While we often think of a ranch vacation that’s shoehorned into the warm summer months, guest ranches from Arizona to Montana offer an array of activities in winter from horseback riding to skiing. In Arizona, ranches specialize in creating equestrian experiences for their guests in a snow-free winter setting, while spreads in the Rockies take to Nordic skiing, sleigh rides and other cold weather pursuits.
Here are some examples:
A region known as the “Sky Islands of Southern Arizona” is home to the Nash family’s Circle Z Ranch, receiving guests November through April. Guests are treated to horseback riding on thousands of acres sweeping across lush riparian land, deep canyons and high grass valleys between Tucson and the Mexico border.
Depending on room type, Circle Z rates are from $1,264 per person for a four-night stay inclusive of three meals each day, accommodation, horseback riding, tennis, swimming in a heated outdoor pool, bird-watching, nature walks, star gazing, hiking and more. Guests can ride for a full or half day, and the ranch also offers cookout rides and gymkhana games.
“Guests are at the corrals and out on the trails, or enjoying our great food. That’s a typical day,” said Diana Nash. The ranch accommodates up to 34 (more when children are included).
However other properties in northern states interpret winter ranch vacations differently. They forego summer routines focused on hours of horseback riding to focus instead on snow-related fun. For example, Lone Mountain Ranch, an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing lodge, specializes in family ranch and ski adventure vacations that include cross country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, back country skiing and sleigh rides.
“We think we are the innovator of the modern winter guest ranch experience,” said Paul Robertson, manager. While ranch culture doesn’t vary much by season, activities here do, with opportunities to ski backcountry into Yellowstone and to ski and snowshoe on the same trails where summer guests ride horses. There are 85 km of professional groomed Nordic ski trails and 30 km of snowshoe trails and access to over one million acres of public lands. Skiing and sleigh riding begin in the first week of December and continue typically until mid April. The ranch hosts 70 guests at any given time, including the 1,500 outdoor enthusiasts who flock there in winter. Weekly fully-inclusive winter rates are from $2,300 per person, double occupancy.
At an elevation of 6,500 feet, “we try to do everything we can with snow. Socializing and dining are a big part of winter here as well,” Robertson added. The resort is 48 miles south of Bozeman, MT, in Big Sky country.
The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch east of Cody and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming opens in January and February for several weeks annually for photographers who are led by specialists, and again every other year for a week over New Years. Then guests are welcomed again in April.
“But if we have a group of eight or more wanting to take over the ranch for several days, then we open up!” said Peter De Cabooter, proprietor. Snowmobiling, horseback riding and trout and fly fishing are popular pursuits with snow on the ground. Because the days are shorter and activities must be packed into fewer hours, guests are limited to 14, whereas in summer the ranch can host 25 per week.
“If it’s not too cold to hold the gun, trap shooting is popular,” he said. The ranch also invites guest speakers from museums in Cody to share a meal with guests. On the menu? In winter, soups, and bison meat and Chilean sea bass are favorites after riding by elevations of up to 13,200 feet and through micro climates and biodiversity. Then there are fresh baked goods created daily by a pastry chef from Lyon, France. Information on winter rates is available by contacting the ranch.
Randy George is owner of Latigo Ranch, set on a peninsula of private land that juts into National Forest at the north, west and south. People bring their snowmobiles and can ski literally thousands of acres between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. At 9,000 feet in elevation, the views of the Continental Divide are stunning. This establishment that specializes in horseback riding in summer turns its hand to Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Such frozen pursuits became a favorite for Randy when this engineer-turned-rancher learned to ski on a Vermont hill served by a rope tow.
“It’s so beautiful for cross-country skiing,” George said. “We’re very quiet, secluded and scenic.” His staff grooms 50 km of trails. Some people bring “fat” bikes, mountain bikes equipped with extra-fat tires that ride in the snow. Others go sledding and tubing. “There’s still a strong ranch feel minus the horse component this time of year. There are lots of fun times sitting around the table telling stories. It’s a wonderful, relaxing time without the rush and hubbub found at so many mountain resort settings.”
The ranch hosts up to 35 in the summer and 20 in the winter. Regardless of the season guests will ask which night the short ribs, cooked for 24 hours, will be served. A per person daily rate including accommodation, meals and use of facilities is from $195 from mid December to mid March.
For additional information, rates, availability and reservations, travelers can contact the ranch directly or access two leading online resources for details and assistance in selecting the ranch that is right for them.
Founded in 2011, www.top50ranches.com focuses on where to locate and then what to expect when it comes to the world’s top dude, guest, working and luxury ranch vacations in the United States and Canada as well as Argentina, Mexico and New Zealand. The site outlines special ranch offers, events and opportunities and makes available Top50’s Concierge Service, a no-fee advice service by phone for valued Top50 Travelers who seek extra help while choosing the right ranch for their family or business group.
Another leading online resource, www.ranchweb.com, founded in 1995 and regularly updated, offers an array of dude ranches in the US, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. Arranged alphabetically by destination, these ranches also organize themselves along the lines of the number of guests accommodated at one time, the activities, and if they are meeting friendly. A multitude of activities range from horseback riding and instruction, fishing, hiking, swimming, archery, shooting, rodeos, games, cattle drives, mountain biking, winter sports and more. Potential guests of properties listed on this site have the convenience of contacting the Ranchweb Concierge Service for additional assistance in sorting through the myriad of options now being listed into 2017 and beyond.
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