A trip off the grid: Mother-daughter dude ranch getaway

My 6-year-old daughter recently got to select a girls’ getaway for the two of us. We wanted something she loves that allowed us some mother-daughter bonding time. Fiona chose riding horses and rock climbing off the grid in Colorado—and I’m willing to admit, it scared me a little bit.

We visited Vista Verde Guest Ranch for a week of outdoor adventure. Don’t let the idea of a dude ranch fool you into thinking this was some chuck wagon frank-and-beans affair. While there were cowboys with leather chaps, cattle drives and barn dances, we also enjoyed crab legs, outdoor yoga and treasure hunts. 

Pulling into the ranch, we were greeted by a wide-open expanse, with lush trees in the mountain backdrop and horses grazing in the pasture. The sky was so immense and so blue that I could feel my soul soaring. 

Vista Verde offers all-inclusive vacations brimming with horses and Western hospitality. It’s like an incredible camp for adults and kids. With more staff than guests, there always is someone willing to tailor a ride, hike or other adventure (think fly fishing, paddleboarding or even wine tasting) to individual needs and abilities. 

Kids’ activities and adult programs take place mornings and afternoons. You can choose how much together time you want. Everyone, guests and staff, meet for meals, which always offered items both my picky eater and I gobbled up. 

Days included horseback riding down endless trails and rock climbing, where Fiona scampered up granite boulders and I only got about halfway up.

Trust seemed to be a big theme of this trip: trust your horse, trust your climbing ropes, trust yourselves. I like to do things that scare me a little bit. Edging past your comfort zone can bring you to even better place—a more confident you and more fulfilling life. 

It was good for me to see her take the reins and to go off on her own. The supervisors of the kids’ program were fantastic. There, Fiona favored the foosball table, Capture the Flag games, panning for gold and any outdoor fun, especially if it involved ice cream and cowboy cookies. While Fiona enjoyed her time with the kids, I was able to partake in activities I’d wanted to try since my children were born. 

I hiked Zirkel Circle, where the wilderness is dripping with color, from rushing waterfalls, turquoise lakes and tart wild berries. I paddleboarded without falling once. I said “Namaste” under rustling Aspen trees after outdoor yoga. Standing up to my waist fly fishing in the flowing river, I caught my first fish ever. 

We wore pink cowgirl hats and were just two girls proud to be together stretching our minds, bodies and mother-daughter bond.

Enjoy your time together plucked from your daily life into a wild, western adventure. Happy trails.


Visit duderanch.org to find info on more than 100 ranches in North America.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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