Erase any vision you might have of a guest ranch, especially the “City Slicker” version. While there are are lots of great options that fit this model in the U.S. Mountain West and work well for groups seeking a western experience, let’s add resort to the name/equation, big visions and thousands of acres for herds, crops and people to play and it becomes completely different but with similar authenticity and friendliness.
I’ll use two guest ranch resorts as examples: The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana and Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash, Colorado. Both are owned by husband-and-wife duos who are passionate about the land, hands on and willing to invest in making their properties distinct and high quality. Over the past three months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit both Paws Up about 30 minutes from Missoula and Devil’s Thumb near Winter Park, both year-round operations taking advantage of all four seasons.
Here are six attributes that make ranch resorts great options for groups.
Space to Roam – Lots of space means plenty of privacy, amazing vistas and options to try something new when there is time before, between or after meetings. It’s also awe-inspiring to see cattle, bison and horses grazing. The 37,000 acres at Paws Up ensure that it is very private, the 28 homes and 36 luxury glamping tents are spread out, and activities don’t overlap each other except checking in at the Wilderness Outpost. A horseback trail ride and 3-hour RZR Experience gave me a great overview of the property, and we didn’t see anyone else! On the 6,000 acres at Devil’s Thumb and thousands of wilderness acres surrounding, there are miles of Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking, hiking and horseback riding trails. Here, the lodging is in the form of two attractive lodges and several cabins, along with two inns in Winter Park for overflow.
Lots of Great Activities – Having a nice variety of recreation helps satisfy all adventure levels and gives planners the option of selecting options that fit their groups’ tastes and budgets. I’ve already mentioned some of the activities at both ranches. Both also have nice spas, with Paws Up taking treatments to outdoor tents in the summer and fall and to a historic ranch house during cooler weather. Trying out cow croquet and witnessing a Mustang Mindfulness Demo was something completely different for me. At Devil’s Thumb, try out a survival course and air rifle biathlons during summer and winter. This is just a very small tip of the iceberg of what is offered at both.
Laid-Back Atmosphere – There is no need to get fancy at either ranch unless you want to! Wearing jeans and a pair of boots, dressing for activities and having an itinerary that oscillates between indoors and outdoors means it’s fairly laidback all day long. It’s a nice vibe, especially for groups that often have to dress up for meetings in the office or city.
Unique Meeting & Event Spaces – There is nothing usual about the venues at Devil’s Thumb and Paws Up. Both have historic barns renovated specifically for meetings and events, restaurants, and outdoor patios/venues that are outstanding. Paws Up has a 76,000-square-foot Saddle Club and the Lewis & Clark Reception Barn with a variety of options, as well as other unique spaces. Some of my favorites at Devil’s Thumb, in addition to the barns, are Axel’s Pavilion, Timber House, Grotto Suraboza and John LS’ Wine Cellar & Uncorking Room.
Beautiful Locations – These ranches are situated in the mountains and close to mountain communities that offer additional options for off-site events and activities. Both Devil’s Thumb and Paws Up have rivers and creeks on property that are not only great for activities like fly-fishing but for sights and sounds as well. At Paws Up, most of the six glamping camps (all with six tents and a pavilion for meals and gathering) are situated along the river. I love the big windows and patio at Heck’s Tavern at Devil’s Thumb that overlook the large meadow that is transformed into Nordic skiing track in the winter.
Tap the Less Busy Seasons – The picturesque locations and unique spaces make both of these properties popular for weekend weddings and family gatherings. Summer tends to be busy as well. Talk to the sales teams and see when it’s quieter and less competitive for rooms and space. It’s like to be more budget-friendly as well!
There is a wide variety of great ranches around the U.S. Mountain West, so make sure to check out the options and use these six attributes to find the right fit for your group.