Set in one of the most varied, dramatic landscapes in the country and home to one of the West’s largest herds of bison, Colorado’s Zapata Ranch is a very special place.
Zapata Ranch is a 103,000 acre cattle and bison ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Owned by the Nature Conservancy and run by the visionary Ranchlands organization, Zapata sits in one of the most surprising and uniquely diverse landscapes in the country. To the west, in the far distance, are the San Juan Mountains and to the east lie the dramatic Sangre de Cristo range, at the foot of which is the otherworldly desert landscape of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The valley between is a water rich ecosystem of grasslands, meadows and wetlands that not only supports the ranch’s 2,000 herd of wild bison but a huge diversity of birds, plant life and wild animals. Experiencing this paradise on horseback is unforgettable.
Whether you’re a beginner or more experienced, the riding program at Zapata Ranch is one of the best we’ve seen. You’ll be carefully matched with your horse and one of the joys of your time at Zapata Ranch is learning the quirks and character of your four-legged companion. Seldom is the riding ‘nose to tail’ and you’ll be able to roam freely across the much of the ranch, accompanied by one of the wranglers, all of whose enthusiasm for life at Zapata is infectious. A highlight for many is the long ride to the sand dunes, where you’ll wind your way through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos getting a unique perspective on the largest dune system in the United States.
Out of the saddle there is plenty to keep you busy, from naturalist led hikes, birdwatching excursions, and trips to hidden waterfalls. While Zapata is very much a working operation and eschews some of the extravagances of more highfalutin ranches, there is no skimping on creature comforts and you’ll be able to finish your day with a soak in the hot tub watching inquisitive mule deer wander through the grounds.
The main lodge building is the original ranch homestead and was built in the 1800s. It sits among rangy cottonwoods that provide welcome shade in the summer and turn a brilliant orange come fall. The rooms, either in the lodge or separate bunkhouse, are beautifully furnished and have an elegant southwestern decor that gives them the feel of home.
Food & Drink
Guests convene before dinner in the main lodge dining room for drinks and a chance to catch up on the day’s adventures. Everyone eats together and the buffet style dinner is delicious with the ranch’s chef sourcing fresh, local ingredients from the farmers of the fertile San Luis Valley.
RELATED ARTICLE: Author and friend of All Roads North, Laura Kaye, pays a visit to Colorado’s Zapata Ranch and gets a little more than she bargained for – Zapata Ranch: Shirkers Need Not Apply