In the wild, wild west, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains where the Colorado River runs off the Continental Divide, is a picture-perfect valley where horses graze on green meadows and blue skies stretch overhead, and where a one-of-a-kind, all-inclusive, year-round guest ranch welcomes anyone who wants to trade city-slicker stress for the carefree, cowboy-style lifestyle of yesteryear.

Horses run in the distance behind a rustic wooden archway designating the C Lazy U Ranch
Walking through the C Lazy U's front gate is like stepping back in time to the Wild West © C Lazy U Ranch

Throughout its long history, C Lazy U – located in Granby, the heart of Colorado ranch country – has been transforming everyday folks into ‘dudes’ and ‘dudettes.’ Its educational, outdoorsy programming, rustic elegance, legendary locavore cuisine and signature ‘5-Spur Service’ are still standard. This year the destination that pioneered the ‘Guest Dude Ranch’ vacation celebrates its 100th birthday, and though a few things have changed since the early days, visitors will still find an idyllic slice of old Colorado.

A storied, pioneer past

Wilson Smillie, a Harvard professor, medical doctor and son of early Colorado pioneers, purchased the property in 1919; but it was his brother Jack who built the ranch, together with his wife Gertrude.

C Lazy U initially was a working cattle ranch, until two ladies – friends of Wilson from Massachusetts – paid a visit. The pair enjoyed themselves so much they encouraged Jack and Gertrude to open the ranch to outside guests on a regular basis, a novel idea at the time.

The Barn at C Lazy U ranch has is surrounded by tack and other equestrian gear and nestled in the mountains of Colorado
The C Lazy U vacation dude ranch is the perfect place to try horseback riding and other equestrian pursuits, based at a barn built in 1925 © C Lazy U Ranch

Jack and Gertrude built the barn in 1925, then added several other guest cabins and even a bathhouse, making it one of the first area ranches to boast the luxury of running water. Guests eager to experience the ‘real’ Wild West as seen on the silver screen in early Western movies began streaming in from across the country, to test their skills at horseback riding, trout fishing and bear hunting, at a cost of approximately $40 a week.

Today, C Lazy U offers more modern amenities, including an award-winning spa and a general store housed in an old donkey barn. But the original lodge, cabins and guest dude ranch offerings have changed only a little (bear hunting is no longer among the offered activities) and the beautiful Colorado backdrop remains as pristine as ever.

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The guest dude ranch experience

When most travelers hear the term ‘all-inclusive resort,’ images of sipping a margarita poolside in Mexico tend to spring to mind. But C Lazy U is indeed all-inclusive, encompassing up to two trail rides each day, plus horsemanship instruction, dining and accommodations. You won’t have to pull out your wallet during the course of your stay: just check in, don your boots and cowboy hat and get ready to ride ... and relax.

C Lazy U is known for its variety of horse instruction and for ushering guests on horseback through the endless surrounding valleys and mountains. Everyone can ride, regardless of skill level; experienced wranglers know how to transform even the most car-loving, city dwellers into seasoned cowboys and cowgirls by the end of their stay.

A woman rides a horse through the mountains of Colorado with a beautiful vista in the background; C Lazy U 100th birthday
There's a riding experience for every experience level, from slow walks to spirited trots through the mountains © C Lazy U Ranch

Adults can request daily individual or group horseback riding lessons or hop on a morning or afternoon ride. Rides range from ‘scenic and slow’ (a nice stroll) to ‘experienced’ (moments of trotting and loping through the woods and into the mountains).

Children can count on top-notch instruction, too, and they’ll be paired with others of the same experience level. The children’s wranglers know how to teach even the most frightened child the ropes, while also inspiring loads of confidence. Little ones who already have equestrian experience will advance their horsemanship skills by several notches by the end of their stay.

Wild West activities galore

While C Lazy U excels in equine offerings, its list of daily outdoor activities is endless. Test your skills — or add a few new ones to your outdoor repertoire - with archery, fly fishing, trap shooting, mountain biking, guided hiking and more. Relax with a sunrise yoga class or a leisurely walk through the woods. Since C Lazy U is a year-round ranch, some of the most fun to be had in the great outdoors is in winter, when guests partake in snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice skating and hockey.

Kids sit on horses as they receive instruction about how to handle the animals at C Lazy U vacation guest dude ranch
Even kids of all ages will get the Wild West experience at the ranch, with activities ranging from horseback riding to guided nature hikes © Amy Bizzarri / Lonely Planet

Even the littlest buckaroos will have fun-and-games galore (and moms and dads can expect free time as well) thanks to the daily kids programming. Kids are divided by age groups and, with a little guidance from their assigned kid wrangler, will enjoy horseback riding, hikes, bike rides and bird watching expeditions. Tiny tots unable to hop on horseback get age-appropriate activities like guided hikes, animal track hunting and crafts, as well as playground and pool time.

C Lazy U offers rustic but luxurious ranch accommodations in 40 cabins, including individual rooms and private one- to three-bedroom cabins. Though you’re in the midst of the western wilderness, each cabin offers luxury amenities, including oversized bathtubs, plush bathrobes, nightly turndown service, and even cozy fireplaces stocked with firewood, replenished daily. All accommodations are within walking distance of the Main Lodge.

Gourmet ranch fare and Lazy You Spa

Meals at C Lazy U are served family-style in the lodge, where the resident Ranch Executive Chef prepares gourmet dishes with a focus on local ingredients, including aged Western beef, Rocky Mountain trout, and rosemary rack of lamb. A sommelier expertly pairs wine from the extensive cellar with every dish. After dinner, guests head to the firepit to enjoy drinks, nightly entertainment, and mingling with other guests: C Lazy U is known for fostering long friendships among guests.

A pair of copper bathtubs are side-by-side in a canvassed-walled tent at the C Lazy U ranch's spa, called Lazy You.
Treat yourself to a relaxing treatment at the Lazy You Spa, a wellness retreat featuring moonlight baths in copper tubs, among other amenities © Amy Bizzarri / Lonely Planet

After a jam-packed schedule of challenging outdoor activities, head to the full-service Lazy You Spa, located on the banks of Willow Creek, where six luxurious tents comprise one of Colorado’s most unique wellness retreats. Indulge in one of the spa’s signature treatments like a ‘Rancher Foot Rub,’ a detoxifying ‘Wrangler Wrap,’ or a ‘Cowboy Soak’ – a relaxing moonlit bath in a copper tub overlooking the Continental Divide.

A pro tip is to request a massage in one of the two massage tents suspended over the river: These ‘only-in-Colorado’ experiences feature glass floors, so you can look into the rambling river below as you enjoy your massage.

A fire rages in a fire pit around a landscaped patio with rustic western furniture at C Lazy U Ranch. 2019 is the 100th birthday anniversary of the guest dude ranch
From food, to accommodations, to activities and socializing, there's a luxury adventure experience for everyone in the mountains of Colorado © C Lazy U Ranch

Getting there

C Lazy U Ranch is located just off Highway 125, about 2.5 hours by car from Denver International Airport, in Granby, Colorado.

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