western traditions, but doesn’t sacrifice modern amenities. There’s a business center and free wireless Internet service, and heated swimming pool and hot tub. But there’s a whole lot more to discover, like our game room, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and so much more. And the kids will love the horse riding lessons, gymkhana evens, feeding the cows and maybe even seeing a calf being born.


Details: Space is limited for the Sylvan Dale Ranch Camp. To book, call 970/667-3915 and tell ’em Ranchweb sent you! For the rest of the year, High season is from the 2nd week of June to last week of August, when there’s a 6-night minimum; there’s no minimum, September thru mid-June. The ranch can accommodate 50 guests. It’s located 66 miles Northwest of Denver; 3200 acres nestled on the banks of the Big Thompson River, 20 miles from Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.