What We Love
- Guests can have a hands-on ranching experience with the Zapata's bison herd
- The biodiversity of the area, from high desert to alpine forest
- Thanks to its partnership with the Nature Conservancy, there’s a real focus on sustainability and conservation. Read up on the Ranchlands Preservation that Zapata Ranch is situated on
- Chef Mike Rosenberg’s inventive takes on Western classics in the dining room
What To Know
- The ranch is popular for corporate retreats
- While luxury services such as massages and yoga are available, the emphasis here is on rugged outdoorsy pursuits
- Children are welcome
- There’s a four-night minimum stay; all stays are from Sunday to Thursday
Owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by Ranchlands, this 103,000-acre working bison ranch is fetchingly set at the foot of the Sangre Cristo Mountains in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. While the accommodations in the picturesque 1800s log cabin–style main lodge are stylish and cozy, (think potbelly stoves and wood fireplaces), the principal allure here is getting out into the great outdoors to do everything from fly fishing to hiking to horseback riding. Guests wanting an even more hands-on experience can join the wranglers as they go about their working day. Back at the ranch, you’ll find that all that fresh air works up an appetite. That’s where chef Mike Rosenberg, who has worked with the Kennedy and Carnegie families, comes in. He dishes up such family-style classics as biscuits and gravy, bison steaks and fruit pies to hungry cowboys and -girls.
In the Area
When you’re not on horseback, ride a different kind of beast: Colorado’s famous whitewater rivers. Family-run Independent Rafting, located in Salida, an hour north of the ranch, offers full and half-day tours in places like Brown’s Canyon and Royal Gorge. Take a fly-fishing expedition with the Solitary Angler, whose fishing trips include the Culebra River, a pristine waterway in an emerald-green valley. Let someone else take the wheel for a while by taking a leisurely ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which runs daily during the summer season between the towns of Alamosa and La Veta through the scenic San Luis Valley.
How to Get There
I spent a three-day weekend with my 17 year old son at Zapata Ranch with the goal to be outdoors and do some horse riding. I rode a lot in my youth; my son has only ridden a couple of times.
The first day we were on our horses for seven hours, riding through the prairie rounding up 200 pieces of cattle!!! One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. We were six guests and six wranglers. The wranglers were very good at coaching my son, who made great progress, and making us feel safe at all times.
The second day we rode for four hours in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Breathtaking! A combination of The Little House in the Prairie and South Moroccan sand desert. They split us up in small groups (just my son and I), each with a wrangler. My son learned to galop. And galloping we did a lot!
We had planned more activities, but cancelled them because we were contented and exhausted.
While the ranch house and rooms don’t have the amenities of a five star hotel, the food and hospitality are excellent, you sleep well (occasionally woken up by the howling of the coyotes) and the wranglers, cook and other personnel are truly fantastic.
In short, the nicest, most exhilarating nature experience ever.
My husband and I truly enjoyed out stay at the Zapata Ranch. The wranglers were amazing! The entire Zapata staff was great and they were all invested in making sure that we enjoyed our time on the ranch. Great vacation spot!
Every single person and animal at this ranch was a complete joy to meet. From booking the trip to leaving, we felt completely welcomed and cared for. My family is vegetarian, and the chef and all staff were so considerate of this, with delicious vegetarian options at mealtimes. The food is fresh, healthy, and delicious farm-to-table from nearby farms. Chase is an amazing chef, and he even gave us a bread-making lesson! We had so much fun with all the wranglers, who were kind and attentive to our different levels of needs and desires on the trip. The hospitality and scenery cannot be beat, and we are looking forward to coming back next year!
As horseback novices, we were skeptical about this 3-day segment of our trip before going. However, it ended up being the best part of a wonderful vacation! The small group rides of just our family were awesome and the wranglers gave us new things to learn each day. First day ride was around the dunes and second day was around the bison pasture. The scenery and ranch were spectacular and other activities (hiking on dunes, leather working, naturalist walk) were fun too. Food was great, and communal meals enjoyable. Accommodations were very comfortable and picturesque.
When I think about my week long visit to Zapata the first thing that springs to mind is the spectacular personnel at the ranch - it is seldom if ever that one encounters such charismatic, kind, knowledgeable and generous people. Their commitment to creating a one of a kind experience for each guest is unquestionable, and it works.
The horses at the ranch are fit, healthy and impeccably trained; it was equally evident that great deal of time and effort also went into matching horse and rider.
And the riding..... the scenery...... the wildlife..... the dunes.... simply superb.
If you yearn for a one of a kind opportunity to spend hours on horseback in unmatched natural surroundings, with incomparable companions, this is the place for you.