By Beth Buehler
The allure of the West is alive and well, and ranch visits are easy ways for social or business groups to plug into the Colorado spirit. I just returned from a weekend retreat held at Waunita Hot Springs Ranch in southwest Colorado, and our group of almost 30 women enjoyed the casual atmosphere, three generations of the Pringle family making sure the stay was enjoyable, and access to the outdoors so much that the retreat was immediately put on the books for next year. Does that happen for you with meeting destinations you’ve chosen before?
Some ranches like Waunita and C Lazy U Ranch near Granby are all-inclusive dude ranches during the summer and change up their formula for much of fall, winter and spring by offering different activities, adjusting how they charge for lodging and meals, minimum numbers of days required, etc. C Lazy U is more upscale and is all-inclusive year-round, with winter activities including snow cat and cross-country skiing, skating, sledding, tubing, sleigh rides and horseback rides. Among my favorite memories from a stay several years ago was a horseback ride through the snow, tubing, meeting other guests during social hour, a cozy and well-appointed cabin and terrific meals.
Ranches tend to have unique meeting spaces such as C Lazy U’s Patio House, Hay Barn and Main Lodge living and card rooms and can host a maximum of about 100. At Waunita, we gathered on the second level of the barn for sessions and the main floor of the lodge and in the hot springs pool for more casual interactions.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, also located in Grand County but in Tabernash, was a dude ranch in its very early days but it transformed into a Nordic skiing hot spot and now into a resort under the vision of its current owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch. Devil’s Thumb is not all-inclusive and has some dude ranch-style activities like horseback and wagon rides, but Nordic skiing still helps put Devil’s Thumb on the map for winter and there are activities like zip lining, fishing, biking and more during other seasons.
Devil’s Thumb continues to expand its capacity to host larger gatherings and multiple groups at once, something I’ve enjoyed watching over the past decade on various visits. The most recent addition is a second lodge, High Lonesome Lodge with 31 guest rooms and four suites, a private dining space known as Grotto Suraboza and High Lonesome Barn, a Civil War-era barn. There are a variety of meeting/function spaces and lodging sprinkled throughout the ranch buildings and grounds, including the similarly new Axel’s Pavilion, allowing groups of up to 200 to be hosted. The Fanchs have purchased and renovated Vasquez Creek Inn and Trailhead Inn in downtown Winter Park to provide overflow for lodging and a less expensive price point.
Surrounded by the beautiful Roosevelt National Forest and on the banks of the Middle St. Vrain River, Peaceful Valley Resort & Conference Center in Lyons can host up to 150 and includes all lodging, meals, meeting rooms and use of resort facilities in its corporate rates. The ranch’s conference center has several meeting room sizes, from the large Corral room down to smaller breakout rooms, and the main lodge features a dance hall, large and small dining rooms and a sunroom. Guests can stay in one of three lodges or 10 cabins, each with its own fireplace and hot tub. Open year-round, Peaceful Valley offers activities such as horseshoes, horseback rides, roping, cookouts, fly fishing, barn dances and more depending on the season.
There’s no need to grab the bull by the horns when planning a Western-style meeting or event in Colorado as there are ranches ready to provide the venue and the hard work so you can take off your boots, kick back and relax.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.