There may be dude ranches out there that are as great as Lost Valley Ranch but I truly can’t imagine one better. My family visited Lost Valley during the first week of August and we were blown away by tremendous hospitality, quality accommodations, delicious food, plentiful activities, and first rate children’s program. Our week at Lost Valley easily ranks at the top of our vacation experiences and we travel about a dozen times a year. Our all-inclusive stay featured lodging, meals, horseback riding, activities and entertainment. How much did the kids love it? Well, this is the first vacation destination my kids has actually asked to move to!
My family was picked up at Denver International Airport by one of the Lost Valley Ranch employees and we rode in a 15 passenger van with another family getting ready to enjoy a week at the ranch. Airport pickup fees are in addition to your all-inclusive ranch stay. Many families choose to pay for transportation while others drive from home or rent cars and drive in. The ranch is about 2 ½ hours from Denver and is located in a remote section of Pike National Forest.
From the moment the van pulled up to the ranch and we entered the lobby for the very first time until those last seconds we spent at Lost Valley, we were blown away by the tremendous hospitality everyone at the ranch had to offer. Caroline greeted us with a warm smile and a “Welcome y’all” and the staff’s genuine appreciation for having every guest of the ranch visiting was felt all week long.
Lost Valley Ranch takes pride in its AAA four diamond status and the accommodations reflect that. There are 24 cabins available ranging in size from 1 bedroom to 3 bedrooms. Our family stayed in Leadville, a one bedroom cabin at the top of the hill. In addition to a large master bedroom it features a living room with seating and a fireplace, a small sink/mini fridge/cupboard area for snacks, and a full bathroom. The bedroom has a king-size bed, walk-in closet, and vanity area. Both the couch and love seat in the living room pull out into beds, making it possible to sleep three in the front room. Our family of four was perfectly at home, especially considering how little time we actually spent inside our cabin. Little western touches could be found everywhere including a cowboy hat wallpaper border, various horse magazines on the coffee table, cowboy boot shaped night lights, and sweet cowboy music which is turned on by staff in your room at turn down. We found it to be the right amount of western influence without being cheesy or over the top.
Leadville was at the top of the hill and is reached from the main lodge via a 2 minute climb up a set of stairs. Though it was a great workout, we sort of dreaded our walk after long hose rides. It could be harder on older folks, toddlers, or those with physical limitations. If you should fall into this category, talk to the staff when making reservations to make sure you find a cabin that will best suit your needs. There are plenty of cabins which are more centrally located.
WELCOME RODEO AND SADDLE FITTING
After settling into our cabin, we headed on down to the arena to watch the staff put on the welcome rodeo. It involved plenty of fun and games mixed in with the right amount of corniness to give us all a good chuckle. There were games of tag involving a ranch hand dressed up as a penguin, barrel races, relays, and even and event which involved three employees trying their best to stay on old Smokey the horse who despised being rode bareback and didn’t walk to far before tipping them all off. There was even a fun game of capture the boots involving the kids and the staff. After the rodeo, we headed over to get fitted for our saddles and paired up with our horses for the week. I got assigned Newcastle, an appaloosa with bunches of personality while my husband, son, and daughter were assigned Dash, Cricket, and Astro respectively. Horses and riders are paired based on both age and experience. By week’s end, we had all grown quite attached to our mighty steeds.
ALL-INCLUSIVE DINING AT THE RANCH
On the very first night we enjoyed a delicious prime rib buffet where guests sat intermingled with staff. Every member of the staff was gracious, friendly, and natural with both the adults and children. After dinner the staff put on a little show- they sang a few fun cowboy songs, including a couple they had written about the ranch itself.
The first night served as just as small taste of what was to come in both the food and entertainment department. Three (very full) meals a day are included with a stay at the ranch and there wasn’t a meal that my family didn’t enjoy. Breakfast was cooked to order with eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, pancakes, cereal, and yogurt popping up on the daily menu. Most days, adults were given two options for lunch (or the ever popular option to go half and half) featuring a variety or salads and sandwiches, each one better than the next. A couple lunches were served buffet style (such as fajitas and fried chicken) on the lawn so that guests could enjoy the fresh air and beautiful Rocky Mountain weather. Dinner usually featured two options including a variety of beef, pork, fish (amazing fish!!), and chicken dishes. There were a few buffet nights on special occasions such as the hay ride out the “Ute Jail” for bbq and a fun show put on by staff. The last night guests get to grill their own steaks or seafood to gpo along with a buffet of sides prepared by the kitchen staff.
If there is something you wanted at mealtime that isn’t already on the table, the staff makes every effort to get it there. “No” just isn’t in their vocabulary. One guest asked if they had chai tea. A couple days later the food truck rolled up the road with a delivery and suddenly she found chai tea on her table! At the ice cream social I casually asked if they had any coffee ice cream. They didn’t have any in the dining room but before I could get a word out, one of the staff members had already ran up the hill to the ice cream fountain to go grab a couple scoops of my favorite flavor. The only exceptions to these rules come with beverages. No soda is served in the main dining room (but it can be purchased at The Fountain) and no alcohol is permitted outside of the cabins. You are welcome to bring your own alcohol to the ranch (we did and so did many other guest) but in order to keep a family atmosphere, it is to be consumed away from the communal areas.
Kids often eat together which was SO NICE because we actually were able to enjoy our dinners and the company of other ranch guests. The kids had much more fun eating together than trying to sit still and behave in the dining room. There was a separate kids menu and the food was typical kid fare (hot dogs, mac and cheese, chicken fingers, pizza etc). I did notice that a couple children had serious food allergies and the chef did a great job of accommodating them. My only beef with the food is that I wish the kids were given a healthy option at mealtime as well. I could have asked for healthy options for my children (and I have no doubt the ranch would have been happy to oblige) but they would have been the only ones eating grilled chicken when everyone else was chomping on hot dogs and I can’t imagine that going over well.
Nearly every day the ranch offered two horse rides, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During these rides wranglers broke guests up into groups based on their experience and desires. There was a group for walkers, progressive beginners (those of us with little horse experience but the desire to learn more, including how to trot and lope), intermediate, and advanced. My husband and I joined the progressive beginners. We had little prior experience but wanted to learn as much as we could during our time at the ranch. The wranglers lead us at a pace that everyone in the group felt comfortable with while taking us on trails that led us to some incredible viewpoints. Much of the land surrounding the ranch was burnt by the largest fire in Colorado history which hit about a decade ago. While the scenery may be different than it was before, it is still very beautiful and since the ranch itself was not damaged by fire, there are still plenty of trees close to home. By the end of the week, both my husband and I were trotting and loping with the best of them and I was quite proud of how I had overcome all of the nervousness I had involving horseback riding.
While the parents were out on their rides, kids were experiencing two daily rides of their very own. Kids were broken up into riding groups based on age (6-7, 8-9, 10-12, and teens) and each group had their own counselor and wrangler. Younger kids went at a slower pace to fun destinations such as caves and creeks. One day they rode out to a swimming hole with natural rock waterslides! How cool is that? Parents and children are able to ride together on family ride day when each family gets assigned their own wrangler and able to get some great pictures together on horseback. On our family ride I was so proud to see how far my little ones had come.
The children’s program at Lost Valley is spectacular. Beyond the twice daily rides which are broken up into groups by age, there were several other organized and supervised activities for the kids including cowboy stories, swimming, scavenger hunts, egg toss, panning for gold, crafts, hay rides, relay races, and basically everything else you could ever imagine wanting to do as a kid. My kids adored their counselors and when my special needs son had a couple emotional breakdowns, his counselor handled him like a pro. Teens did their own thing as a group (because teenagers are much too cool to hang out with little kids or dorky adults) and really seemed to bond as the week went on. 3-5 year olds, which were too young to go on trail rides, had their own structured daily activities. These included opportunities to go on pony rides in the corral. Infants and toddlers did not have structured programs but the staff was available for babysitting at the incredibly reasonable rate of $10 per hour. Truth be told, there wasn’t a kid around who didn’t have a permanent smile etched on their face while at the ranch.
The nice thing about Lost Valley is that guests can ride as much or as little as they want but there is plenty to do at the ranch beyond horseback riding. Many guests opted to fish and many were able to feast on the trout they caught after the staff cooked it up for them at dinner. In addition to traditional fishing in the creek, there is also fly fishing which is taught by an expert Orvis fly fishing guide (this is for an additional fee). Another popular activity which was available for a small fee was trap shooting. Though I have personally made it a goal to never fire a gun, I have to admit it was pretty entertaining to watch. I did find the hiking much more my speed, especially the nine mile hike which a staff member led one morning. As much as I enjoyed my time on the horses, it was nice to take a break from the saddle and let me own legs do the walking. Other onsite activities included swimming, relaxing in the hot tub, volleyball, fooseball, ping pong, tennis, or just playing on the playground. You can also choose to do nothing at all and nobody will fault you for it!
As if all those activities weren’t enough, Lost Valley also offers its own brand of family friendly entertainment served up by its wonderful staff. Where else do cabin girls moonlight as cowgirl crooners and machine shop workers put on hilarious skits? From the opening reception songs to the skits at the Ute Jail to the melodrama at the hayloft, the staff aims to keep you having fun even after the sun sets. Other highlights include the guest rodeo, ice cream social, and square dancing night.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Be prepared to get dirty. There is plenty of dirt and kids will find it. The ranch offers coin operated laundry facilities or you can take advantage of the full laundry service for a fee.
- If you are experiencing soreness beyond the normal inner thigh aches, be sure to ask the wranglers. I was having some intense knee pain which was actually caused by my misplaced ankles. Luckily Kelly knew exactly what was wrong and showed me how to correct it, making future rides much more enjoyable.
- Nalgene bottles filled with ice water can be packed for rides. Just ask the kitchen staff for one. Wranglers are also happy to add a saddle bag to your horse to carry your water bottle and camera.
- There is no cell phone service. There is wifi and a complimentary guest phone to use for domestic calls both in the main lodge.
- There is a ranch store and an ice cream/snack shop (The Fountain) onsite. Both are happy to set up tabs. We set up at $2.00 per kid per day tab at The Fountain for after rides and the kids were over the moon and high on sugar the entire week. I highly recommend the Jumpin’ Java Shake. So good!
- It is customary to only tip the ranch staff upon departure. Lost Valley informed me that on average they receive about $250 -$500 per family.
-You are never going to want to leave.
We loved our time at the ranch. It was simply the best domestic vacation we have ever taken. While it isn’t a vacation that we can afford to take every year, it is definitely one that is worth saving up for. Our family plans on starting our very own Lost Valley vacation fund so that we can return again sooner rather than later. During our time at the ranch we met several people who had come as children and were now bringing their own kids. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement for Lost Valley Ranch, I don’t know what is.
Disclosure: Although I received complimentary lodging, dining, and activities, my reviews are always my own opinions and are not influenced by resort staff or its affiliates.
We've been going here on a family reunion every year for the last 7 years. My family only missed one year because our daughter was due the week we would have been there. This is a fabulous place to go because it is very family oriented. The people here are wonderful, and everyone can find things to do! This year, our group was over 50 people, ranging from 8 months to over 70! They do walking rides, up to rides with trotting and loping (running), and have a level for people who don't know what they are doing but want to learn over the week too!
If you are looking for a family oriented trip, that's all inclusive, this is an excellent choice! If you like being surrounded by amazing scenery, friendly people, and a relaxed atmosphere, this is somewhere you have to consider!