Rejuvenate at Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat
Vista Verde Ranch is the ultimate getaway for couples and families
Photography Courtesy of Vista Verde Ranch
THE BEST KIND OF VACATION leaves you transported, not just to a place but to a state of mind.
That’s the goal Chris Jones had in mind when he and his wife, Laura, purchased the 590-acre Vista Verde Ranch near Clark in northwestern Colorado five years ago. The property is surrounded by the Park Range on one side, and the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness area on the other. The valley and its beauty are untouched as far as the eye can see. The ranch, which can host 30 to 50 guests, has 12 individual cabins and three rooms in the main house. There are about 100 horses. There is an indoor riding arena, access to fishing and skiing, and miles of trails. Staff members tell arriving guests that they might think they came to fish or hike, but will return for something we never knew we needed or liked doing.
“We want to institute positive life change for the guests,” says Jones, “and we want to have the best guest ranch in the world.” The Joneses believe investing in staff is a key to achieving their goal. “We pour our resources into the staff and love them unconditionally. That makes the experience for our guests personal and intimate.”
While instituting positive life change might seem like a lofty goal, guests discover that is exactly what happens. “This is by far our favorite week of the year,” says
Donna Shaw, who has returned with her husband for 10 straight years. “I ride horses every day, my husband fly-fishes, we have amazing food, and we leave recharged.” Often, the Shaws, who live in Chicago, come with their adult children, who say it is their happiest time as a family.
“It is really like camp for adults,” Shaw says. Morning and afternoon activities, such as archery, horseback riding, fishing, snow-shoeing and hiking, change with the seasons. In the fall, Vista Verde is an adult-only property, so the guest count is lower. During family weeks, the activities and the staff expand in order to accommodate different age groups and different kinds of entertainment.
My fiancé and I visited the ranch for a long weekend during fall when the leaves were at their peak. I am not an experienced horseback rider but was determined to experience all the ranch had to offer. Our afternoon ride took us through an aspen grove where the leaves were falling like rain and the chill in the air reminded us that winter was on the way. After an afternoon of archery with fellow guests (where I learned that I was quite a good shot), we were hooked. We had fallen under the spell of the ranch. Then there was the food. Our first night, the dinner menu included salad, BLT risotto, crispy prosciutto with herb sauce, halibut, ravioli and braised short ribs, and cheesecake for dessert. Wine and beer are included; other beverages are available on request.
Head chef Jonathan Gillespie worked at the ranch for nine years. He briefly moved away from Colorado, coming back in 2019. He says he is back where he belongs. The food at the ranch is truly the icing on a very beautiful cake. Gillespie decides the day’s menu based on what’s fresh and available, so each meal is carefully crafted with local ingredients. Shopping local, and not just for the food, is an important part of the culture. The wooden bowls and some of the fur- niture are made from beetle kill trees, and much of the decor is made by local artisans.
“What is special about Vista Verde are the people,” says Gillespie. “Not just the guests or the staff, but the owners, who make sure that we have everything and understand first-class service.” There is a large ranch staff that takes care of the horses, there are experienced riders, skiers, fishermen and cooks. During certain weeks in the fall, guests help round up the cattle. Each person is individually matched with a horse that usually stays with them for their week. But if riding isn’t your idea of fun, there is an experienced staff member for whatever activity you want to try. The cabins are elegantly decorated with Western furniture and fine Italian linens. There are individual hot tubs on each porch.
We engaged in all the activities, ate with the other 30 guests, and even had cocktails with the horses one evening, feeding them apples and carrots.
When it snows, the hill above the horse barn is for tubing, a highlight for adults and kids alike. Jones says winter might be his favorite time of the year. The back country skiing, carriage rides in the snow and some of the best cross country trails in North America make the ranch a winter wonderland.
The last night of our stay, the staff turned into a country music band, singing and playing instruments as the guests sang and danced. Longtime returning guest Donna Judd wrote an ode to Vista Verde that she sang with the band as the others cheered her on. By the end of the evening, I truly felt like I had been at an amazing summer camp. We hugged our fellow guests and talked about returning together the next year.
After our three days, we were torn. Not about whether we would return, but when. Should we go back with our new friends or bring the family and come in the winter to see the snow in this breathtaking valley? “Each season has its own magical element, because it is such a diverse region,” Jones says. One thing I know for sure is that this was not our last trip to Vista Verde Ranch because, like so many of our fellow guests, our time there was truly life-changing.
For more information, visit vistaverde.com
Vista Verde is a luxury guest ranch offering weeklong vacations and shorter stays available in October. Fishing, biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, archery and cooking classes are just some of the activities included in the price of the all-inclusive resort. Pricing depends on the length of stay and what time of year you visit.
Lindsey Schwartz is a producer for “20/20,” ABC News and the editor of Colorado Expression Magazine.