4 Great Colorado Dude Ranches for the Cowgirl in Everyone

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The author at the Bar Lazy J Ranch (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

I’m a city girl. Well, make that a suburban girl. I live near one of our country’s biggest urban areas, and every once in a while, the hustle and bustle gets to me.

That’s why this fall, I decided to cowgirl up. 

“Cowgirl up” means to thicken your skin, to find the tough woman inside. It means to find a solution to the “there’s never any time for…” problem. It means getting on a horse and riding through the mountains one trail at a time until you get where you want to be. And, by the way, cowboys can cowgirl up, too. Even buckaroos can.

Related: Teen Dream? 10 Things This 13-Year-Old Learned on a Colorado Dude Ranch Vacation

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Lisa and Lynn at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colo. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

If you’re in the cowgirl-up state of mind, consider heading to Grand County, Colo., which is dude ranch central. I checked out four unique spots with my cowgirl-in-crime, Lynn, and what we found was that each had its own special style, its own spin on the “ride and then eat and then nap and then ride some more and then square dance for a while” theme.

Looking for the best overall ranch experience? Here’s the thing — there’s no such thing. All of these ranches have this dude ranch thing down, I tell you. Each offers a full-week experience, kind of like a cruise, and most of the week’s activities are planned for you. Part of cowgirling up is deciding what appeals to you. So ask yourself: Am I more of a copper soaking tub cowgirl? Or a fly-fishing cowgirl? Or a line dancing cowgirl? Or a cowgirl who likes to trot through the fields at 9,000 feet elevation? Then grab your boots, your hat, your jeans, socks, and pearl-snap Western shirts.

Here’s the scoop on what I found when I gave up my suburb slicker ways for a week. 

Bar Lazy J Ranch

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The saloon at the Bar Lazy J Ranch (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

Now, if you ask me, a dude ranch should be rustic. If I’m going to rough it, I’ll rough it for real — albeit with electricity and running water. That’s why I loved the supervintage cabins at Bar Lazy J Ranch in Parshall, Colo. Yes, the floorboards creaked, and yes, we could hear everything going on outside on the ranch, but it felt… authentic. And kitschy. And — oh yeah — cowgirly.

Bar Lazy J is in one of the loveliest spots in Colorado, too — right on the Colorado River. Our little cabin had a screened-in porch, where we could sit in bentwood rockers (I know!) and watch the sunlight reflect off the water. It was a tough job, but that’s what you’re asking for when you cowgirl up.

Latigo Ranch

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Hanging out on the porch at Latigo Ranch (Photo: Lynn O’Rourke Hayes)

The great thing about cowgirling up in the early fall is that the Colorado landscape changes before your very eyes, from green to yellow to bright orange in the space of only a few days. At Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, Colo., you can ride horseback on the trails, which take you high above the ranch in the space of only an hour or two; the panoramic views of aspen trees and fall wildflowers will take your breath away. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

When you get back from your gallops through the fields, you’ll sit down to some seriously fine ranch cuisine. Think homemade lasagna, ice cream sundaes, and hot, hearty breakfasts. Holy cooked pig, cowgirl! I have no idea where Latigo Ranch gets its bacon, but eating it is a religious experience. 

Drowsy Water Ranch

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A guest cabin at Drowsy Water Ranch (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

Lots of dude ranches are family-owned, and Drowsy Water Ranch in Granby, Colo., is no exception. The entire staff at Drowsy Water just oozes enthusiasm, so much so that even the most skeptical aspiring cowgirl will get caught up in the spirit. The wranglers holler “howdy” to other riders on the trail. The lodge staff teaches you how to line dance with pizzazz. The art teacher (there only on certain weeks) smiles and claps when she tells you that your painting of autumn leaves is visionary, even if that’s a nice way of saying it kind of looks like a cow patty. Believe me when I say that you’ll feel better after eating some of their homemade cinnamon rolls with honey butter.

Related: The 7 Best Hikes in Vail, Colorado

C Lazy U Ranch

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The entrance to the spa at C Lazy U Ranch (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

Now, if what you’re after for your cowgirl great escape is gourmet food, hot riverstone massages, wood-burning fireplaces in your cabin, and an overall five-star resort experience, gallop your horse right over to the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colo. Sure, it’s at a higher price point, but every cowgirl deserves to splurge now and then. It’s just a different way to cowgirl up.

And, by the way, ask the head chef, Mark, if he might rustle up some peach cobbler for you. After a bowl or two, you might have to ask the staff to help you punch another hole in your concho belt, but you’ll be fat and oh, so happy.

WATCH: Report: 5.3 Million Visited Colorado's National Parks In 2013

Lisa McElroy lives in wild ranch country — well, actually, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her bravest cowgirl-up move in Grand County, Colo., was eating “skittles” (actually some form of plant life) off a rock high on a ridge near Kremmling. 

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