Colorado Ranches – A Taste of the West

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Ranches in Colorado Offer Groups Taste of the West      


By Beth Buehler


There is something alluring about spending time in Colorado and getting a taste of what life was like in the Wild West. Although the days of looking for gold and land to claim during the Gold Rush are long gone, the cowboy lifestyle is still alive and well and there are plenty of opportunities to visit historic attractions, attend rodeos and western shows, and host gatherings at ranches.


Even though I’m mentioning four ranches in Colorado that offer groups a taste of the West, much of the focus will be on Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs, which will host dinner and a show during Destination Colorado Meetings’ Customer Appreciation Event (CAE) on Sept. 28-29, which will be based at The Broadmoor.


While it’s not part of the CAE itinerary, The Broadmoor owns The Ranch at Emerald Valley, a 30-minute drive up the mountain from the main resort in Colorado Springs. Located in a scenic valley, it once was the summer retreat of Spencer Penrose, The Broadmoor’s founder, and is available to groups and leisure travelers during fair-weather months.

A rustic log cabin sits beside a tranquil pond, surrounded by tall pine trees and colorful wildflowers, reminiscent of the serene ranches with a mountain visible in the background under a clear sky.
The Ranch at Emerald Valley's pristine setting, courtesy The Broadmoor

Flying W Ranch Celebrating 70 Years

Starting out as a mountain cattle ranch in 1947, the Flying W Ranch embodies the spirit of the West. Don Wilson packed up his family and three Kansas ranches and moved to hundreds of bucolic acres located in the Pikes Peak foothills on the northwest side of Colorado Springs. The land was originally owned by William Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, and is adjacent to Palmer’s Glen Erie home.


Wilson’s daughter and son-in-law, Marian and Russ Wolfe, moved to Colorado to help with ranching operations. While wrangling cows and horses, the couple dreamed of offering chuckwagon suppers and a western stage show. During the first summer, Russ and Marian fed 1,650 people by being open two nights a week. By the end of 1963, they were open daily and served over 125,000 people annually, resulting in more than 7 million guests across 70 years.

Outdoor dining setup with wooden tables, chairs, and hanging lights, surrounded by rocks and greenery. Three people dressed in western attire are standing on a stage area near the rocks, evoking the charm of rustic ranches.
Set for a private event, courtesy Flying W Ranch

Over time, the Wolfes built a western village to bring the Old West to life, starting off with a trading post. Eventually 29 structures were built or transferred to the ranch such as a church, jail, school, train depot and drug store. When the Ute Theater was torn down in Colorado Springs in the 1960s, Russ purchased nearly every piece at auction to preserve the community landmark. Demonstrations by Navajo rug weavers, silversmiths and more helped bring the village to life and are still part of the attraction today.


Western music also was part of the initial vision for Flying W Ranch, and the first performers ranged from college students and folk singers to the Sons of the Pioneers western singing group. In 1957, the Flying W Wranglers were officially unveiled. Since then, about 60 individuals have been part of what is now the second-oldest western performance band in the world. The Wranglers have performed all over the world—including at the Grand Ole Opry, Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall—and presented over 6,000 shows at the ranch. The Academy of Western Artists selected the Flying W Wranglers as the Western Group of the Year for the 2022 Will Roger’s Awards, which is the apex of western entertainment.


Tragically, on June 26, 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire swept into Colorado Springs and destroyed the Flying W Ranch and 346 homes within the neighboring community of Mountain Shadows. Old West artifacts, 29 buildings (including 19 historic structures) and ranch homes were gone. Out of the entire western village the Wolfes created, only one small building, one teepee and one wooden cross remained. After the fire, the Wolfe family devoted funds and hard work to mitigation efforts and restoration of the landscape, and Russ passed away only four years ago in 2019.


In July 2020, the new pavilion building opened, and the Flying W Ranch resumed its nightly dinners and western stage shows and rededicated itself to preserving the Old West. Make sure attendees arrive hungry in expectation of a chuckwagon spread consisting of smoked meats, baked potatoes, trail beans, applesauce, Dutch-oven biscuits, and spice cake all served using tin plates and cups.


The 1,400-acre working cattle ranch, nestled in the beautiful red rocks that are part of the Garden of the Gods formation, can host groups of up to 900 indoors and 5,000 outdoors and offers a range of venues for meetings and events. In addition to performances, entertainment options include private rodeos, western line dancing, ranch animal activities, team-building fun and more.

A cowboy rides a bucking horse in an outdoor ring at one of the local ranches, while another rider on a black horse observes. The background includes a wooden fence and trees.
A private rodeo is one of the many activities groups can book, courtesy Flying W Ranch

Luxury Colorado Ranches in Grand County

Two other ranches in Colorado that offer groups a taste of the West are C Lazy U Ranch near Granby and Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa near Winter Park. Both offer a wide range of meeting and event spaces, accommodations and on-site activities.


C Lazy U is celebrating 104 years of serving as an all-inclusive guest ranch, while the 6,500-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa encompasses four ranches that Bob and Suzanne Fanch began purchasing in 1999: Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Diamond Bar T Ranch, Ram’s Curl Ranch, and Black Ranch. The couple has transformed a bunkhouse and historic cross-country skiing center into a year-round, eco-luxe ranch resort and spa.


There also are ranches sprinkled throughout the state to consider, with some more equipped than others to serve groups in terms of space and lodging. Also, some like C Lazy U and Devil’s Thumb are open year-round, while others are limited to summer and fall seasons. Go to the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association for more information.

Three people on horseback ride along a dirt path surrounded by grass and trees under a cloudy sky, evoking the charm of sprawling ranches.
Horseback riding on beautiful ranch grounds, courtesy Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa

Top Photo: Courtesy C Lazy U Ranch


Colorado native Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 18 years, helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine, and is on the team introducing Southwest Meetings + Events. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.