The Location: Perfect. an hour from Denver (1.5 from the airport since they decided to build the airport so far out on the prairie), it's far enough out to be in a pristine, gorgeous setting but close enough to the city that you could go back for an emergency (which we nearly had to do thanks to a lost piece of luggage - but didn't have to thanks to the owner's generous lending of clothes!).
The Property: Perfect. Nestled against a river (yes, I'll be the hundredth person to say "a river runs throught it" with a steep mountain backdrop and under a blue dome of sky, the property is just breathtakingly beautiful. Everything is spread out enough you feel private (there are three lodges outside the main one - Klondike, Homestead and Stonehenge) and yet close enough it's not a long trek to your room if you don't stay in the main Wildhorse Lodge. We stayed in the Homestead lodge for the majority of our time there, then had to move to the Wildhorse Lodge the last night (we knew this in advance) and it actually was nice to get the feeling of both. If you're a couple or a pair of singles, I'd recommend staying in the Wildhorse. If you're three or more, definitely get one of the outlying lodges as it really feels like you're staying in your own home. Be prepared - they don't look that big on the outside - but they are actually huge inside. Each lodge has it's own story and was built a long time ago - Stonehenge for instance was built in the 30's by a mason (a previous owner of the property) - but they've all been updated by the current owners (of 27 years!), Karen and Dean. We were amazed at the instant hot water! It may look rustic, but there was nothing rustic about it. Just note that in all of the rooms they put the amenities in the bottom of the basket on your vanity with fan-folded washclothes behind them - kind of obsuring the amenities. I freaked out when I thought they had no amenities until I discovered them in the bottom of the basket (note to Karen: you might want to put the amenities in front of the basket for stupid people like me). Every room has two plush white bathrobes for going back and forth to the pool and jacuzzi. Also note that the lodges have no phone or TV - this isn't that kind of place - and cell coverage is spotty to zilch. If you're type-A enough that that bothers you, stay in the Wildhorse, the Wifi from the lounge area works well in the rooms. Cell coverage is spotty in the Wildhorse, but if you walk out front or even up the hill to the parking lot, it's much better. There's a nice sitting area in the Wildhorse, a really great porch overlooking the river, and wonderful treats (a daily cookie, ice-cold lemonade and water, etc) by the fireplace. In addition to the lodges, there's also a Trading Post for just about everything you'd need including the all important logo'd T-shirt and a Rec Room with games, foosball and pool table (we never needed it, Scrabble in our living room at night was way fun!).
The activities: Perfect (are you noticing a theme here?) A great range of things to do, you'll never be bored. I never thought I'd enjoy skeet shooting as much as I did. The views from the riding trail are simply breath-taking (yes, the ride starts off by ascending the cliff across the river!) and the river-rafting was great fun. A note for experienced white-water rafters: there's a drought going on right now, so they're not releasing water from the damns up-river right now so the Arkansas River where it's done is pretty low low at the moment. It's running at about 20% of the volume and speed it normally does. We had novices in our group who loved it, for those of us that have done class IV and higher rapids before it was kind of disappointing. I would recommend - if you're experienced and looking for a real white-water experience - that you check with them before you make the 1.5 hour trek. Also, make sure you do the full day, not half day, ride... the only class IV rapids are at the very end of the route, and not covered on the half-day. The instructors/guides on all the activities were knowledgable (the skeet guy was very good in his instruction although he did take the wind out of my sails when he said "the first one's luck, the second one's skill" after I landed my first hit. luckily, I did get a second and more. lol) and Travis, our horseback riding guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. Hayley, the owner's daughter, is a marvel with the work she does with the horses and even the ranch dog Indy (do not encourage Indy to bark, or you risk getting "schooled" on ranch dog behavior along with Indy!).
The staff: Perfect. It's just amazing what Karen and Dean do with their staff. I have never met a more friendly, generous, and accomodating group of people anywhere I've stayed. Just be careful of one thing: the wait staff is like calorie crack-dealers. They seriously will offer you more and more and more food. One morning I was asked if I wanted "another egg" and then Bry-anne came back with a full plate of 2 eggs and sausage. Which of course I ate. And Karen and Dean themselves are beyond accomodating, kind, generous, and knowledgeable.
Which brings me to the last thing:
The Food: I saved the best for last because I'm just not sure I can do it justice. Karen and her staff are amazing cooks. Dinner starts with a different salad every night; they're all good but the Colorado Pine Nut Salad was a standout (they even give you the provenance of the local Pinons used). Then a different home-baked bread (here it's a toss up between the Peasant bread - those are some damn lucky peasants - and the pumpkin bread). Then an entree that can be as homey as Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and green beans - or as exotic (for a city boy like me) as elk. It's served family style and it just keeps coming. The desserts are amazing as well from vanilla bean pane cotta to pumpkin cheesecake. And if you want seconds or thirds or a doggy bag, they just don't quit until you do. They are also very accomodating with food needs - someone in our group is off carbs, and as quick as he mentioned it, a bowl of quinoa just for him hit the table.
Lunch is incredible too. Something as simple as hamburgers was just great at this ranch. I actually asked Dean if they ground their own beef as I've never tasted a hamburger that good before (and I really got to taste it as I was laying off the bun trying to cut back on carbs myself at that point - even though that was difficult since they had three different kinds of buns to choose from!). Turns out they don't grind it themselves, but they found a local purveyor who just uses the best beef and they're really good.
My breakfast is usually a Venti Starbucks latte, but here I had to try it all, and it was just sick how good and plentiful it was. They do offer a continental style, but once you've tasted the crack they call French Toast Stuffed with Blueberries and Cream Cheese, you're pretty much addicted to the whole thing. Whatever you do, do not miss the French Toast.
All the food is just simply prepared with really fresh ingredients and so good. Between being hungry from the activities, the clear mountain air, and the draw of Karen's addictive recipies, you're going to find yourself eating a lot. I think I put on 10 pounds. And it was worth every bite.
Some advice: do read their tips about altitude sickness and take precautions. Knowing in advance I get bad headaches at high altitudes , I started with ginko the week before I left and had a precscription med while I was there. It really worked for the headaches, but I didn't bring any sleep aids and I did have bad bouts of insomnia while there. Also, the air is insanely dry, whatever you do bring lipbalm (which I did) and a saline solution like Ocean Spray for your nose (which I didn't and really regretted when I started sneezing blood from the dryness by the second day). I don't think you should let the altitude disuade you from going to this ranch, most of it's beauty is derived from it's location, but do take their advice to heart and go prepared.
I just can't say enough good about this place. Oh, and the sunsets, did I mention the sunsets???
- Also Known As:
- North Fork Ranch Colorado/Shawnee
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Welcome to life at North Fork Ranch a premier guest ranch and fishing lodge. Established in 1985, this family oriented ranch rests on a half mile of private river, the North Fork of the South Platte. One hour from Denver, in the majestic Rocky Mountains, you'll find horseback riding, whitewater rafting, world class fly fishing, campfire, intimate accommodations, dining with a gourmet flare and activities for all ages! **Colorado's Newest, Orvis Endorsed Fishing Lodge** ... more less