Tour de Colorado’s Best Dude Ranch: Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Confession: I’m not a horse lover but there is something almost enchanting about a dude ranch. It’s the fabled Western experience come to life with unsullied ranchland, campfire sing-alongs, yer very own fishing hole and, of course, cowboys in chaps.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch has it all and was my choice for Best Dude Ranch for families on our Tour de Colorado. Located 65 miles west of Denver just outside of Winter Park, this award-winning, environmentally-friendly resort and spa has a rustically upscale 52-room main lodge and 16 luxury rental cabins with a full roster of activities for cowfolk both old and young.

My husband Jamie stayed behind for work, during which time he witnessed a tornado uproot our yard in Denver. My children and I had a very different view: 5,000 acres of jade-green horse-dotted meadows flanked by the Continental Divide.

I won.

Home Away From Home on the Range

From Pack-and-Plays in the rooms to Cabin Creek Stables’ popular pony rides, Devil’s Thumb Ranch caters to kids. My little city slickers were anxious to rendezvous with the animals so we ventured out early. We were greeted with a scene out of a Western movie: a fully-loaded barn, twanging country music, a small petting zoo of farm animals and a cowboy named “Garth.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Garth gave us an entertaining commentary on the area as we loped around the property on our wagon ride. According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil’s Thumb – a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

This was the extent of our Cabin Creek Stables experience but we could have stayed entertained for a week…and many families do. The stable offers half-day and full-day horseback rides, sunrise or sunset rides, cattle rides, a meadow lunch in the wagon, dinner wagon rides, a Little Cowpokes Day at the Ranch and a Kids Barn BBQ.

Activities Abound

As the storm raged back home, my children and I splashed around in Rachel’s Pool, a heated indoor entry/outdoor pool with killer views of the Divide. We played air hockey, foosball and pin bowling in the non-electronic game room in the main lodge. We watched Mulan II in the 37-seat theater, played a variety of board games in the cozy library and even worked out in the state-of-the-art Fitness Center.

The main thing Devil’s Thumb Ranch is really lacking is on-site childcare services. Since I was a single mom for the weekend, I was remiss I was not able to enjoy the 12,000-square-foot Ranch Creek Spa.

By 8 p.m., we were famished so stumbled into Heck’s Tavern, the more family-friendly of the two on-site restaurants. My body screamed for red meat. I quickly scanned the menu, saw only one such offering and ordered it. Now, I’ve had many reactions from waiters over the years but never one like this: he high-fived me.

“Did I miss something?” I queried.

“You ordered our signature 32-oz rib-eye steak. I’m impressed.”

“32 ounces? How big is that?”

He gestured something approximately the broad side of a barn.

I hesitated. Then my stomach growled. “I’ll take it.”

When in Rome on the Ranch, do as the ranchers do.

Spellbound by the Devil

Our final night, we dined on Heck Tavern’s outdoor patio adjacent to the crackling fire pit. While the kids raced around the pasture, I watched the sun slip behind the Divide, briefly setting Devil’s Thumb aflame. We took a small chunk out of the 20 miles of trails at dusk, meandering through the meadow to Upper and Lower Ponds. We launched rocks into Ranch Creek, identified wildflowers, stalked horses and, upon reaching them, Hadley professed to know how to “Speak Horse.”

Such a comfort to know I gave birth to The Horse Whisperer.

I couldn’t tell you what she divulged to her foal friends but I strongly suspect it was along the lines of “Psssssst. We’ll be back.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on August 9, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

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