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Tarryall River Ranch: Family Dude Ranch Vacation

Soft Adventure for the Family Set - Lake George, Colorado

by Tammie Thompson

Tarryall River Ranch, Colorado, photo by T. Thompson Good, wholesome, family fun. That's the simplest way to describe a week at Tarryall River Ranch, nestled in the rolling meadows of the Colorado Rockies. At an elevation of 8,600 feet, Aspen and Ponderosa Pine proliferate, and the views are drop dead spectacular.

The ranch is about horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, but so much more. Families unwind, unplug, and reconnect as a family unit over a game of checkers or pool, or just chillin' on the cabin porch. A week away: a world of difference in attitude.

On this Friday evening Maggie, age 11, stood tall, insisting that she had seen a bear in the woods. "It had to be a bear, it just had to be." The other kids gathered round. "Lets go on a bear hunt!" And so began the search for the nebulous bear, ranch hands gathered round, safety shotgun in hand, and headed into the woods.

Just another adventure at the ranch. Soft adventure runs deep at Tarryall. Extremely safety oriented, staff spends time on horse safety at an initial orientation, and works slowly to gage a guest's comfort on a horse. Great for beginners and those who haven't ridden in a while, not so great for experienced riders looking for an adrenaline rush.

Daily rides start out easy, with a walking ride along a wide trail, perfect for a quick initiation. Once settled kids 6-10 can choose to go off in their own group - Wranglers, or hang with their parents. Teens, 12 and up, have their own group as well. Young kids, 3-5, can take pony rides or explore the ranch's many diversions (crafts, kid's clubhouse, petting zoo, vollyball and more), all lead by counselors.

Tarryall River Ranch, photo by T. Thompson Situated on the edge of Lost Creek Wilderness Area, the region offers up a variety of topography, all good for riding, including mellow trails along the Tarryall River, ridge rides with views of Pikes Peak, or steep rides winding through Aspen groves. Guests have some input on where they would like to go, but most rides are orchestrated by the head wrangler.

The Tesch family runs the ranch, having purchased it a few years ago. Kevin and Lisa run the place, but the rest of the family pitches in, Klayton with maintenance, Kody as a ranch hand, Kelvin as head wrangler, and Bridget as head chef. Even little Wyatt, Carson and Harlie get in on the act. It's obvious that the Tesch's love the ranch, and they want their guests to love it to.

Guest cabins are scattered on the property. Furnishings are western, arty, and very tasteful. Each cabin has a rocking chair on the porch; perfect to catch the sunset over the mountains or watch the humming birds work their magic. There are also two lodges that offer varied sleeping arrangements. A central dining hall stages family style meals, though there are several dining diversions including BBQ night, a poolside lunch, cowboy breakfast on the trail, and gourmet night for adults. The food is "home style gourmet," a combination of western fare with a few lighter touches. Heavy on meat and potatoes, vegetarians or those with dietary restrictions should be sure to speak up prior to arrival. The food got high marks from the kids, though some picky eaters struggled with lack of variety.

Back to the bear. It was a busy day at Tarryall. The kids had already explored the ranch and the surrounding forest. They had been on a PB&J ride (eat peanut butter sandwiches by the river - no parents allowed); the Gold Mine ride (explore an actual historic gold mine, even take same rock samples home - again no parents allowed); and practiced for the team penning and ranch rodeo. A busy week. But Maggie was sure about that bear and wanted to get some photos. The bear hunt had to be quick, as it was "fancy dinner" night for the adults, and nobody wanted to be late - hey they were even serving wine with dinner.

Tarryall Ranch bonfire, photo by T. Thompson So what about the party atmosphere? Wild cowboys carousing till dawn? Nope. Tarryall reinforces their wholesome attitude throughout the ranch. You are welcome to bring your own libations (a refrigerator is provided), but alcohol consumption is rare, and forbidden by staff. Instead of hitting the bar, guests can cozy up to the bonfire for a marshmallow roast, sit on the porch and count stars, hit the dance hall for a swing or square dance, or a participate in a good old fashioned sing-a-long. Tradition runs deep and it's nice to find a place where time stands still and families can dial it down to enjoy one another's company.

The ranch does offer a kids' program for ages 3 and up. Broncobusters (3-5) is offered 9-12 and 1-5. Wranglers (6-11) are the same. Both groups reconvene for lunch with their families. While this works well for the ranch, it doesn't offer flexibility for adults wanting to participate in all day rides or the river-rafting excursion. Additional baby-sitting is not available.

Kids have their own clubhouse, the Hilton, a historic cabin on the property. Full of craft supplies, games, and just plain funky, the kids love it. On "fancy dinner night" the kids met by lamplight for a "ghostly good time."

It's at this juncture that the kids and "interested adults" convened to start the bear hunt. They loaded up into Kevin's pickup and headed into the wilderness. Maggie carried the flashlight. "Here, here is where he was. No, maybe it was here. Or here." The shadows of knarled pines cast wild shapes against the rocks. If a bear had been here, he was long gone. No matter, on to more pressing things like what was for dinner.

At the end of a busy week, the guests at Tarryall had become one - one family, one unit, one group who shared meals, conversation and adventure. We shared the stories of the trip to Lizard Rock, up among the Aspens - the ground thick with ferns - to the panoramic precipice that is Lizard Rock. Panoramic views of the ranch, rolling green countryside, and groves of Aspens are an indelible memory. We talk about the Quartz Mine ride, how this vein of quartz came to be, how gold could not be far off. We collected samples of white and rose crystals, some with green lichen, for our new collections. We laughed about our whitewater river trip, how we loved our guide - getting a true picture of Colorado culture. The kids piped in with talk of the horses, Cisco and Snowflake, and the pony that likes to escape the petting zoo. We retired early, well worn from the saddle, but renewed from the fresh air.

Tarryall River Ranch, photo by T. Thompson The culmination of the week, the Ranch Rodeo, is a big event. Wrangles strut their stuff, the American flag waves; ranch guests twitch nervously on their hay bale seats. After the national anthem, the crowd applauds the first riders. Racing amid barrels, bending poles, it's an agility challenge. One by one, first the kids, then the adults, kick to the crowds' roar. The horses prance, trot and gallop to the finish. Topped off with a Popsicle treat, a good time was certainly had by all.

The troops gathered for one last outdoor cookout. Steak (a crowd favorite), coupled with a fantastic sunset, is just a prelude for the evening's activities. The kids raced to one of the cabins for one last rehearsal for the talent show. The adults sauntered down the hill to the recreation building for the activities. Intermixed - families, wranglers, and friends gathered round the giant fireplace for the festivities. Song sheets were handed out, an impromptu stage set. Kevin broke the ice with a family favorite, "You are my sunshine," as the group warmed up. As grandma's old songs melted into the air, talents arose, (exceptional talent for sure) - poems, guitar and piano classics, and on to skits by the kids' program.

It was a fitting conclusion for a week of bonding at the ranch. Singing "Happy Trails to You," hugs were passed around, promises to keep in touch. Good wholesome fun.

Tarryall Ranch Sing-a-long, photo by T. Thompson Things to Know:

  • Ranch wear is casual western. There's a washer and dryer on the premises that you are welcome to use. Certainly comes in handy after a day on the dusty trail.

  • There is a refrigerator for guest's use. Stock up in Colorado Springs before heading to the ranch. The closest store is a good 20 miles away.

  • The ranch best suited for families looking to bond with kids. It's not a place to dump the kids at the kids' program and party till dawn.

  • There is a well stocked Trading Post with items like batteries, shampoo, Tylenol, sodas. If you have a special request, the Ranch will pick it up the next time they are in town.

  • There's a special teen program for kids 12 and up.

  • There are a couple of side trips worth mentioning. Wednesday, those interested, can travel to Buena Vista for a whitewater-rafting trip. Depending on the season, the Arkansas River is a great soft adventure for families. It's affordable, safe, and the kids love it. It breaks up the week, and offers a glimpse into other areas of Colorado. All arrangements are made by Tarryall Ranch.

  • Another side trip worth exploring is a stop at South Park City in Fairplay, Colorado. A historic town, with over forty historic buildings, it's an excellent excursion for families. Our group of kids explored the smokehouse, assay office, barn, cabins, caboose, livery, old school house, barber shop, dentist's office, doctor's office, general store, bank and saloon with considerable interest for an educational experience. There's a small entrance fee - definitely worth a stop.

    How to get to Tarryall Ranch:
    Located in the central Rocky Mountains, Pike's Peak (another great excursion) looms to the southwest. 65 miles from Colorado Springs Airport or three hours by car from Denver Airport, the ranch can arrange transportation or you can rent a car. We enjoyed having a vehicle to explore the surrounding area.

    Rates start at $1500 per week for adults (discounts for children) and include all meals, horseback riding, and other ranch activities. See Tarryall River Ranch website at for more information.

    For more info on dude and guest ranches see our index here.

    ...... Tammie Thompson lives to travel. It's all about the adventure, whether it's hiking a local mountain, snorkeling a Caribbean reef, or tasting fresh powder snow. Tammie lives in Truckee, CA with her husband, two adventurous children, and Lola, the Bernese Mountain Dog.

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