What’s Happening on the Ranch?

There’s always something happening at Vista Verde Ranch. Foals are born, new recipes are created, or the wranglers are playing tricks on each other. Come here to read the latest news!

VVR Yearling “Rocketman” –Beginning stages of training for performance and trail.

By Annie

Please note that this is an informational blog post, not an instruction piece intended as a how-to in training a horse.

Every safe trail riding horse needs to be “bomb proof.”  But what does that actually mean?  The goal of Vista Verde’s dude ranch breeding and training program is to breed high quality performance horses that are not only phenomenal in reining and cow work but  also enjoyable on a trail ride.  Teaching our horses to be safe and well mannered starts with teaching them to expect the unexpected.  A great horse helps makes a great vacation, after all!

Preparation is key when teaching youngsters.  There are several methods we use in starting our young yearlings and 2 year olds to begin to learn how to be handled, saddled and eventually ridden.  One of the tools we like to use when introducing young horses to be ridden for the first time is an old sack or grain bag tied to a 50-foot rope.  This is a method of desensitizing young horses to their first time carrying something behind their eyes, where eventually a person will end up sitting in the saddle.  Other key preparation training has already taken place to set this young horse up for being able to handle this stage.

When starting a horse to carry this noisy little bag, we make sure that our flag training, ground cues to go forward, stop, reverse and turn are already solid in the colt.  We have already worked over this horse’s back from the fence, so he has been able to see things going on behind his vision and has shown progress in switching eyes, as objects (flag, pad, saddle, arm, leg, chaps etc) start on one side and end up across his back on the other.

Step 1: Let Him Be Curious

It is important to play off a horse’s natural curiosity and desire to play!  Allowing them to be curious builds confidence to check things out and inspect new things rather than shying away from them. We want to develop their “thinking mind” instead of having them getting worried and letting their protective prey instincts take charge.  Allowing the colts to follow anything out in front of and below their eyes is the best way to introduce anything new.  It is a non-confrontational way to help them to inspect and accept.  Being able to pick up and play with the object means the colt is ready and more comfortable with the bag.  We will walk around dragging the bag behind us but out in front of the colt so he can clearly see it.

Step 2: Tossing around field of vision

Being able to toss the noisy bag in all areas and not have the movement startle the horse is the goal.  This teaches them to accept commotion: people, wildlife, and activity going on unexpectedly around them.  It also helps them become used to things happening behind them without those actions being cues to move or go forward.  Riders taking off gear, jackets, hats etc is often a cause of discomfort for horses, and their reactions are sometimes seen as unexpected by riders.  Once they are comfortable here, it lets us know that it’s now time to start touching the colt with the bag and rope.

Step 3: Touch all over

Most importantly, all horses should be desensitized to having things running between their legs (dogs, children, ropes) because at some point in their lives it is bound to happen.  In the images you can see how I will purposefully swing the bag beneath the colt’s belly then drag it towards me and the colt from the opposite side.  Again, this engages their “thinking brain” and teaches them not to react.  This builds confidence between the horse and human as well.  At this stage they start to check in more often and almost seem to ask a question like, “Is this something you want me to do something about?”  Then you know you’re teaching the lessons that will build an excellent student to learn some pretty important things someday.

Step 4: Bag goes for a ride!

There are times when a sudden movement from a horse will send a rider off balance.  If the worst case happens and a rider were to fall off, it’s important that the horse be prepared to have things be where they aren’t expected.  This can help prevent a bad accident from getting worse.  Obviously this is serious business.  If a horse has been taught from the beginning to expect the unexpected, the odds are better that the horse will quiet and wait for help and check in, instead of letting their natural instincts of flight take over.

So we work this noisy bag all over the colts, ask them to walk, trot and lope with it.  Let it drag around behind them, let it bounce annoyingly at their sides while they are moving out.  Their response at that time will tell us just how bothered they are feeling.  Sometimes they will scoot at the sudden recognition that something is there and they cant seem to get free from it, but with proper preparation beforehand, it is sometimes just a little scoot and then they even out.  This will tell us what their response might be like for the first time it’s one of us up there instead of the bag going for a ride!

Equitrekking.com – October 2013

New Year’s Dude Ranch and Horseback Riding Vacations

Looking to do something different to ring in the New Year? Get out of the city and experience the Western, the exotic and the fun traditions at ranches and horseback riding destinations that offer celebrations on New Year’s Eve.

From Mexico to Colorado and Israel to Arizona, we’ve compiled some interesting and enticing getaways for a memorable New Year’s celebration. These dude ranch and riding vacation owners have organized special experiences for New Year’s Eve, so you can enjoy the cultural traditions of each area and go horseback riding, too.

#1 New Year’s Travel Pick–– Vista Verde Ranch, Colorado

Vista Verde Ranch, a luxury guest ranch in Clark, has a grand New Year’s celebration. It starts with a wine pairing dinner for the adults, during which the kids and teens go down to the indoor arena for a mini-carnival type party, including pizza, games and more. Then the families meet up after dinner for a Cowboy New Years. Ranch staff clear out the furniture in the great room, decorate the place like it’s going out of style and then host a barn dance with the families and staff. The ranch has fun activities going on over on the sidelines in between dancing and socializing.

In fine rancher style, early to bed and early to rise, Vista Verde Ranch rings in the New Year with the folks on the East Coast (so it’s only 10pm Colorado time) with the one and only Vista Verde Boot Drop and firework show. Ending the night a bit early makes it doable for the kids and allows everyone to get some rest as they hit it hard with the outdoor adventures the very next morning. This year the ranch will hold the Vista Verde Ranch Arena Bowl on New Year’s Day. Guests have been told to don grubby clothes for a game of touch football and some good times in the indoor arena. There are only two cabins remaining for New Years at the ranch!

#2 New Year’s Travel Pick–– Rancho Las Cascadas, Mexico

Add some Mexican flair to your New Year’s Eve at this boutique Mexico guest ranch, which has only one room left. At Rancho Las Cascadas, guests enjoy a traditional Mexican New Year, including fireworks, a family dinner, sparkling wine, music, ringing bells and more. You’ll experience unique traditions at this festive New Year ranch celebration. For example, lentils are spread around the door as a symbol of abundance, meant to drive anything bad from the previous year out of the home. The ranch also offers unlimited horseback riding–– not nose to tail–– on Mexico’s open range on 500,000 acres and through beautiful countryside.

#3 New Year’s Travel Pick–– C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado 

At this Granby, Colorado guest ranch, which has been operating since 1919, guests ring in the New Year at a traditional western-swing dance or during a torch-lit ice skating or a moonlight cross-country ski tour. The midnight countdown includes a live band. The ranch also offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy the snow. C Lazy U has shuttles that will take you to Granby Ranch Ski Resort and Winter Park Ski Resorts. You can sled down the C Lazy U Luge or play hockey on the frozen pond. There is horseback riding in the morning and afternoon, and in the heated indoor arena, as well as a hot tub for soaking after time on the trails.

#4 New Year’s Travel Pick–– Elkhorn Ranch, Arizona

Celebrating New Year’s Eve at Elkhorn Ranch, fifty miles southwest of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert, is a family affair. Kids are welcomed to the ranch’s special New Year’s Eve party, where the piñata is always a hit for the little ones. The ranch also has a midday feast on New Years Day. Guests can play outdoors in the Arizona sun, horseback riding in the picturesque Baboquivari Mountains and the open Sonoran desert country of the Altar Valley.

#5 New Year’s Travel Pick–– Sundance Trail Guest Ranch, Colorado 

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in North Central Colorado offers a quirky December 31st New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Party. During the “all evening” affair, which starts with appetizers before dinner, guests untangle each others’ half-truths, evasions and hijinks. The murder mystery game is solved prior to midnight and includes Champagne toast as 2014 commences. The New Year’s extravaganza also includes a morning brunch and morning or early afternoon horseback ride.

#6 New Year’s Travel Pick–– Sirin Riders, Israel

Sirin Riders, which offers all-inclusive equestrian vacations on Quarter horses and Appaloosas in Israel, has a 9 day, 8 night horseback riding vacation departing December 28th, 2013. The Tour Israel horseback riding vacation starts at the north of Israel in Galilee and ends in the Judea Desert. It includes a special excursion to swim in the Dead Sea at the end of the ride. Guests stay in country lodges, get one night camping in the desert and one night in a hotel in Tel Aviv, making for a diverse New Years holiday vacation.

Valentine Vacation in Colorado

By Steph

Imagine waking up in a warm bed at Vista Verde Ranch on Valentine’s Day morning.  Your sweetheart is next to you, bundled up under a cozy comforter, still snoozing.  You look outside and see snow lightly falling on the trees.  What to do today?

An early morning dip in the hot tub as you watch the horses start moving around for the day.  Following a hearty breakfast in bed you are heading out on a snow shoe tour with one of the ski guides.  Or, maybe you decided to work on your horsemanship skills with one of the wranglers in the indoor arena?  Don’t forget, you also have a sleigh ride for two planned in the afternoon after some quality time wooing your honey on the sledding hill.  Nothing speaks romance like screaming down the sledding hill, hand in hand.

Of course, the highlight of the day is the ever popular Aphrodisiac dinner prepared by Cholly, John and the chef crew.  Creative cuisine paired with wonderful wines, and then later in the evening…..that’s completely up to you.

Intrigued?  Learn more about our winter vacation packages and plan your romantic Valentine’s Day getaway now.

Kids, Bikes and Colorado sunshine

By Steph

Last Friday the kids from the North Routt Charter School loaded up their bikes into large horse trailers and headed to Vista Verde for a day of biking and fun times at the ranch.  Luckily the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so the kids had a hay day goofing off on their bikes all around the ranch.  Some went out on the single track trails, some headed to the bike skills park and some of the little ones just puttered around on the dirt roads.

Steve and Kelli played host to the kids by teaching them new skills and encouraging them to have fun on their bikes, no matter what their ability.  The ranch was buzzing with excitement and the sounds of giggling.

After riding, playing and having a picnic lunch, the kids loaded back on their bus, the bikes back into the horse trailers and they headed off to school.  Part of the curriculum for the North Routt Charter School is Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) and Service Learning. For example, student-owned projects enable the students at NRCCS to learn academic subjects while connecting to the people and places in our community. All three of these educational programs encourage our students to use their “place” as a learning resource, incorporating direct learning experiences into core curricular activities.

It was great to be a part of the student’s learning and we loved sharing the ranch with them for the day!

Coming Soon…..Willie the Moose!

By Steph

This past summer, I had the pleasure of working on a really exciting project with one of our talented staff.  Maddy O’Neil came to the ranch as a ranch hand for the summer, after visiting the ranch as a guest last winter.  He has a background in illustration and aspirations of creating a children’s book.  So, not having planned on putting together a children’s book for our Vista Verde friends, I suddenly found myself working with Maddy on putting this concept together in one summer.

Maddy crafted the vision and spent countless nights sitting in the Lodge drawing in his sketchbook.  As he and I met weekly the story came together page by page.  It went from sketch book to computer and now to the printer.  When Maddy revealed the book at our end of season staff party the room was filled with laughter that just wouldn’t end….and you will see why soon.  It’s a charming story of a sweet moose who is trying to find his place at a little dude ranch in Colorado.

Keep your eye out for the books to go on sale soon, and you can have your own copy of Wille the Moose!


October at a dude ranch

By Steph

This year we tried something new for the ranch.  With so much demand for the fall ranch stays in September, we decided to extend our season a couple weeks into October.  It was an experiment to see if we could get guests to come visit us in October– a time when the chance of weather is a bit higher, but also a time that can be one of the most stunning months of the year.

Success!  Or, at least by our count it was a great success.  We had a really nice number of guests who came to try out this new season.  Many of them got two seasons for the price of one, as guest Traci told me with a laugh.  We had days of blue skies, warm sunshine and a forest full of golden aspens.  And then we had snow–magical, fluffy, amazing snow like nothing we’ve seen in October before.  As you can see from this photo, we didn’t let the weather stop us, and the contrast of the snow with the golden aspens was off the charts.  Many of the guests came for our standard week-long stay, but some tried out the shorter stays we were offering during these two weeks.

Will we do it again?  Absolutely!  It was a great time to celebrate the transition of the seasons, enjoy cozy-ing up to the fire each evening and share this time of year with some wonderful people.

Now the ranch is closed until mid-December.  It’s a time for gathering up as a team and hashing out what worked and what didn’t, what we want to change for next year, and what we want to keep the same.  The bikes are being put away and the skis hung up on the racks.  The saddles are getting cleaned and oiled.  Horses are getting some extra training and projects are getting checked off the list.  The scaffolding is up in the Great room for dusting those magnificent beams and changing those very hard to reach light bulbs.   Through all this we’re still answering the phones and emails and getting folks booked for this winter and next summer.  We thank everyone who made this past summer and fall so amazing, and look forward to playing with those of you who are planning your winter stays soon!


Equitrekking- September 2013

10 Great Dude Ranches for Advanced Horseback Riding, Lopes & Gallops

September 30, 2013

Dude ranches are synonymous with horseback riding, but many experienced horseback riders want to know about ranches where they don’t have to ride “nose-to-tail” and can perhaps lope (canter) and even gallop. Whether you’re an English rider, dressage enthusiast or cutting horse queen, there are a variety of dude ranches where you can find challenging horseback riding on quality horses.

Check out the below 10 great dude ranches for advanced horseback riding. Have a place you’ve been you’d recommend, please let us know your suggestions!

1. Rancho Las Cascadas in San Agustin Buenavista, Mexico

This boutique central Mexican ranch, located on a mountain plateau, has flat fields and quiet unpaved roads that are excellent for gallops for confident riders. Read a traveler’s review of riding here.

2. Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch in Winston, New Mexico

This New Mexico guest ranch does not require you to stay in a line “nose to tail” and does offer trotting and loping for capable riders where the terrain allows. They also offer games on horseback at all gaits and can accommodate all ages and levels of riding skills.

3. Drowsy Water Ranch in Granby, Colorado

This Colorado guest ranch has over 100 head of horses and horseback riding is their primary activity. Advanced riders have many opportunities to explore and blaze trails while handling their horses from leisurely walks to smooth lopes and gallops.

4. Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Madison, Georgia

This ranch is unique in that it’s located in Georgia, but also in that it allows unguided riding for qualified guests, meaning you can take a horse out on your own. Small guided groups are always available. You’ll be encouraged to groom and help tack the horses for a true hands-on and bonding experience. Riders may trot and canter either guided or unguided while here– conditions permitting, of course.

5. Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

This horse lovers’ luxury dude ranch offers adventurous trail rides in small groups that accommodate all riding levels. There are plenty of opportunities for more advanced trails and faster horse riding. They also have a beautiful outdoor arena and for winter, a full-sized and heated indoor riding arena. Ranch Trainer Terry Wegener, a NRHA Money winner, has a background in reining and ranch versatility horse training, competition and judging. Horsemanship clinics include basic horsemanship and more focused cattle work clinics. For a more intensive riding experience, join the fall cattle round-up, which takes riders into the National Forest.

6. The Hideout Lodge & Ranch in Shell, Wyoming 
This Wyoming working cattle ranch is great for experienced riders who want a bigger working ranch experience amid a small number of guests and no “nose to tail” riding. Advanced riders will experience high end horses and instruction with experienced wranglers, charro’s, cowboys and cowgirls. Guests may be able to lope during the intermediate and advanced rides, where the terrain allows.

7. Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
Guests who pass the lope test can ride fast when the desert trails allow at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, which has some challenging desert terrain. Watch out for those cacti! The special Harmony with Horses program works with riders to develop extensive horsemanship skills and better self understanding through horses.

8. Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana

In addition to the exciting and challenging ranch sorting and team penning in the arenas, guests are challenged during a rodeo with barrel racing, pole bending, stake race, and the keyhole race. While you’ll frequently be climbing on mountain trails at a slower pace, the meadows and pastures allow for more aggressive, faster ride with loping through more open country.

9. White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona

Experienced riders may enjoy loping/ cantering through the desert on adventurous fast rides at this longtime Arizona dude ranch. Rides range from fast to slow and include options for all day rides, mountain terrain and, back at the ranch, team penning.

10. Hideout Ranch in Rodeo, New Mexico
This is a true riding ranch. Guests ride over a million acres over three mountain ranges. Each trail is unique in both scenery and challenge, with some trails climbing to eight and nine thousand feet elevation. There are areas on many of our trails where the urge to lope is too strong to resist – particularly the Parade Grounds at Rucker. Guests are welcome to join ranch owners and wranglers when they work cattle, which presents an entirely new skill set. Since riding is the focus, Hideout Ranch offer lessons both in the Round Pen and out on the trail. Longtime horse owners often visit this ranch and they too learn something new.

Metrowest Daily News – October 2013

Travel and Adventure: Colorado dude ranch combines activities, serenity – Metrowest Daily News

By Lesley Sauls

From a pre-dawn hot tub on a sheltered deck I could hear the squeak of horses’ hooves in the snowy pasture next to my cozy log cabin. Gentle nickering and snorts were their way of welcoming me to this winter wonderland’s hushed corner, and above us a meteor streaked across the twinkling sky. It was the beginning of my first day on an operating dude ranch in northern Colorado.
Vista Verde Ranch was founded in the 1930s and remains home to more than 70 horses that are used by guests, ranch hands and breeders. After my morning soak, I joined some of the staff and other guests for breakfast in the main lodge, a massive timber-frame structure that houses a fireplace big enough to stand in, to learn what my day would entail.
When I had arrived at the ranch the previous evening in search of some much-needed solitude for a long weekend, I walked into what is known here as Happy Half. For a half-hour prior to the evening meal wine and gourmet appetizers are served to guests who mingle and chat with well-informed staff members about what activities they would like to try the following day.

I had mentioned an interest in taking a trail ride, and the ranch’s general manager suggested I might first enjoy a riding lesson with one of the veteran wranglers. I was reluctant, having been on horses sporadically throughout my life. I’d hoped instead for the thrill of a snowy trail ride, but his sun-browned and smile-creased face coaxed me into accepting.

Thus my first day began with a horsemanship clinic that I had expected would be mostly review. I was delighted to find that I learned more in those two hours than I’d ever known about horses. I was soon walking and jogging on my mount with more focus and dexterity than I’d ever experienced. The time flew, and then it was time to climb onto a horse-drawn sled with another wrangler to deliver hay to the horses that had greeted the day with me.

They were eager for their meal, and a few bold steeds chomped into hay bales to pull them right off the sled. Others were more patient and waited for us to pause and toss their dinner to them. We rocked and bumped slowly around the pasture and back to the barn when our load was gone.

Lunch at the ranch was a social affair for guests and some of the resident dude string and students who come to this remote area for summer or winter jobs. There I met the Ohio Group, a cross-country ski club who have made this ranch their annual gathering place. These mostly retired athletes energetically explained the difference between skate, classic and telemark skiing, all of which are available at Vista Verde, so I was ready when my afternoon activity began — backcountry and telemark skiing.
My patient guide, Brandon, took his time to fit me into proper bindings and snow gators over snug boots at the ranch’s well-stocked Nordic center. We drove down the road and across the Elk River, where he pointed out Mount Zirkel, a visible landmark at the Continental Divide, and Hahn’s Peak, another nearby mountain.

The ranch sits between these peaks in the Routt National Forest, and its guides trek with guests daily into the 3 million acres of wilderness on snowshoes and skis.

My adventure began with simple moves to learn how backcountry skis function with their grippy bottoms and wide footprints, and in time I was telemarking down pine-filled slopes between frozen cascading beaver ponds covered with fluffy snow that made a soft landing for my not-so-skilled tumbles. We proclaimed ourselves on a moose hunt and successfully found evidence of their recent presence in the area. I couldn’t wait to share my stories with the Ohio Group.

When the head ski guide overheard my enthusiasm at Happy Half, he commented about backcountry skiing, “Mother Nature does the grooming, and the same Mother Nature never shows up twice.”
Despite my backcountry delight, I couldn’t be so close to Steamboat Springs without taking time to downhill, too. So after a second morning of equine snuffles and whinnies heard from the therapeutic hot tub I headed into town with a supply-seeking ranch hand. There I rented skis, picked up a lift ticket and soared into a quintessential Colorado bluebird sky on the Thunderhead Express.

From that point I picked up trails and lifts that took me all over the mountain. Lunch at the Four Points Hut included steamy chowder that warmed me to my chilly toes. A gregarious ski-school class of students from Florida, Alabama, Illinois and Australia invited me to join their group in their search of a bear den and a previously spotted porcupine napping in a pine tree. Not wanting to miss such an opportunity, I joined them on the run that was aptly named, “Why Not?”

Back at the ranch that evening, a pre-dinner steamy soak was necessary therapy for muscles that had been too long away from the kind of exercise they were experiencing this weekend. I only had one more day to enjoy my solitude at the ranch, but I was first in line at Happy Half to sign up for more activities that would take me out into the vast wilderness surrounding me.
“This is the kind of place that makes you redefine space,” I overheard one guest say.
In addition to the Ohio Group, I met a newlywed couple and a seasoned wrangler from a neighboring ranch who taught me horse lingo with his equally qualified and delightful wife. I soon sounded almost like a local when I chatted about highline feeding, pack strings, snaffle bits and panniers. Dinner with these newfound comrades-in-snow — grilled steelhead trout with beluga lentils, wild mushrooms, charred scallions and white wine beurre blank — topped off another day in snowy paradise with lip-smacking style.
When I walked into the lodge on my last full ranch day, I found my name on the activities whiteboard next to the much-longed-for trail ride. I also was signed up for a short sleigh ride that included a warm lap blanket and steamy cocoa, a brief spin around the ranch on a fat-tired snow bike and one last backcountry/telemark moose hunt in the woods with Brandon.
It was hard to leave the peaceful ranch where none of the eight cabins has cellular, television or Internet access, and the only way to contact the outside world is through Wi-Fi provided in the lodge. I had been regenerated by the sweat and serenity I found at Vista Verde.

Brandon had said to lean into my discomfort to find my growth when he taught me to telemark. I might have fallen more often than I leaned during my stay, but I left the ranch with a good bit of growth, too.

Getting there: Multiple airlines serve Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, Co., a 45-minute drive from Vista Verde Ranch, or you can fly into Denver and rent a car or take a shuttle for the 3.5-hour drive across the Continental Divide.
Where to stay: Vista Verde Ranch offers winter activities primarily for adults but has two weeks of winter family time that include exciting activities for children. Their summer activities are all family-friendly: www.vistaverde.com
Where to downhill: Steamboat Springs at www.steamboat.com
Where to rent: Equipment is provided for ranch activities, but to find downhill equipment for a day on the slopes, go to Steamboat Pro Shop: www.steamboat.com.


Baylee had a little lamb

By Steph

Often times we see wildlife around the ranch or out on the trails.  You may have seen the crazy moose photo on Facebook last week.  If not, check it out.  This one was a little too close for comfort, but luckily everyone minded their p’s and q’s and Mr. Moose left without any fuss.  Then there are the wild cows.  They were supposed to be good kids and cooperate with getting rounded up in September.  However, this bunch was so unruly and wild that many of them are still out there in the woods enjoying the bounty of a wet summer and luscious grass.  Of course there have been deer, bald eagles, elk, fox and more other wonderful critters spotted around the ranch.

But, the most laughable “wildlife” story recently was that of Baylee and her little lamb.  One unsuspecting fall day Baylee hopped on her horse with some guests and headed out towards the National Forest for a nice, long ride through the aspens.  What she wasn’t expecting was a black sheep to come hunt down her ride, attach herself to the group, and follow them back to the ranch.  No joke, this lamb joined them for a long ride through the mountains before following them back to the ranch.  Upon returning to the ranch, the lamb decided she wanted to join the herd.  However, the horses weren’t so sure about that.  The wranglers said they have never seen such a sight as the entire herd going after the lamb like it was some foreign invader.  Baylee’s little lamb was rescued out of that mess and put into a pen.  She spent a week or so at the ranch while we tried to find her rightful owner.  No luck there but we were able to find a home for her at a neighbor’s small ranch where she is now living with some other farm animals.   So, just remember, you never know what you will run into out in the woods!

Life as a Ranch Dog


Meet Oliver.  He is one of our “behind the scenes” ranch dogs at Vista Verde.  Unlike Rosie, who likes to join hikes and ski trips,  and Trooper, who takes part in horsemanship clinics and trail rides, Oliver lays pretty low.  Although behind the scenes, he still has benefited from the great natural dog food that our good friends at the Honest Kitchen provide for our resident ranch dogs.  Oliver belongs to Erica (runs the kids program) and John (chef) and here is his story:

Oliver is no ordinary ranch dog!  He was was discovered at 2 weeks old on a beach off of the gulf of Thailand when Erica was still living and teaching in Bangkok.  After raising him in the busy city of Bangkok, he soon became a beach bum in Florida for a few years.  Once Erica met and married John, and relocated to Colorado, Oliver transitioned into the life of a rocky mountain dog!  Oliver loves life as a ranch dog- he gets to go on long hikes in the beautiful forest, play in the plentiful snow, and chase after those pesky marmots.  While Oliver is always working up an appetite at VVR, he remained a very picky eater.

It wasn’t until Honest Kitchen was introduced into his diet that he actually looked forward to his next meal.  He now waits excitedly, wagging his tail, to be served when before he would have to bribed with all sorts of treats on top.  Ollie cannot get enough of Honest Kitchen dog food and I have no doubt that this food will keep him healthy and happy!

Aventura Magazine- September 2013

When Stern Bloom Media partners David Bloom and Michael Stern take a break from the year-round heat of Miami, they pack up their ski gear and go west—this time, to Vista Verde near Steamboat Springs.

When the words “snow”, “mountains” and “Colorado” came out of Michael’s mouth, I thought, cool, you want to go skiing?  But, when more words came, words like, horses, stables, and dude ranch—a flood of not-so-enticing images flashed through my mind: leathery-skinned cowboys, smelly horses, cold baked beans and freezing our butts off by the campfire in the middle of winter. No thanks!

He argued that this would be an adventure, an opportunity most people would never have. Plus, he added, what if you could enjoy the best of both worlds? What if we go downhill skiing for a few days and then spend a few more days at the dude ranch? He then directed me to some online reviews about this dude ranch (which turned-out not to be a dude ranch at all, but rather a luxury ranch resort) known as Vista Verde, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

I spent the next 10 minutes reading the reviews, 100 percent of which were positive. Endorsements such as Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence, a Fodor’s Choice designation and the AAA Four Diamond Resort award only fueled my enthusiasm and intrigued me further. Vista Verde is an all-inclusive, year-round destination that caters to families, singles, couples, groups and clubs. I went from intrigued to excited in no time, so we switched gears and launched into the planning phase of our trip.

We decided to fly directly into Steamboat Springs’ Hayden Yampa Valley Airport (this proved to be a sound decision, because the alternative was to fly into Denver and drive four-plus hours to the property). We would then go straight into Steamboat Springs for a few days of downhill skiing, then head over to Vista Verde for another three days of serious outdoor adventures before returning home (there’s a limit to how much independence our loving wives allow us to enjoy at any given time). Once our bags were packed, we headed to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where we boarded a Southwest flight to Denver International; from there, we flew into Hayden Yampa Valley Airport, which is about 30 minutes away from Steamboat Springs. As promised, the good people of Vista Verde picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel in Steamboat Springs. (We stayed at the Steamboat Grand, which was right across the street from the ski lift. For more information visit steamboatgrand.com.)

After two fantastic days of skiing at Steamboat Springs, we were collected by the friendly people at Vista Verde in their SUV and driven to the ranch about 45 minutes away, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But, what Michael and I came to learn very quickly is that this is exactly the point: to get away from the stresses of everyday life. A certain metamorphosis began the moment we crossed the threshold. For one, it’s a spectacle of natural beauty. Nestled at the base of the mountain, it encompasses over 560 acres in Clark County. And, because Vista Verde is a working ranch, there were beautiful horses everywhere. This place is so far removed from the big city that we were literally forced to unplug. Between limited cell phone and Internet access, and being connected to Mother Nature in such a pure way, it compelled us to relax and connect with the world in the way that it was probably originally intended by the higher powers. Vista Verde2

We made it to the main house, where we were greeted warmly by our first names as if we were family, and that’s also how we were treated by everyone—not just staff, but also our fellow guests—throughout our stay. Our greeter took us on a tour of the ranch, which was somewhat of a surreal experience in that we didn’t see a single person on the duration of the tour even though the ranch can host up to 40 guests at any given time. Where was everybody? What had we signed up for? Well, something that called up memories of sleep-away camp as a kid, where the idea is to keep guests busy with planned activities throughout the day. Of course, all the guests were busy participating in one of Vista Verde’s many activities which range from horseback riding, cross-country skiing, yoga, photography, dog sledding, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, sleigh rides, sledding and much more.

After our tour, we checked into our cabin, we expected a lot of wood and basic amenities. Well, there was a lot of wood, but the amenities were anything but basic. This place was nicer than most luxury hotel rooms. Inside were top-of-the-line appliances, high-quality furniture, a fridge stocked with beer, wine and snacks; we also had our own private hot tub overlooking the horse pasture. It felt like home, but nicer. The staff makes you feel so comfortable, it’s easy to forget where you are, and personal touches are everywhere—when you get a Vista Verde logo branded into your pancakes, you know they are all about exceeding the guests’ expectations. Speaking of food, the private chef cooks everything from scratch, and just as you expect and hope for on such a sojourn—but not necessarily from an all-inclusive experience—the offerings were all topnotch. It’s authentic western hospitality combined with the lodging industry’s highest standards at its finest—and oh yes, you get to go skiing. For more information about Vista Verde Guest Ranch, as well as its summer activities, visit vistaverde.com.

Summer fly-fishing adventures

By Brandon

Howdy friends!  Brandon here with another installment of The Fly Blog.  To the loyal fans of this humble periodical (both of you), I apologize for the time that has passed since my last posting.  I can only imagine the lengths to which you must have gone to fill your time in the absence of my musings.  I suppose my best excuse is that we’ve just been so busy having a blast with our ranch guests on the water that I’ve neglected to share it with everyone.

As I now type, a raucous late-summer storm is pelting the fly shop’s roof with hail and raindrops that appear large enough to each fill a shot glass.  It’s another in a string of rather refreshing storms we’ve been getting over the past couple weeks here.  Not enough to slow us down or dampen spirits, but enough to keep both dude ranchers and fish happy.

So let’s get caught up on the fishing…  As some of the nearby lakes and early-season hot spots began to taper off by late June, the Elk River heated up right on cue; and if I’m being honest I’d admit that I was sweating it a little bit.  Springtime rapids mellowed nicely into summer flows and fish began showing up in their predictable places.  While we waited for many of the fish to work their way back up to us – after last year’s drought conditions – Bubba and I had the opportunity to hunt out some lesser utilized fishing spots near the ranch.  Initially this was carried out to bridge the gap while awaiting the Elk River to turn on, but we came across some really good water that made for great trips and some wonderful memories along the way.  Stalking wary brook trout and cutthroats with two and three weight rods in the smaller waters of the South Fork of The Elk and the Middle Fork of the Little Snake became staple trips for us that guests looking for an adventure really enjoyed.   By mid July the Elk River was in full swing with fish feeding readily on well presented grasshopper and stonefly patterns.  In addition to The Elk and its tributaries, we’ve had a blast with some of our guests who booked private water on the Yampa River and the North Fork of the North Platte through our association with The Rocky Mountain Angling Club.  Some truly exceptional trips and a chance to get out on some of Colorado’s best fly fishing properties!

Terrestrial patterns (hoppers, crickets, ants and beetles) are continuing to produce for us now, well into September, but will soon give way to late season mayfly hatches as we march our way into fall.  Brown trout and brook trout are our two species that are fall spawners, as opposed to rainbows and cutthroats which spawn in the spring.  I’m looking forward to targeting some larger-than-average brookies in the high mountain lakes this fall; their spawning colorations are really something to see!

We still have about a month left of fishing this season before turning things over into a snowy vacation destination.  If the season thus far is any indicator of the remainder…bring it on!  Hope to see you soon.

That’s one fit horse!

By Steph

We know our horses are tough and will go for miles and miles.  Although we all work hard at the ranch, there is no doubt the our equine staff members work the hardest.  They carry our guests with a willing attitude and caring demeanor through the woods and over mountains.  The horses that make up the Vista Verde remuda are special beings, and only those who can handle the hard work and have kind hearts can make the cut.  Even though I know that, I got a great reminder of how hard they work when Faye sent me her Fitbit report for her week at the ranch.  Maybe you use Fitbit for your own personal fitness assessment and goals.  But DB the horse was the one being tracked during a week earlier this month.

As you can see, Faye and DB covered some ground while they were out playing in the Colorado mountains.  We’re a little concerned about their lack of sleep, and wonder where the party was all night?  In the barn?  Chasing owls and coyotes in the pasture?  But, more than anything we are glad to see no change in weight.  You know the food around here…..sometimes the calories burned don’t quite offset the extra intake.

Next up is to put a GPS tracker on DB so we can map out all their adventures.

Romance at a dude ranch

By Steph

You may not think of dude ranch and romance in the same thought.  But, besides the fact that I could go on and on about how a dude ranch vacation can be a really romantic vacation option, this post is not about guests enjoying a romantic getaway.  It’s about the staff.  Yes, those of you who have been here love to try to figure out what couples might have formed over the course of a season.  With a group of young people all living and working together as well as sharing a love of serving people and being in nature, how could you expect a little romance to flair up every now and then?  Yes, we preach to our staff professionalism and to be very careful getting emotionally involved with someone who you work with so closely.  But we also celebrate the wonderful pairings that have come out of the ranch romances.

This summer, we celebrated two more marriages of VVR Alumni.  Earlier in August, Cliff and Lindsay celebrated their marriage in Indiana with some other ranch alums attending the wedding.  And just last weekend Eliza and Brett tied the knot in Vermont, also surrounded by some dear friends from the ranch.

It’s so exciting to see these two couples stepping into the next phase of their lives.  We wish them all the best in their marriages and their lives ahead of them.  They have become part of a special group of people who have found romance at  this Colorado dude ranch.  I’ve lost track of the count, but it’s close to 20 couples, and the babies…..I couldn’t even begin to start counting them.  VVR Alum couples, please share your stories and updates with us in the comments section.  I know there is at least one baby due soon in Idaho, but maybe even more on the way elsewhere?

Fall is coming to the ranch

By Steph

One of the many joys of being at Vista Verde year-round is watching the seasons change each year.  Every year the timing is a bit different due to the weather we have had and are having at that time.  I find myself remembering differences in the various years based on how it ties in with various weeks at the ranch.  For example, this fall I am reminding myself that during past years the fall colors are popping out already during our first cattle round-up week.  This year they have been a little more shy and seem to be waiting for future weeks.  Having said that, the lead up to the full explosion of colors is almost as exciting as the time when golden aspen leaves fall on the trail below our feet and hooves.

Prior to the trees changing, there are these subtle color shifts that occur in the forest.  Our wonderful Jess captured some of these recently when she went out riding.

If you haven’t experience fall in Colorado you should run, not walk, to your computer and start planning that trip.  It’s not the same as the East coast explosion of colors, but it is truly magnificent.  Every year I am reminded and astonished by the beauty of the fall season.  The angle of the sun shifts so the light is mystical, especially more so in the morning and evening hours.  The colors are rich and the contrast with the beautiful blue sky is extreme.  There is no better time to be out in the forest riding, hiking, biking or just sitting.

This is the time for adult only weeks and now we are starting our cattle round-up outings.  It’s so fun to watch couples enjoy a romantic getaway or a group of girlfriends share laughter on their special time together.  But, aside from the stunning scene playing out in the forest what we love the most is the sound of joy.  My good friend gave me that term last week as she described the noise in the dining room one night.  It was loud.  And it was joy.

Plan your trip.  Book that ticket.  Even if you aren’t coming to Vista Verde for your fall getaway, get yourself out to Colorado!  But, I will mention that we do still have a little space during the first two weeks in October…..the colors may be starting to fade but the beauty of fall in Colorado will still be surrounding us at the ranch.

Did you know?

By Steph

Recently it struck me that we aren’t very good at letting our guests know about the healthy and/or local products that we mix into our offerings at the ranch.  We do make an effort to support local businesses as much as possible, and we do continuously look at what we are serving our guests to try to find healthy options for them.  So, I sat down to make a list and decided there is no better time than the present to share that list with you.

  1. The cabin amenities are all locally made by Steamboat Soap Company.  Soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.  We love this company, and their sister company Ranch Organics!
  2. All our coffee comes from the Colorado coffee roaster the Steaming Bean.
  3. Many ranches ship their horse hay in from the cheapest location.  We proudly support a fellow ranch family just 10 miles down the road by purchasing from them the 225+ tons of hay that we use to get through the winter.
  4. Love those eggs?  That’s because they are cage free and organic.
  5. And the dairy products?  Yep.  Organic (hormone free) milk, butter and yogurts are all out on our buffet.
  6.  The fresh and tasty lettuce and greens are all organic.
  7. Bacon!  It may not be good for you, but at least all our pork product is locally processed heritage breed Berkshire pork.
  8. Fresh made breads with organically grown wheat flours.
  9. When in season Colorado peaches, corn and lamb.
  10. Sustainably sourced, line caught fish and shellfish.
  11. Of course, we can’t overlook the greens and herbs from Bill’s garden right behind the kitchen!

A break-in, a murder mystery and a cowboy

By Steph

It was a foggy morning.  Melissa had only had 1 cup of coffee so far.  She walked into the Lodge.  Something was different.  Something was wrong.  She gasped as she saw the scene of the crime.  Laying on the floor of the store was the victim of a gruesome dude ranch prank.  The authorities were called.  An investigation took place.  Suspects stepped up and claimed responsibility.  A trial may or may not have happened.  Possibly justice was served.  Or not.

You never know what you’ll run into on your dude ranch vacation here in the Wild West.  But, we can put your worries to rest to let you know that we have taken care of the victim of the crime and have the marmots and the dogs on high alert to keep an eye out for further shenanigans.

Phew.  We can all sleep better at night now.  But, never let your eyes off of mischievous guests.  You don’t know where they may turn next.

The wonderful world of housekeeping

By Steph

Ahhh, the housekeepers.  The unsung heroes at a dude ranch.  They clean, they deliver special goodies, they launder, they iron, they take out trash…..and they do it all with a smile on their face and laughter in their voices.  How many times do they joke among each other about how their parents might feel about them using their college degrees to do this job?  It’s probably daily.  But, what is so wonderful is that they understand the huge role they play in our guests’ experience.  They understand that they have the biggest impact on our guests’ first impression.  And, they understand that without them we’d all be a glorious mess.

I love watching the housekeepers find little ways to make their job fun.  Whether it’s dance parties in the laundry room after ironing their 100th sheet for the day or having fun with a guest by leaving a ransom note regarding Willie the Moose, they make it a good time.  The other day, in the midst of delivering special requests to the cabins it began to rain.  Not just a little sprinkle, but a full on downpour.  Did that stop them?  Nope.  As you can see, the crew just found an ingenious way to keep dry and kept on going.

So, today we sing the praises of our wonderful housekeepers.  While they work on their perfectly made beds, sparkling chrome, dust-free ledges and streak-free mirrors we all can shout out a big thank you for all they do to make our guests feel like royalty.

Moving on

By Steph

I don’t think it’s bragging too much to say we have amazing people come through the gates of Vista Verde to work at the ranch.  It’s just true.  Each season brings fresh new faces alongside the veterans of Vista Verde.  It’s always so much fun to watch our staff grow and develop in this setting.  There is so much one can learn from serving others, working and living in a small community and just being in nature.  To single out any one staff member is almost unfair.  There are so many outstanding people to mention who have been an integral part of the ranch this summer.  However, I am going to single out on in particular, who has contributed in so many ways for the past 3 years.

As Reid Morgan moves on to his next chapter in life, it is fitting to send a public farewell.  So many of you have enjoyed his laughter, his intellect and his  genuine and caring nature over these years at the ranch.  From playing his fiddle, leading rides, or taking out a mountain bike adventure, Reid has left his mark on Vista Verde.

So, we send Reid and his dog Dodger down the trail on their way to Boulder, CO where Reid will pursue an MBA with our thank you and best wishes.  We’re pretty sure we’ll be seeing him from time to time as he sneaks away from city life to breathe some fresh air and get the smell of horses back on his boots.


Chef’s Corner: S’mores cookies

Nothing says summertime like S’mores.  This summer we have been enjoying a new creation by our chefs that takes the traditional s’mores concept and turns it into a cookie.  So, if you don’t have access to an open campfire and long sticks, you can always try out this recipe.  Enjoy!

S’mores Cookies (makes 2 dozen cookies)


  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup, mini marshmallows, left out to stale for 24 hours



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl add the buttermilk, molasses, vanilla extract and melted butter.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients into the wet, when thoroughly mixed (but not over mixed) add the chocolate and marshmallows and mix until just combined.
  5. Drop by tablespoons on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake on middle rack in the oven for 5 minutes, rotate the pan and finish baking for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Enjoy!

Gayot.com Top 10 Family Resorts – August 2013

Gayot.com Top 10 Family Resorts in the US

Family Fun from Coast to Coast

Geographically diverse, the U.S. offers an overwhelming range of destinations when it comes to planning family getaways. From Wild West ranches to laid back beaches to urban escapes, this list will help you hone in on a place for every interest. It also takes the adult factor into account. You may be a parent, but this is your vacation too, which means you want more than just water slides and bingo nights. What’s wrong with a great wine list, spa treatments and golf for mom and dad, along with circus activities, scavenger hunts and fire truck rides for the kids? Understanding the needs of adults and children, these properties are not only for staying together, but for playing together — and apart — while on holiday.


Steamboat Springs
Vista Verde

You gotta love a place that boasts its own Kid Wranglers. No, these babysitters in boots don’t round ’em up and rope ’em in. Instead, they teach horseback riding basics and fill tiny bellies with nutritious food while mom and dad enjoy a wine tasting class or dinner by candlelight. From the welcoming day hayride to the marshmallow roast on the last night, Vista Verde’s all-inclusive getaways are filled with traditional ranch activities and a few unusual extras, such as gold panning and fire truck rides — complete with sirens blaring — into town for hand-cranked ice cream. The ranch has separate programs for younger children and teens, so the older kids can play it cool while mountain biking or embarking on an overnight campout. And if you’d like to come in the winter, kids will find just as much to do, with skiing, snowshoe outings and igloo building. Just outside Steamboat Springs, this all-inclusive working ranch offers lodge accommodations, private cabins, multi-course dining events, hands-on cooking classes and adventure for all ages.

Read more at http://www.gayot.com/hotels/bestof/top10/10best-familyresorts-us/vistaverde-clark.html#ZLec5TpGRh1fltQb.99

The fun of the Front Office

By Steph

Being a part of the front office team at a dude ranch makes for some great stories.  We love to help people, and we get regular opportunities to serve our guests face to face, on the phone and via email.  But, while most of these interactions are not news worthy, I have started to think we should write a book about the more interesting, humorous or touching moments that we do share with people.

Before I begin to attempt a book about dude ranching (maybe during retirement?) I wanted to share a few memorable experiences we’ve had in the past couple weeks.

Alaya’s egg salad

The fax machine started beeping.  Alaya steps to the machine to retrieve the incoming fax.  And there she finds an order for 300 pounds of egg salad.  Apparently, someone thought our food looks good enough that they wanted to order some to go?  Definitely a first for us, and although we pride ourselves in finding our way to “yes”, in this case we had to find our way to “no”.

A special overseas friend

I spend a lot of time on email each day.  But, every once in a while I receive one that gave me pause.  The other day, I received the most lovely note from a woman overseas.  She wrote that we had corresponded 7 or 8 years ago, and that she had never forgotten the place or stopped dreaming about coming here.  She not only remembered my name and the fact that I had been helpful to her all those years ago, but she has been following the ranch ever since.  In that time she was married and subsequently went through a bitter divorce.  All through that, she has kept the ranch on her bucket list and was starting to dream about coming back.  This email turned into a wonderful back and forth as we explored the idea of making this dream a reality as well as learning about her and her life work and experiences.  Lucky us to have those kinds of interactions with people all over the world.

Scuba diving

Every now and then we’ll receive an email that makes us wonder, “Was this a joke?”  The one asking the whether there is scuba diving offered anywhere near the ranch definitely fit in that category.  I’m not sure what you’d find if you tried to scuba dive at Steamboat Lake, but we’re guessing there aren’t any hidden coral reefs.

Real Housewifes of Vista Verde

As I was wrapping up this blog post, the phone rang.  A director from one of the Real Housewives series was looking for a ranch to take the wives.  They wanted to get them out of their element.  Yep, this would be the place to do that.  But, as luck would have it, we are full when they wanted to come out.  I can only imagine what it might have looked like to have them here……

So, we may not have stories of chasing cows or hiking to new peaks, but we do still have a little fun here at the front office of Vista Verde.

Filthy, Sobbing Kids

By Steph

This summer is a unique one for me.  For the first time, my children are joining the kid’s program at Vista Verde.  In the past, they may have tagged along with a babysitter overseeing them.  But this year, they are jumping in with their little cowgirl boots and jeans.  The past two weeks have been an amazing eye opener for me.  Here is what I have learned:

1) The kid’s program at Vista Verde is amazing.  Yes, I always knew that, and always sang the praises to potential guests.  But, I now believe it with such intensity, that I am not just singing, but singing in tune.

2) The kid wranglers are saints.  I could actually say this about anyone who works with children.  The patience, energy, kindness and did I mention patience that they practice on a minute by minute basis is unbelievable.

3) Horses really are a kids best friend.  Here my girls have grown up around horses, but I am once again reminded about the power of forming a relationship with a horse.  I have a note sitting on my desk to Eight Ball from a little girl that drives this point home as well.  I’ll share that one later.

4) A filthy, sobbing child is the kind of child we can all hope for at the end of a good day.  My girls were so dirty yesterday afternoon, that the tear streaks from their sobbing left tracks like war paint.  They traded off the crying, falling on the ground in a heap, kicking the back of the car seat all the way home and screaming in the shower as we attempted to remove some of the acquired dirt.  Yes, I needed a therapy session afterwards, but I knew it was a sign of an absolutely amazing day at Vista Verde.  Tomorrow I just need earplugs and a pre-game cocktail.  In fact, maybe that is something we should provide all our guests who come with children?

My kids have no idea how lucky they are to be able to be a part of something so amazing all summer long.  For those of you gearing up for your trip, just know the fun factory awaits your little ones.  Bring on the dirt!

Dude Ranch Award Season

By Steph

It must be award season in the dude ranch world.  In the past few days we have received notice of 2 awards we have won, and I just got a notice about voting opening for another award.  Get out the high heels, the bling and the ballgowns.  Well, or at least maybe I should wipe the dust off my boots?

Big thank you’s go out to Tripadvisor for bestowing the Certificate of Excellence on us once again this year, recognizing that we rank in the top 10% worldwide for traveler feedback.  Really, the thanks go to you, our guests, who have written so many kind reviews.  Often times perspective guests call up, shocked that we have so many great reviews.  I never know how to respond to that, and typically give some sort of awkward comment back like, “Well, it must be something in the water.”  What do you say?  I suppose a simple “Thank you” would do the trick.  We try our hardest to make this vacation experience the best, and we appreciate those of you who share your experiences with others on Tripadvisor, at cocktail parties, on the ski lift and in the line at the grocery store, among other places.

The second piece of mail (yep, the old fashion kind) was from Gene Kilgore’s Ranchweb team announcing that we have been awarded the 2013 World’s Best Ranches Award.  I’m guessing we’re not the only ones to get this award, but appreciate that Gene Kilgore is still singing the praises of Vista Verde to the world.

Lastly, the Signature Ranch Awards by Duderanch.com are now open for voting.  This is a fun contest each year, putting all the power in the hands of the guests.  Last year we won two of the categories, and we’d love to do it again!  If you have a minute, the voting is pretty quick, and you can even skip categories if you don’t have an opinion, or just write in Vista Verde if you’re feeling incredibly biased.  Click here to start voting.

We are humbled by your support of Vista Verde, and don’t take it lightly.  Maybe our choice of lifestyle isn’t the most high pressure work environment, but we do feel the burden of living up to your expectations and delivering you all the most amazing vacation experience we can pull off here at Vista Verde.  Thanks for recognizing our hard work!

Minitime.com – June 2013

Summer’s Sweetest All-Inclusive Family Resorts

By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

For parents with one eye on their kids and the other on their wallets, all-inclusive resorts are the ultimate antidote to the nickel and diming that’s become so prevalent in the hotel industry. By paying one price for your accommodations, meals, and a raft of activities, you can have fun with no worries that your bill will careen off the tracks like a runaway train.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to travel to Mexico or the Caribbean to find a terrific all-inclusive resort. Here are eight fabulous and family-friendly picks where you can go all in this summer without leaving the continental USA.

Tyler Place Family Resort: Highgate Springs, VT

This 165-acre, family-run Vermont resort on the shores of Lake Champlain was among the first to pioneer all-inclusive pricing in the early 1930s and has been winning fans and creating awesome summer family vacation memories for three generations. Its children’s program is, hands down, the best we’ve ever encountered, with nine age-staggered groups from babies through teens. Other highlights include a gorgeous lakeside setting, slew of family activities, delectable farm-to-table meals, and just the right amount of adults-only time. (Pre-dinner cocktail hour? Champagne cruises? Yes, please.) Top it all off with a charming summer-camp vibe, and voilà—you’ve got the gold standard in family vacations. The resort’s remarkable 90 percent return rate is proof that the Tylers are still getting it right after all these years. Good to know: Early- and late-season rates can be up to half of what you’ll pay in the peak of summer.

Club Med Sandpiper Bay: Port St. Lucie, FL

The world’s most famous all-inclusive brand has just a single property on U.S. soil. Still fresh from the $28-million makeover it received in 2011, Club Med’s property on Florida’s Treasure Coast has a full-service nursery and a standout kids’ program that comprises a tennis academy as well as–holy flying trapeze!—a circus school. Water babies will love kayaking, sailing, and stand-up paddleboarding on the St. Lucie River. Good to know: Fear not the published rates. Sales of up to 45 percent pop up so frequently that you needn’t ever pay full price.

Vista Verde Guest Ranch: Steamboat Springs, CO

Dude and guest ranches almost always offer all-inclusive pricing, and this one in Steamboat Springs is one of the most luxurious and family-friendly around. Rates include lodging in private cabins or lodge rooms, all meals and beverages, and a generous roster of activities that includes horseback riding, biking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, river rafting, kayaking, and just-for-fun rodeos in the evening. There’s even a free shuttle service to and from Steamboat Springs.Good to know: Kids need to be 6 or older for horseback riding and some other key experiences.

UCSB Family Vacation Center: Santa Barbara, CA

This beachside family camp on the University of California Santa Barbara campus garners raves for its staff of enthusiastic counselors and the wide variety of activities for kids and adults. Families get a taste of collegiate life in multi-bedroom student suites, and children can participate in one of three programs: baby and toddler care from one month to 2 years; kids’ camp for ages 3-11; or teen activities for ages 12-18. Rates cover lodging, meals, and a roster of activities that includes hiking, mountain biking, tennis, and simply kicking back by the pool, while some premium adult activities—including wine tastings, sea kayaking, horseback riding, and surf lessons—are available at an additional cost. Good to know: Families can book a one-week stay or a four-day “mini week.”

Mohonk Mountain House: New Paltz, NY

Ninety miles north of New York City, this 251-room Victorian castle in the Shawangunk Mountains appears to soar into the clouds. Upon arrival you’ll discover that Mohonk Mountain House commands its own little world complete with a pristine lake, 85 miles of hiking trails, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a grand lawn where guests can watch movies al fresco. The award-winning children’s program allows kids ages 4 to 12 to decide what activity they’ll do each day; the dozens of options include guided nature walks, animal tracking, and fossil hunts. Rates include accommodations, meals, afternoon tea and cookies, and most resort activities. Good to know: Kids 12 and under stay and eat free if you visit midweek July 7-31, 2013.

Skytop Lodge: Skytop, PA

This grand mountain resort has been welcoming families high into Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains since 1928. To make your stay all-inclusive, book the Family Fun Package including accommodations in either the main lodge or a storybook cottage, all meals, plus a huge choice of ways to play in the resort’s 5,500 forested acres, including ziplining, kayaking, archery, tennis, boating, biking, rock climbing, and hiking. There’s also an excellent supervised children’s program, and golfers get a bonus that’s virtually unheard of: unlimited greens fees. Good to know: Men must wear jackets in the Windsor dining room; ties are optional.

Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, Georgia

The most luxurious and intimate all-inclusive on our list, this beautiful lodge is located on a private island off Georgia’s coast and can only reached by boat. Built in 1917 as a private hunting lodge, the hideaway can accommodate just 32 guests and offers a VIP experience that includes gourmet meals and top-notch service. Even so, the lodge’s most exceptional feature is its setting inside a 10,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, which families can explore through naturalist-led hikes, reptile safaris, kayak tours, fishing trips, and evening owl prowls. Rates include meals, snacks, beverages, all activities, and boat transfers to and from the island. Good to know: Kids of all ages are welcome all summer; children must be 8 or older to visit October to May.

Fair Hills Resort: Detroit Lakes, MN

If you like your summer getaways affordable, old school, and unpretentious, this crowd-pleaser on Minnesota‘s Pelican Lake attracts plenty of like-minded families who return year after year. You stay in rustic lake cabins, get called to meals by a bell, and wile away the long summer days with kayaking, scavenger hunts, swimming, pony rides, fishing, tennis, golf, and sailing. The American Plan includes accommodations, meals, and a full roster of activities that includes water sports. Good to know: Kids 5 and under stay free.