The Best of Late Autumn and Early Winter Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Come late autumn, most the Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches (Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming) close for the season come September’s end and the last of the fall foliage. However, there are a select few ranches in each state that allow for shorter stays during some of the most magical and quieter times of the year. If you’ve ever been on the fence about a dude ranch stay, make the off-season the in-season for a dude ranch experience, and get on that horse!

Colorado has the most abundant offerings for curious folk to explore Western lure in the late season. 


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

C Lazy U Ranch, easily accessible in Granby, can even be combined with a train trip from Denver’s Union Station via the airport; guests don’t even need a car! The 8,500-acre luxury ranch celebrated their centennial this past summer and the party continues late into the year. The year-round ranch offers horseback riding, snow sports, incredible meals and cabins and suites along with a hot tub, workout facility, stunning barn and main lodge with much more.


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Located within minutes of downtown Loveland is the family-owned-and-operated Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. Come late October and into the holiday season, there are nearby bike trails with fall foliage packages and more festivities for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years' with short stays, themed weekends and incredible outdoor sports.


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in Red Feather Lakes can accommodate 24 guests, and it is this boutique nature that makes the off-season even more enjoyable. The ranch is run more like a B&B and add-on activities include a horseback ride to a lake (in warm seasons, horses even swim in the water), murder mystery weekends and other clever twists on classic dude ranch style. A hot tub, gathering area, and good home-cooked food and limitless cookies await visitors.


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Lost Valley Ranch, one of the easiest ranches to access from the metro Denver area, is open through December 1st each year and offers a great value for anyone looking to fall in love with the dude ranch culture. There is a Thanksgiving celebration week that is always a big draw, and smaller horsemanship clinics throughout the fall that allow the novices to expert riders the opportunity to build skills and confidence. 

There are so many more in Colorado! It’s truly the optimal time to test the experience. Wind River Christian Ranch near Estes Park and luxury properties like The Home Ranch and Vista Verde Ranch near Steamboat Springs typically operate into the second and third weeks in October, weather dependent; however, snag an incredible rate for next autumn now, if tempted. And, one of Colorado’s most high-end ranches, The Broadmoor’s Ranch at Emerald Valley, a branch of Broadmoor Hotel, runs a season into early November, again, weather dependent. 


Montana has one of the largest collections of massive, stunning and rare properties in the ranch portfolio. However, due to elevation and weather conditions, their season limits late autumn and winter seasons to four of their ranches.


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, runs a year-round dude ranch season. The 3,200-foot elevation makes it a bit milder then high mountain terrain and the guest capacity at 35 keeps it intimate and eventful. Winter comes early and the ranch is ready! There are B&B stays November through April in six main lodge rooms and two cabin suites. Activities might include horse-drawn sleigh rides, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice fishing and more including an onsite hot tub.


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

Rocking Z Guest Ranch in Wolf Creek might have a smaller guest count of 20, but it’s almighty in terms of autumn and winter activity. If there’s a Montana sport, the ranch certainly tries to offer guests an opportunity to experience it throughout guided instruction. From horsemanship to archery, shooting, hiking, fishing, soaking in the hot tub, and abundant winter options, the ranch is always a choice spot come quieter times in November. The large, comfortable guest rooms are equipped with cozy individual fireplaces and the onsite saloon is always roaring with spirits and festive activity. 


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

For those who are curious about hunting and the true Montana wilderness, Upper Canyon Outfitters and Guest Ranch in Alder has the smallest guest count on this list of 18, but their June through December season runs into late autumn and early winter for those truly in the know of intimate and unparalleled places in the United States! There are both youth and family hunts that are a true rarity, the fishing program runs daily, and horsemanship clinics and trail rides paired with luxury accommodations in private cabins keep the experience high end. The food will keep your belly warm and happy and the antelope, moose, deer and elk hunts and viewings, simply spectacular. 


Note; Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Emigrant typically runs into the second week of October for early planners in 2020. Rich's Montana Guest Ranch in Seeley Lake opens for the winter season directly after Christmas for early winter scouts as well! 


Wild Wyoming goes winter white quite quickly! Only two ranches keep their barn doors open to the herds come the later months each year. This is an opportune time to witness true working ranches, horsemanship and iconic Western moments. 


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

In the sleepy town of Ten Sleep, is the 26-guest dude ranch, Red Reflet Guest Ranch. The exquisite, high-end, all-inclusive operation has an enormous amount to offer come late October through December, and they also host a hunting season for tagged and licensed hunters for a variety of mammals. Horseback riding, cattle activities, ATV tours (weather permitting), fishing, a fitness center, pool, open kitchen policy accompanied with gourmet cuisine and yoga in a floor-to-ceiling windowed studio make this ranch a standout year-round. For some of the best wildlife viewing and tranquility, late October through Thanksgiving proves to be the best value and experience for those who like secret, sneak-a-way deals! 


Rocky Mountain Dude Ranches

The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch. The name alone is alluring and the late autumn and early winter experience will demonstrate the reason it’s called The Hideout, you won’t want to leave. There is a tight window for this opportunity; the ranch’s season typically ends the first week in November, weather dependent. Guests might have sun and blue sky, or snow and snuggle time. There is trail riding for all levels, riding initiations and lessons, cattle work and drives, stockmanship orientation, guided fly-fishing, trap shooting, and archery, hiking, mountain biking and more! Accommodations vary including cabins, casitas, and homes. Fine dining is offered for three meals and plenty of snacks to satisfy the late-season activity. 


If you’re a bit more flexible with the season, there are a few more ranches to consider. Spotted Horse Ranch in popular and easily-accessible Jackson, typically operates until the second week of October. Triangle X Ranch in Moose closes the first week in October for their main season but re-opens directly after Christmas until the second week of March for a winter season.


All of these dude ranches and many more are members of the Dude Ranchers’ Association and can be found at Contact Bryce or Josie at 307-587-2339 or for help on finding and picking the perfect ranch. 

Off-Season Secrets to the

Dude Ranch Seasonal Changes

The changing of season always ushers in a sense of excitement. The start or end of a school year, a shift in the climate, the grandeur of nature as it blossoms and matures. For most people, new seasons bring certain inevitable changes. We brace for the cold of winter, or relax into the cozy climate of Fall. For dude ranchers, changing seasons mean more than decorations or change of apparel. A changing season means transitioning into a different business model, or perhaps shutting down the business for a season of rest. Geography is the largest factor in determining how severe seasonal changes can be on the land. California in particular is known for its beauty and geographical diversity. In the mountains of remote northern California, the weather boasts a balanced diet of four complete seasons. The start of the year is met by the cold, brisk winter, which leaves the mountaintops with a healthy layer of snow, and a soggy, rain-soaked valley.

Marble Mountain Seasonal Changes at the Ranch

For dude ranchers,  the colder precipitous months of late fall to early spring bring a much needed break from the public eye, as well as a concurrent loss of cash flow and some serious concerns about surviving the brutally harsh weather patterns. In an especially wet year, northern Californians can expect landslides, flooding, swollen creeks and rivers, and saturated vegetation that pulls loose from soil. If the rains are warm, the snow-pack is melted and increases the runoff that drains into creeks and streams. Over time, all of these factors create road blockages and major damage on mountainsides. To a rancher in these parts, nothing is worse than heavy, warm rain after a substantial snowfall in early spring.

The care and protection of equipment and livestock are difficult during times of cold and wet. Animals both young and old need secure shelters from the harsh elements and predatory wildlife. Large machinery needs to be kept safe from moisture and the cabins and ranch buildings need to be kept dry and protected. Our trips into town for supplies also need to be carefully timed and planned between storm pulses. In mid April, when spring begins to unfurl in the mountains, the world shifts gears once more. For ranchers, this is a time of haste. What was left undone during the winter months must now be accomplished at a faster pace. Trees that have overgrown in a winter of arboreal neglect, begin to bear fruit prior to their appointed prunings.  The pruning then picks up an even faster pace.  Large tangled and brown piles of slash left in the gardens are suffocating  infant seedlings trying to take root beneath them. Livestock that has been kept behind doors for months are restless. People who have been cooped up in their houses for months due to bad road conditions are typically going cross eyed with cabin fever. It’s not a very pretty sight as this time of Winter rest is transformed into a time of panicked Spring hustle. rainbows and clouds cover the pastures of California's dude ranch.

Seasonal changes in weather and in business at California’s Dude Ranch By June, the blossoms have dispersed and the mountain range is awash in a fresh shade of green. The balmy days of spring are passed and have given way to the heat of summer. The river is lower and the foliage has matured to a darker, handsomer green. Tourists trickle down the winding mountain roads; eager for fresh mountain air and recreation. For ranchers, this is a time of work now in the eye of the public. The day is divided into three parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. The cooler air of morning and evening make them prime hours for performing outdoor chores. This means waking earlier, and going to bed later. The heat of the afternoon brings about a lull when manual labor becomes stressed under oppressing heat. 

The Summer “prime season” is the season of harvest as we execute our primary business model of a public dude ranch.  We persist in the “dude ranch” business model from May to September unless we are  interrupted by the start of wild fires in late July/ August. In the year 2016, the amount of acres burned in the United States was 46% above normal. Sadly, the charm of things turning rose colored dissipates with the decline of air quality and news of home evacuations. Wildfires have been known to last into the early part of October. For a guest ranch, this is sad news and can mean refunds on booking deposits with re-scheduled family holidays. Late September marks the beginning of the fishing season. The steady flow of city-crazed tourists has ebbed, replaced by fisherman and small groups of people seeking cozy lodging to enjoy the fall weather in.

For ranchers and landowners, coping with wildfire takes many forms. Assuming that evacuation orders have not been issued, the protection of property becomes a full-time position that rivals closely with the responsibility of guard duty at a super max. Eyes must always be keenly aware of the elements. Which way is the wind blowing? Is the smoke getting closer? Is the ash getting closer? Is there burning debris traveling with the wind? Is flame visible? How dry is the air? What is the mph of the wind? Are their sirens? Can I hear the falling of trees or the crackle of fire? It is a taxing position, one that landowners in Northern California have sadly become too familiar with. Surviving in the mountains of northern California requires one to be fire smart. This means first of all that you have invested time and due diligence in reducing the fuel load around your property improvements.  This is more than being especially observant, or being up to date with local announcements. All threatening vegetation should have been removed or reduced and available water sources, such as hoses and sprinklers, are placed near large structures for protection. If you have a hose, hook it up and pull it up to your house! And then repeat with additional hoses as many times as possible. Anything that is not fire safe needs to be secured and or relocated. Fuel tanks, flammable objects, dry debris, anything combustible, must be accounted for. All livestock should be moved to a safe location if not evacuated. All vehicles should be ready for emergency departure, with food, water, and first aid supplies as necessary.

These are the seasons of life in northern California. From an outdoor enthusiast perspective, it is a paradise of many wonders. In reality, living remotely ultimately requires more of people. It means greater emergency preparedness, increased self-reliance, a strong work ethic, and if you are lucky, an impressive stash of hot chocolate and great books. The wilderness is not just a playground, it is a living breathing force that is unpredictable and can be harsh. The only way to survive there is to be prepared, and with equal intensity, to meet the fickle demands of dear mother nature.

Marble Mountain Ranch Seasonal Changes with Snow

Cierra Sorensen Cierra Sorensen is the youngest child and only daughter of Doug and Heidi Cole.  She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband Jason and their two boys while Jason pursues a doctorate at the University of Utah. Save Save Save


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