Let me start by saying that it is probably impossible for me to put into words just how excited I was to stay at a real life dude ranch in Colorado, but I’m going to try anyway.
Horses have been a part of my life ever since I was a toddler. I can’t have been much older than 3 when I first got on a horse. Horse and pony magazines with terrible plastic toys attached made me stupidly happy.
I spent weekends at the stables learning to horse ride, from cross country to bare back. SO, when I found out that I’d be visiting Sundance Trail Dude Ranch in Colorado I nearly lost my mind with excitement –
cowboys, horses and square dancing, OH MY!
Here’s everything you need to know about my stay at Sundance Trail and all the reasons why I fell in love with the place.
Living My Cowgirl Dreams at a Dude Ranch in Colorado
What is a Dude Ranch?
Ok, so some of you might not be familiar with the term dude ranch. A dude ranch (or a guest ranch) is basically just a normal working ranch but aimed at tourists. Some have horses and cattle and other livestock, others just have horses.
Dude ranches shot to fame thanks to the old Western movies. People wanted a taste of that cowboy lifestyle and they were more than happy to pay for it. They range from budget to ultra luxury; there’s a dude ranch experience for everyone.
Where is Sundance Trail?
Sundance Trail Dude Ranch is located in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It is around 2 hours drive from Denver, 40 mins from Fort Collins, 1 hour from Loveland or just over an hour from Cheyenne (Wyoming).
About Sundance Trail Guest Ranch
Dan and Ellen are the lovely couple who run the Sundance Trail Guest Ranch. They have been together for more than 40 years. Before they opened the ranch they both worked as nurses, so they’re wonderful at taking care of their guests.
Their motto at the ranch is that by the end of each day you should be dirty, tired and a little bit sore. And that’s exactly what we were, with giant smiles on our faces too.
The ranch is actually small for a dude ranch (the smallest in the Colorado Dude Ranch Association), which means you really get to know everyone and it feels like you’re one big family. Honestly, nearly everyone in my group was in tears when we left Sundance Trail because it felt like we were leaving our new home behind.
Dan told the BEST stories (ghost stories included) and his safety video that you have to watch before your first ride is, without a shadow of a doubt, the funniest safety video I have ever seen in my entire life.
All of the staff are kind, friendly and incredibly welcoming. Morgan, Sam, Maddie, Marisa, Matt, Amanda and all the other wonderful ranch hands made our trip completely unforgettable. Not to mention, they were some of the most polite people I’ve ever met in my entire life!
But it wasn’t just the PEOPLE at Sundance Trail that made it so special, it was the animals. During out stay we met Roxie, Draco and Chewie, the resident dogs. They even joined us on some of our horse rides.
Tiny chicks peeped loudly under a heat lamp in the tack room. Chipmunks scurried across the driveway trying to avoid the dogs. Hummingbirds literally flew up, right into my face, for a sort of staring competition before flitting away in a blur of green.
Basically, the Sundance Trail Guest Ranch is a natural wonderland.
I met my horse, Buddy, on the first day. He’d been spooked by another horse and had a bit of a moment, but after that he was the most laid-back chilled out character.
Buddy certainly wasn’t the fastest and he definitely wasn’t a leader, but he was perfect. He was sturdy, steady and a little bit stubborn – some of my favourite attributes in a horse.
Oh and he loved photos. Every time a phone came out he struck a pose and we all know I LOVE a good photo. I was delighted!
Horse Riding at Sundance Trail
OK, so the main point of a dude ranch holiday is to horse ride. After watching Dan’s fantastic safety/instruction video we were all feeling very prepared. They gave us some old battered cowboy boots (which I 100% contemplated stealing when we left) and helmets to wear for the ride.
Horse riding in the USA is very different to what most of us learn in Europe. Most of us would have learned the British style of riding with a small smooth saddle, holding the reins with two hands, rising trot and lots of jodhpurs and back protectors.
However, western style riding is a lot more relaxed. People usually wear jeans, you don’t rise on the trot and the reins are usually held in one hand. Despite years of learning the British way I far prefer the Western style of riding.
Our first ride was a calm, relatively chilled out circuit of the ranch, to make sure we were all comfortable with the basics.
There are plenty of different trails to suit all levels of rider. We did a longer trail into the National Forest on our second day, dodging prairie dog holes and fallen trees, winding our way up the mountains until we were greeted by spectacular views.
We brought plenty of water so that we wouldn’t suffer from altitude sickness. Draco and Roxie accompanied us up the mountain, hunting for chipmunks and prairie dogs I suspect, and seemed to be just as impressed with the views as we were.
There were a couple of little opportunities for trots and a canter or two, here and there, which I was delighted about. There is nothing better than a canter in a beautiful place.
Our final ride ended in a storm with thunder, lightning and hailstones and us riding through it. It was so exciting! I felt like I was in an old romance novel riding across the plains to reach my beloved, come hell or high water, hah.
There are all day trail rides if you’re up for them too. But beware, you will be sore and VERY ready for food!
The Food at Sundance Trail
All food at the ranch is included in your stay, woohoo! The food at Sundance Trail was everything you’d expect from a ranch and much much more. It was hearty food, with large portions for dinner and a serve yourself style lunch.
As a vegetarian I was afraid my options would be limited, but I was very much catered for. I filled myself up with delicious mac and cheese, tasty salad, grilled cheese, crispy veggie burgers and more, until my stomach nearly exploded.
Snacks, cakes, water, tea, coffee and lemonade were always available in case anyone got hungry between meals. We knew it was meal time by the triangle bell that rang from the front porch of the ranch house. I even got a chance to ring the bell myself!
Oh and for those of you who like an alcoholic beverage they have a selection of wine and beer available for purchase at the guest ranch that is VERY reasonable.
Accommodation at Sundance Trail
There is a variety of accommodation at Sundance. I was in a bedroom in the main ranch house which had two sets of bunk beds (part of the Buffalo-Cheyenne suite). The bed was comfortable and there was a door that led out onto the back porch where a hanging hummingbird feeder meant I had frequent visits from tiny, shiny hummingbirds.
There are wheelchair accessible rooms, rooms that are more suited to couples and larger cabins for families. All of the rooms at Sundance are pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along.
The theme of the rooms at Sundance is cozy, quaint and very Western. Don’t expect 5* luxury, this is a working ranch after all, but you’ll certainly be very comfortable and have everything you need. I loved it!
Other Activities at Sundance
Horse riding isn’t the only thing to keep you amused on the ranch, there are plenty of options. If you fancy a day off (so that your thighs can recover) then you can try your hand at clay pidgeon shooting, archery, axe throwing, and more.
Frisbee golf is something I’d never heard of before. Essentially there’s a course, like golf, but instead of hitting balls into holes you throw frisbees into chain nets hung from poles. It’s lots of fun, something different and helps you to explore the ranch.
There’s a rec room (the only place you’ll get Wi-Fi) and a hot tub with a stellar view for when you want to relax. Not to mention morning yoga classes to limber you up before a day in the saddle.
But let me tell you about my favourite experiences at Sundance Trail (the ones that didn’t involve horses).
Square Dancing/Line Dancing
During my time at Sundance Trail we had one extra special, straight out of a movie, night. We had a night of square dancing!!! IN A BARN!!
I genuinely felt like I was starring in a Hallmark movie, spinning around the room with an adorable cowboy (my partner) and then being scooped up by a superstitious man from New Orleans with muscles to spare (my corner).
Guys, you have no idea how delighted I was that I packed my silver cowboy boots. They went down a TREAT at the square dance.
The dances were definitely not as complicated as I thought and we all caught on quite quickly. Honestly, when someone inevitably messes up is probably the best part. I spent the entire evening laughing until I couldn’t feel my face (nothing to do with the wine and beer).
Part of my soul was transported back in time to the glorious gaeltacht céilís from the summers of my youth *sighs wistfully*.
Anyway, if you ever get the chance to attend a square dance/line dance, particularly on a dude ranch, I HIGHLY recommend it. You work up a good sweat too, that step count will be through the roof!
A night around a campfire, singing songs and making s’mores, eyes burning from the smoke, that is TRUE Americana. Which is exactly what I experienced at Sundance Trail.
Our hosts had half our group up singing, dancing, playing cowbell and pretending to be ponies. Christ, they even had me singing the Irish national anthem, as Gaeilge (in Irish), to everyone around the fire. It was absolutely HILARIOUS.
We drank wine, we sang along, we laughed, we huddled together around the fire and some of us made our first ever s’mores (they’re DELICIOUS by the way). I don’t think I quite perfected my marshmallow roasting, but even if you make a s’more wrong it still tastes damn good.
OK, so I think that’s probably more than enough info for you, but if you have any questions make sure to check out the Sundance Trail website – HERE.
You’ll find all the prices and packages on the site as well as anything else you might need to know. And if you do decide to visit Sundance Trail, give Buddy a big hug for me!
DISCLAIMER – My trip was hosted by Visit Colorado. However, my opinions are my own and this article was not sponsored.
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