We have been driving on the unpaved country road past the village of Kremmling in the north of the state of Colorado for quite some time when we spot a young woman on a horse on the side of the road: “a real cowgirl!”, our two girls exclaim from their back seats. And indeed, it is one of the wranglers who will accompany us on our horseback riding during the coming week. She tips her cowboy hat and says: “Drive a bit further and you’ll see some horses and a wagon where you can leave your car.” Full of expectations, we continue our road trip.
The following reception at Latigo Ranch is sublime. A few turns later, we really do spot a wagon drawn by two beautiful horses. Together with another family who also has just arrived, we hop on and there we go. A more suitable beginning is unthinkable, because this week will be all about the true Western experience and horses will of course be a significant part of all this. It doesn’t mean there is not much else to do at the Ranch – on the contrary. More about that later on.
At a walking speed, we continue our trip to the Ranch with two other friendly wranglers on the box who tell us all about the environment, the Ranch and what to expect. When we arrive at our cabin, we find ourselves at a height of more than 9,000 ft (2,750 metres) and our jaws drop. Our accommodation is nestled at the top of a hill overlooking a large part of the ranch with a backdrop of the mountains with their snow-covered tops. Everywhere around us are blooming flowers and the cooling mountain air gently blows through the bright green leaves. Our daughters are immediately asked to come and play and run off the hill to the lower-lying playground. We soon see them playing with the children of the family we travelled with on the wagon; that’s how it goes with kids and the language barrier is no issue at all.
The cabin is a romantic wooden mini house with three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small living room. No luxury or over-the-top design. No, it feels like staying in the country house of relatives. We can hardly say that we are short of anything: a fridge, woodburning stove, coffee maker, magazines and a hand-written welcoming note and the week’s programme on the coffee table. Outside, an enormous supply of wood and two kid’s fishing rods. Quality with an eye for detail. To our great surprise, our luggage – left behind in our car when we embarked on our wagon ride – has already been taken inside. This kind of thoughtfulness is typical for the rest of our stay: nothing is too much trouble. Without having to experience the stress of the luggage, we settle into the warmth of the August sun with a mug of freshly brewed coffee on the porch and conclude that life is exceptionally good up here.
At the end of the day, we meet up with the other guests on the lawn in front of the ‘Historic Log Lodge’. A lovely old building from the 1930’s built by the first owner who came here with his family on horse and wagon all the way from Denver. For the rest of the week, this is the place where we gather for – what soon turn out to be – exquisite meals. Owner Randy does his round to get to know everyone and to hear in detail our wishes and expectations for the week, what experience we have with horseback riding, what we want to learn in that field and which other activities we would like to participate in. Nothing beats this kind of personal touch and individualised approach. Together with his wife Lisa, he took over the Ranch some 30 years ago. Until recently with two other partners, but now they run the whole business themselves together with their two children Hannah and Spencer and their daughter-in-law Amanda. Different from most of the more ‘normal’ hotels and resorts, genuine interest and interaction are key here. So, it is no wonder Latigo has been voted one of the top 50 Ranches in the world.
The Latigo team (nearly a 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio) visibly take a lot of pleasure from their – no doubt often hard – work, make us feel extremely welcome and are very hospitable. The atmosphere is very casual and easy-going; no fawning servants, but above all honest and passionate people. It’s no place for prima donnas, yet for people who like to experience the authentic ranch feel for a week in one of the most beautiful places in the United States.
The first contact with the other guests at Latigo is just as informal as with the owners. During the week, we get to meet a variety of families; what we all have in common is our choice for this unique experience. The meals are the ultimate time and place for us all to sit at the table and share the adventures of the day. We can do this in all peace and quiet as the children eat together at a separate table before dashing off to the next activity with the wranglers. What kid wants to ‘endlessly’ stay with mum and dad at the dining table, if you can learn how to throw a lasso or light a campfire?
Before we go on, a few words of praise about the meals. These are simply delicious. Spencer and his team sure know how to surprise you time and time again. No fancy kickshaws, oh no: they serve wholesome and very well-prepared dishes. It could be that our appetite gets an enormous boost from being outdoors all the time, but we seldom enjoyed such delicious food. Breakfast is a feast and the choice is without bounds. A variety of fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, rolls and much more. On top of that, you can order all sorts of warm dishes: bacon and eggs, various kinds of omelettes, pancakes, Belgian waffles, burritos, French toast and so on. Lunch is just as extensive with a lavish salad bar, tacos, pizzas, soup, meat, fish and chicken fingers. Keep some space for the culinary highlight of the day: dinner with the most beautiful pieces of bison(!) meat, poultry or fish in combination with vegetables, salads and the best desserts of all times.
You would almost forget you came here for the outdoor activities. Rides are organised twice a day: one in the morning and the other after lunch. Throughout the week, they also offer various additional rides and are very flexible. Are you an experienced rider and want to get out for the whole day? Prefer to ride together with your family? It can all be arranged. You want an extra lesson to master a certain riding technique? Sure, let’s do that this afternoon. Both the total beginner and the experienced rider can find a good challenge here. After the first day of getting to know your horse, the riders are divided into small groups depending on the wishes of the guests.
Our eldest daughter is a true horse girl and spent every single moment in the saddle. It is also great fun for the less enthusiastic horse lovers in our family. In most places you are, especially as a beginner, limited to rides in a stable or an outdoor arena whereas the Latigo rides take you through the truly overwhelming nature. On an average ride, we cross fields full of beautiful wild flowers, ride past bizarre rock formations and pause at places where we enjoy vistas extending for miles. We became much better riders during the week and the horse of our less experienced youngest daughter always made sure she returned safely home.
Apart from riding, there is so much more to do at Latigo Ranch. The same laid-back rule applies to all of the non-riding activities: “Whether you choose to fill your day with horseback riding or want to relax with a good book by the heated pool, it’s all fine with us. Feel free to do whatever you want”. So owner Randy tells us.
Although we like to laze around from time to time, we opt for an active week. We have an unforgettable experience rock climbing. Professional guides ensure a safe setting where everybody can explore his own boundaries. It is wonderful to see how children and adults encourage each other and how this intensifies the group feeling. Teamwork is all the more of the essence later that week during the whitewater rafting. Cheering each other on and wet to the bone within no time, we dare to take on challenging rapids, of course with the help of experienced guides. We’ve also shot with shotguns (for the real Wild West feel), caught, cleaned and savoured our own fish and worked the cattle by horse with some team penning activities. All very special experiences for young and old indeed.
The icing on the cake for being a child-friendly destination: a childminder organises fun activities for children aged between 3 and 5 years (who are too young for horseback riding). They are also welcome at the ‘Social Club’ where children can find a variety of games and arts & crafts materials. Older children can enjoy an overnight camp in beautiful tipis, a campfire and marshmallows; this is all bound to linger long in the kids’ memories.
These are the summer activities. During winter, the horses are somewhere warmer, but guests are welcome for cross-country skiing on thirty-five kilometres of groomed trails and snowshoeing on backcountry trails.
And what was the absolute highlight of our stay? A question that is hard to answer. Probably the breakfast ride when we assemble early in the morning for a ride to a plateau from where have a magnificent view over the mountains and aspen forests and where we enjoy a joint breakfast. The eggs, bacon and coffee never tasted so good before. Or the team penning to sort the cattle. Or riding up to the edge of cliffs overlooking the scenic valley floor and layers of mountains beyond, loping through wild-flower strewn fields? Or was it the sunset ride that takes you past an enormously high waterfall; it’s a good thing we can fully rely on our horses.
Maybe it is the combination of everything, all made possible by the amazing owners, staff and other families. At the end of the week, the goodbyes were truly heartfelt. We hope to return one day!
# This is the pinnacle for the riders among us; depending on your abilities and ‘targets’, you get your own horse for the duration of the week. The wranglers know how to pick the right horse for each guest – mind you, there are about 80 horses.
# It is all laid-back and you can participate in loads of other activities. From beginning to end, there are so many wonderful activities that you want to experience it all. A good balance between an authentic ranch feeling and vacation comfort.
# As most guests stay for a week, you really have the chance to get into the Western life. You get to know the other guests, what makes it also a unique experience for the kids. We immensely enjoyed the company of guests from various states in the US, Australia and other countries.
# The owners and all the wranglers hold their guests dear and it clearly shows. If you let them, they will make sure your stay at Latigo Ranch is a whole sequence of unique experiences. Revealing more about this would be a shame, so come and be prepared to be dazzled by an unforgettable week.