Vacationers seek out Colorado dude and guest ranches when they want to rough it Old West style – exploring mountain wilderness, navigating trails on horseback, fishing in Colorado’s roaring rivers and ending the day with campfire stories before retiring to a rustic, comfortable cabin.
But most Colorado guest ranches also have a luxurious side, with gourmet dining, outdoor yoga, spa-style massages, friendly staff and a link to the area’s history and culture.
Such is the experience at Smith Fork Ranch east of Crawford, Colorado. Surrounded by the Gunnison National Forest and mountain wilderness on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, this guest ranch strikes a balance between rugged rustic and relaxing rejuvenation.
Unlike many larger ranches, Smith Fork caters to a more intimate, build-your-own adventure vacation, taking on a maximum of 30 guests per visit to allow for personalized service. The schedule is flexible, so you can ride horseback, fish, explore or relax to your heart’s content.
Activities range from the typical to the unique, including a high-flying ride in a vintage 1941 bi-plane. Capt. Lynn French carries guests in the two-seater, soaring above the ranch valley and the Gunnison River’s Black Canyon, affording some spectacular views.
For a closer experience of the Gunnison, Smith Fork offers rafting trips that take on class II and III rapids through the Gunnison Gorge, stopping for a gourmet lunch among the scenery and wildlife. “Duckie” floats with sack lunches are also available for a less-intense time on the river. These trips are scheduled on a guest-need basis (72 hours in advance, with four people minimum).
High-class fishing is another way to enjoy the local waters, with the ranch’s 3 miles of private river, stocked ponds and guided back-country fishing. Hunting also is available, with quail, pheasants, chukars and wild doves for the taking. And if it’s just a gun you want to handle, shooting sports can be arranged for hunting birds of the clay nature.
And you can’t forget the horses. With a full stable and knowledgeable guides who will help you get on the right hoof, there are lots of trails to explore in the surrounding forests.
After a full day, retreat to home base for some luxury comfort. Smith Fork Ranch is equipped with four historic cabins, with accommodations for two to six people. For larger groups or for individual rooms, you can stay at the Guest House, the heart of the ranch. Although the buildings were constructed during the early- to mid-1900s, Smith Fork owners Marley and Linda Hodgson have equipped each room with modern amenities while maintaining a rustic and historic feel with antiques and Western art decor.
From your cabin’s porch, take in the views of the landscape during the day and the starry sky at night with the high-powered telescope mounted to the log railings. Or take a dip in the hot tub to loosen those muscles after a massage. Other amenities include a game room, library, sitting room and fitness center.
The food is what makes the visit. Executive chef Matthew Dusharme will put a gourmet meal on your plate, and the ranch’s sommelier, Evan Martin, will fill your glass with hand-selected international wines from the ranch’s extensive bar and wine cellar to complement your meal.
An emphasis is put on organic and local fare to create a “farm-to-table” approach. Beef, elk, venison and other meats, produce, dairy and cheese are sourced from local farms and orchards, and 50 percent of the produce comes from the Smith Fork Ranch’s own organic garden.
The garden not only provides fresh fruit and veggies for your meals, but an experience in organic farming. Master Gardener Alma Roberts teaches guests about various gardening
techniques, the vegetable seasons and how to harvest. And if you’re curious, you can simply walk through the garden and pick a snack or something to add to the dinner menu.
It’s all up to you.
If You Go
Smith Fork Ranch
45362 Needle Rock Road
Crawford, Colorado 81415