Saddle up and pack your bags for a vacation unlike any other at a Grand County Colorado dude ranch. But first, here are a few things you should ask yourself!

“This horse is too SASSY!” I exclaim after urging my mount, Gunsmoke, to get back in line and follow the lead for the umpteenth time.

Randy, our seasoned cowboy trail guide for the morning chuckles slowly. “Well, we like to match the personality of the horse and rider, so…”

My friends laugh in agreement at Randy’s assessment as I battle wills with the massive chestnut gelding between my (now sore) legs.

A view of Latigo Ranch in Grand County Colorado

Our home on the range at Latigo Ranch in Grand County Colorado.

A dude ranch (also called a “guest ranch”) vacation in Grand County Colorado is not something I had considered before. But when my friend enthusiastically suggested going together with some of our colleagues, I bit. (Bit–get it? That’s a little horse humour for ya!)

The stunning mountain landscape in Grand County Colorado is the perfect spot to spend some time working on your horsemanship skills in a ranch setting. There are four guest ranches in the area, and we had the pleasure of spending at our time at Latigo Ranch, in Kremmling, Colorado, about a two-hour drive from the Denver Airport.

If you are contemplating booking a dude ranch vacation for yourself, here are some things to think about:

A chestnut horse stands in the corral at Latigo Ranch

This beauty is not Gunsmoke. My horse wanted to eat, not pose for pictures.

How’s your confidence? At Latigo, they concentrate on teaching you the skills you need to ride, rather than just leading nose-to-tail trail rides. You choose the group you want to join each day based on how advanced you want to go. On my first (shaky confidence) excursion, as Gunsmoke pressed through his agenda despite my insistent, if ineffective, heels in his side, the thought occurred to me that I could happily walk back to the ranch and spend the rest of my stay in a cosy cabin or on the porch of the dining hall soaking in the scenery. But the cliché about getting back on the horse kept ringing in my ears, so the next morning, I pulled on my boots and got back in the saddle. And the second day, I felt a lot more confident. I felt like I clicked with that headstrong horse, and we started to read each other better. By the third day, we were conquering mountain trails and hopping over downed trees in our path. I’m not saying I’m ready to trade my Keds for spurs any time soon but tapping into my bravery was a confidence boost I haven’t had from “just a holiday” before.

A row of horses wait in their stalls

John (the head wrangler at Latigo) helps get the horses “tacked up” for their morning ride.

Do you like to make friends? If you look at travelling as a chance to meet people and share experiences, a dude ranch vacation is going to look pretty good. You end up spending a lot of time with the staff and other guests. I imagine if you are the solitary sort (I am not) all the socialising could be overwhelming, so consider this fair warning. While you can always make time for yourself –and there is no pressure to join in any of the programming– activities from morning hikes to music in the evening are done in a group. At Latigo Ranch, meals are served at tables shared with the other guests. The seriously delicious food is a catalyst for leisurely conversation with your tablemates, which for someone who likes that kind of thing is delightful, but an introverted person might not feel the same.

The warm September weather meant a dip in the pool was a great way to relax after a ride; the playground on the ranch is great for the kids; pancakes come emblazoned with the Latigo Ranch brand to start the day.

Are you looking for a budget vacation?  If you are looking for the cheapest vacation options, you may want to save this one for when you can splash out a bit. The cost of a guest ranch stay in Grand County is in line with taking an all-inclusive vacation or a cruise. And much like those kinds of holidays, there is a range of prices between the Grand County dude ranches. To give you an idea of what your outlay will be, make sure you ask what is included when you are doing your pre-booking research. Alcohol will likely be extra, a gratuity may be added to your total, some of the activities may incur a fee, and some ranches also book massages at an additonal cost, but trust my aching haunches, you’ll be willing to pay!

Did you like summer camp? A dude ranch holiday is pretty much the best parts of summer camp, plus horses. There was the opportunity to try new things: my favourite was the cowboy skills event where I got to try throwing a hatchet, cracking a bullwhip, lassoing, and archery. At Latigo, they have a weekly sleep out, where guests get to ride out to a campsite and spend the night under the stars. We had a square dance one night, and live music another. The days were filled with activities, and it felt like summer camp all over again, without the kitchen duty or pranks on the boys’ cabins.

A dude ranch vacation may not be for everyone, but is it for you? I was pretty convinced it wasn’t for me until I tried it! Asking yourself some questions, doing the research, then taking the plunge and trying something new is the formula for a great holiday. Now giddy-up!

Writer’s note: The day after we left Latigo Ranch, the George family (who so graciously hosted us) and their staff, the guests, and the animals were evacuated because of forest fires raging in the area. When they were able to return over a week later, they found the fire had not touched any buildings and miraculously the only re-building they need to do is of fencing on the outlying parts of the ranch. They are aiming for another great season in 2019.

Many thanks to Grand County Tourism for hosting my visit. The opinions expressed are my own.