Vista Verde Ranch, an all-inclusive luxury guest ranch is surreal, bordering 3 national forests, with 89 horses, 9 cabins, and a staff that caters to a guest’s every need. I had the opportunity to visit Vista Verde Ranch with my husband and kids, 3, 7, 11 during the winter season.
We arrived to Vista Verde’s main guest lodge where we found an amazing building with huge wooden ceiling beams, and inviting fireplace, and comfortable furniture throughout. We were then led to our cabin where a ranch hand unloaded our luggage.
Each of the cabins is named after one of the surrounding mountains. Our cabin, the “Sand” overlooked the ranch’s horse pasture and mountains beyond. We had arrived at the ranch after sundown and didn’t realize at the time that we had such an amazing view. However, when we awoke that first morning, we peered out to a mountain wonderland. My kiddos stared out the window in awe with jaws dropped, as if Santa Claus had just delivered this winter scene.
The cabin’s large porch was stocked with firewood, rocking chairs, and an inviting hot tub. Inside, the cabin had a comfortable family room with large windows and an attached dinette. The kitchen was stocked with plenty of drinks, a basketful of snacks, and a cute stuffed moose named Willey (more on him later).
Our cabin had 3 bedrooms; one with a king bed, one with a queen bed, and another with twin bunk beds. The kids immediately started arguing over the top bunk; forgetting that 3 year olds always win these types of arguments. Our cabin also had two bathrooms; one attached to the master bedroom with a luxurious 3 headed shower; the other bathroom with a large deep bathtub, perfect for bathing little ones.
There was nothing more I could have asked for in our cabin accommodations. And, if I could have possibly thought of anything I needed, I’m sure Vista Verde would have gladly obliged. The Sand easily became our fantasy home, tucked in the mountains among outdoor splendor.
ALL-INCLUSIVE DINING AT THE RANCH
After exploring our new cabin home that evening, we hurried back to the main guest lodge to enjoy dinner. This dinner, our first meal at the ranch, was a bit overwhelming. It was opening winter weekend and we were 5 of the 17 total guests among a staff of about 40. The first thing I noticed was that every staff member was smiling (and it was not one of those “I’m smiling because it’s my job and I’m being paid to” type of smile). The staff truly appeared happy, and might I suggest, privileged. Before long, we felt as if we were dining with long-lost friends or family; thoroughly comfortable with all of the staff and guests. The kids also got word, from one of the staff members, that Willey (our cute stuffed moose at the cabin), tends to get lost in the cabin during dinnertime. The staff member suggested that if the kids find Willey, he might just have a treat for them. What a fun surprise for the kids when they returned to the cabin and found a hand-written note stating that Willey had been kidnapped and it was their job to find him. Luckily, they did locate Willey and were excited that the “kidnappers” left a little snack for their efforts. Funny thing is, that silly moose got kidnapped every single night of our stay.
Dinner was served family style with a buffet of salads, grilled vegetables, prime rib, salmon, dessert, lemonade, coffee, tea, or wine. I’m salivating just thinking about the beautiful spread of gourmet food displayed. My picky eating kids were even able to find something they liked among this gourmet food.
One evening the ranch offered a formal adults-only dinner while the ranch staff dined and played with the kids. The kids had fun while we enjoyed some adult conversation with the other guests.
Breakfast had two dining options; a small “order what you want” menu and/or a continental breakfast of fresh fruit, cereal and pastries. My 3 year old loved the large pancakes with real maple syrup and my 7 year old discovered that homemade oatmeal is great comfort food when visiting a ranch in winter.
Lunch was served similar to breakfast, again offering a small menu while exhibiting a sandwich, soup and salad buffet. I rarely ordered off the menu, finding that the lunch buffet was convenient and delicious. The kids, feeling like some dining adventure, ordered a sushi plate during one lunch. They gave the sushi a thumbs-up, making me realize they may not be picky-eaters, but instead, they just don’t like my cooking!
My favorite part about dining at Vista Verde (besides the delicious food of course), was our family’s dining conversations. During the day, we stayed busy with ranch activities. Dining became “our time”, a chance to slow down, reconnect, and really talk, laugh, and discuss all of the day’s events.
Vista Verde Ranch’s all-inclusive stay includes plenty of activities to keep any family busy. These activities include horse-back riding, tubing, sledding, snow-shoeing, Nordic skiing, wine-tasting, photography clinics, and a children’s program. Furthermore, each evening the ranch had family activities which included games, snow-shoeing, bon fires and entertainment. And of course, that bubbly hot-tub beckoned us all after our active days. There is nothing sweeter than sitting in a hot-tub on a cold winter evening in the Rockies, while a 3 year old serenades you with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” while staring at the Milky Way above.
The ranch staff planned our days based on our wants and desires. Each evening, the manager sat down with us and asked us what activities we wanted to do the next day. Some of my family’ favorite activities were horseback riding, Nordic skiing, and the children’s program activities, as highlighted below:
• Horseback Riding: The ranch has a huge indoor riding arena, perfect for riding clinics, and an extensive array of trails, perfect for trail rides. Each rider is assigned their own horse for the duration of their stay. I loved this concept. My kids were so excited to tell me everything about “their” horse, from its color to its demeanor. In fact, even though we are long gone from the ranch, my kids still refer to “their” horses by name, thinking of them fondly, and missing them terribly.
• Nordic skiing: The ranch has its own Nordic center with tons of state of the art equipment, extensive trails, and wonderful guides. I learned how to cross-country ski here, and it only took 3 patient guides and a back-country trip to get me hooked on this sport. I skied over a frozen lake with a female guide who could survive with only a tent and a map; what more can a visitor ask for?
• Children’s program: The children’s program is by all means not babysitting; this place is active fun. Some of the unique activities my kids experienced, beyond trail rides and snow tubing were: Painting a horse (and not on a piece a paper, they actually painted on one of the horses); building snow forts; feeding the horses on a horse-drawn sled; and playing capture the flag in the indoor arena. The kids were thoroughly impressed that as they rode their horses around the ranch, singing ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, any staff present chimed in and sang along with them. And of course, the kids continued to sing that annoying song afterwards during our long drive home; and it’s still stuck in my head! One thing to note, although we had our 3 year old with us, she was a bit young to experience the active fun at the children’s program. My husband and I borrowed a sled from the Nordic center and took her sledding around, fed the horses on a horse-drawn sled, and had her pet every horse willing to come to the fence for some attention. She had great fun with this personal attention.
The majority of the staff were 20-somethings (just kids, to me); but smart, interesting, and accomplished; and as mentioned before, always smiling. It’s easy to see why there were so many natural smiles at Vista Verde: the staff is working in pure natural splendor, using their talents to do what they enjoy. That right there is a life lesson that I hope my kids took away from this experience. I would suggest reading some of the staff bios on Vista Verde’s website and you’ll be impressed.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
• Driving directions on Vista Verde Ranch’s website are a bit confusing. “Seedhouse Road”, isn’t clearly marked as such. Instead, look for the county road 64 sign and a small Vista Verde sign when you turn off the main road in Clark (right after you cross the Elk River).
• Read the ranch’s “what to pack” lists in order to be prepared for unpredictable weather.
• Bring some cowboy boots and a hat if you own them. If you don’t, you can borrow a pair of boots at the indoor riding arena. They even had the perfect pair of turquoise boots for my 7 year old that matched her cowgirl ensemble perfectly!
• Formal dinners are only formal in presentation. There’s no need to pack your finest suits – jeans are the norm here.
• The ideal age for kids visiting Vista Verde Ranch would probably be 6 and older. We visited with our 3 year old and she loved the experience immensely. However, my husband and I “traded-off” childcare duties and ranch activities. Ideally, it would have been fun to experience the ranch activities together while all of our kids enjoyed the children’s program activities.
• Be prepared to be thoroughly spoiled.
Driving away from Vista Verde Ranch is like driving away from Grandma’s house; a “spoil-you-rotten-and-comfortable” place. As we drove down the ranch’s mile long driveway, the kids waved goodbye to “their” horses in the snow-covered pastures beyond. It was hard to say goodbye to such luxury.
The next day, as I unpacked, I discovered that Willey the moose was kidnapped again – this time held captive in my 3 year olds suit case. I contacted the ranch to get return mailing instructions, knowing full well that Willey probably missed the ranch just as much as we did. Ranch staff told us to just keep Willey, but suggested we continue to hide him each night for the kids…poor Willey, poor us.
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.
Vista Verde is the greatest vacation experience we’ve ever had. The staff is phenomenal and I can’t say enough about their treatment and flexibility for all ages—they catered to our needs in every way. Accommodations are ranch-style and exceeded expectations. The setting is absolutely beautiful. The horses are fabulous and well-trained. Every level of riding is available here. The food was excellent and a delight to eat every night.