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
My husband and I visited the ranch the last week of August 2019. We had carefully selected it. Ever since the year 2000 we visited 5 different ranches and this one caught our attention because of the bison, the scenery photos on the internet, and the great reviews.
The booking process went probemless and Jessie was wonderful on the phone as well as via email- She promptly and professionally anwered all questions and we felt very comfortable to conclude the reservation.
We were welcomed at the ranch by Em, shown around, and were taken to our spacious quarters and received our itinerary for the week. This part as well was very professional and friendly . We loved our quarters in the bunkhouse: comfortable, spacious, western style, and close to the lodge. Everything was very clean when we got there and the rooms were serviced every day.
We had come to the ranch to ride horses and such we did! Our wrangler was Sierra and she was absolutely wonderful. She was very knowledgeable of everything having to do with the ranch, the horses, the riding, the surroundings, and just a wonderful real cowgirl. We felts very comfortable with her. She was able to mix that royal treatment that you wish as a guest with the opportunity to enjoy being a cowboy/cowgirl. While letting us enjoy the riding, scenery, and great weather, she shone with her calm enthusiasm at being a wrangler at Zapata, her sincere interest in people, her pleasant personality, and her well-rounded education. We could not have asked for more. But we did have more, without asking for it: Clint. What a joy to have him ride with us as well. We missed him on days that he had other chores or tasks to take care of. He was so friendly, helpful, kind, polite, smart, interesting, guest-oriented, and just the kind of person you enjoy talking to and learning from. A great guy to be around.
The rides were wonderful every day. The nature was exactly what the pictures had made you think it would be like. All the rides were well organized and just awesome. The wranglers always checked that we were safe on the horses, that the horses and the equipment were okay, and helped and acommodated as needed. We never noticed any impatience or arrogance. They were fantastic.
Of special mention is the cattle drive which took place during the middle of the week. What a wonderful experience. Our compliments to the entire Zapata team.
We also enjoyed the late afternoon activities, like the trip to the Zapata Falls and the Mosca Pass, the leather cutting, and the roping. Completely voluntary, no stress, fun, and well organized. Clint and Recca, you were our heroes here as you led most of these activities. You made them special and so much fun. Rebecca, you also found a special place in our hearts. And of course it helped so much that you spoke German and were so interesting to talk to and so incredibly nice. Thank you Franky for taking us to the falls and for singing so amazingly wonderful, thank you Tara for adopting Hanko for a day, and thank you Bright and Clint for an amazing introductory day and great riding. You were all hard working, dedicated, and talented wranglers with a great education and wonderful customer service skills. Thank you!
We very much enjoyed the breakfasts and the take - along lunches. Both were delicious each day. The evening food was always well prepared and very nicely presented by the cooks. For our own, personal taste, the dinners were a little too gourmet. We would have preferred the typical American, home style food more. But that is just us --coming from Europe and wanting the American experience.
Overall, we enjoyed a wonderful week at the ranch. It was worth every cent and we can only say: 10 points.
Our group of 13, as well as 3 representatives from The Nature Conservancy, was a good mix of folks from around Colorado who helped make the experience a great one. The ranch chef made family-style meals that were delicious. My stay in the Bison room of the Bunkhouse was excellent. The room was comfortable, with a king-sized bed and several seating areas. The bathroom was well-appointed. Upon arrival, I noted two salted chocolate cookies on a plate in my room. Those cookies were outstanding, and I could not resist eating both. The shower was in an old-fashioned tub, which required a rather high step to get in and out of the tub. They did provide a grab bar, and a rubber mat to place in the tub to prevent a fall. I found showering there manageable.
My view toward the great sand dunes was wonderful, and many birds were visible from the window. The ranch property is rich in bird life, but I also saw deer and elk there. There is a one mile loop walk which is easy and gives you a feel for the landscape of the ranch. None of us rode horses, but they do have horses on property. There are several nice picnic areas on the grounds for when the weather is more moderate. It was a bit chilly in mid-October.
The only spot where WiFi was available was in the living room of the Inn.
This property is a gem, and well worth a stay, especially if you plan to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park.
From start to finish, Zapata Ranch was one of the best vacations we have taken. Jessie and Emily (responsible for reservations and planning) quickly responded to my many emails before we arrived. They never seemed bothered by questions. Once we arrived we were taken to our room and then the fun began. Food was organic, came from local sources and was consistently delicious. We had several dietary restrictions and the chef always accommodated them with fantastic alternatives. Meals were served family style which gave us the opportunity to interact with guests from all over the world. Our wranglers, Rebecca and Clint , were amazing. They shared their knowledge regarding the area, conservation, environment, and horsemanship. In addition they were fun to be around. Where else does each family get at least one wrangler of their own, as well as individualized rides to meet their interests and abilities??? We rode on the Great Sand Dunes (my favorite) and lush pastures, moved cattle and horses, saw bison, and even visited a building designed by Temple Grandin to humanely perform veterinary care for bison. We went on a half day tour with a naturalist and learned much about the area. The other wranglers we met at meals were all delightful as well. Horses are well taken care of and are chosen for you based upon your experience and skills. We are in our 60s , ride at home (probably advanced beginner level) and loved the riding as it was not nose to tail and we were able to trot and lope if we desired. We met people there who ranged from novice riders to experts; all enjoyed the riding as much as we did. If you didn’t like your horse or saddle, change was made the very next day. As if all of this wasn’t enough, the sunsets were incredible!!! We usually don’t even think about returning to a place a second time but this is a place we would definitely consider. It was nirvana and we didn’t want to leave!