As remote as is perfect for a vacation, this extraordinary property is 10 miles from Crawford, Colorado and just a two and half hour drive from Aspen. (That is if you don’t stop a dozen times to take one picturesque landscape photograph after another.) Private, exclusive and geared toward providing an individualized experience, Smith Fork Ranch delivers on all these promises and more. Situated on over 300 acres, the ranch has 5 cabins with varying capacities; 2 guest house cabins and 3 private cabins.
Each possessing their own rustic charm with modern amenities designed with the utmost care for maximum comfort. That design combination should come as no surprise, since ranch owners Marley Hodgson’s, and his wife Linda, are the founders of the legendary Ghurka brand that creates stylish but useful and durable leather bags and accessories.
The ranch is exclusive in a variety of ways, however, the key is the low guest capacity to high staff ratio. With a max of 30 guests at one time and up to 26 staff attending to your every need, the idea of ‘have it your way’ is truly attained and even goes beyond the ordinary of being attentive. With the almost 1:1 ratio, staff members are able to engage thoughtfully with the guests and their needs throughout the day. The staff are carefully selected by ranch keepers Tim and Heather Johnson, whose own warmth and hospitality are conveyed through the team they assemble. Friendly, lively attitude and service is always at the ready to create your ideal vacation.
From the moment we walked onto the meticulously manicured property we were greeted with smiles and welcoming arms. Since Smith Fork asks their guest to fill out a questionnaire prior to arrival, the staff already know what a guest’s likes are and if there are any special considerations, food or otherwise.
Splendor at all levels, the ranch provides not just an adventure through all its outdoor activities: horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, clay shooting, archery but the food and drink “activities” are superior to some high end restaurants in Aspen. Each meal has a variety of offerings that are prepared with a delicate hand by the chefs. The cooking staff takes pride in each and every meal, from breakfast buffets to cocktail hour appetizers to the main evening meal.
All the food is locally sourced with the vegetables and herbs being grown on the property and lovingly cared for by Fritz, the gardener. As I mentioned, they accommodate any guests’ special needs, and both my husband and I have some restrictions in the food department. We never once had to ask “is there a substitute for us?” as the chef and staff already knew and always had options available for us, even letting us know what they had planned especially for us. Without fail, they never disappointed but instead shone brightly in this area.
Smith Fork also creates unique eating environments on some evenings and even for a morning breakfast, too. They switch up the locations for meals allowing you to take in all the Colorado glory from different angles of the property. Whether it’s a full family style dinner on the main porch or a garden party by the veggies under the lighted trestle, gathering together at the end of each day is a moment each guest awaits to share tales of the day’s adventures. If you are not in a single group who already know one another, as was our case, mealtime provides the ideal opportunity to mingle and engage. What a treasure.
One of my favorite breakfast moments was our horseback breakfast ride. The wranglers took us on a forested trail leading us to a spot by the river where the cooking staff had been up at the crack of dawn lovingly preparing a cowboy style, luxury morning meal. Bacon as thick as a skirt steak, potatoes perfectly fried, eggs many ways, biscuits and sausage, gravy and fruit, yogurt. Need I say more.
The ranch is equally suitable for a couples’ retreat as it is ideal for families, offering a variety of children’s activities that are all guided and supervised with camp-like counselors. We were at the ranch vacationing as one large group of adults and children ranging in ages from 3 – 18 occupying the entire ranch. With a large group and a wide age range and food restrictions, not a one had an issue finding food that they loved or activities in which to participate. For the kids, the activities seem endless. Aside for all the ranch specific ones mentioned earlier, there is ping pong, a pool table, campfires and s’mores. Heck, there’s 300 acres to run through and explore. Even if you don’t want to take part of all these activities, there are many nooks and crannies to sit and read, ponder or simply take in the awe of it all.
With the abundant activities both on and off the property, there is a team to help coordinate and support each activity. Claire, the activities coordinator, checks in daily with each guest to inquire how he or she might like to plan the day. Now if you are feeling that this seems too structured, it’s not. You can plan your day or not. You can change your mind about what you want to do or not. The flexibility in choosing how to spend your time at the ranch is more bendable than an expert yogini.
Our group literally took part in every activity available and each one has staff that provides expertise and guidance. Safety is key, therefore they impart the proper instruction to the guests, ensuring not only a fulfilling experience but a safe one as well.
The small group capacity means you get individualized care in the activities you choose. This is the essence of the ranch’s philosophy. A perfect example is that each guest is provided their own horse so that you and the horse can create a bond and relationship during your stay. You can learn the basics of riding, choose to ride trails or for more experienced riders they offer half and full day riding adventures.
If a two legged or two wheeled activity is more your speed, then hiking or mountain biking trails are abundant with level of difficulty and views to suit anyone’s preference.
There is a river and 5 ponds for fly-fishing, plus clay shooting and archery. With all these different outdoor activities you are bound to find one or all that float your boat. For my part, there was nothing I wanted to do more than to ride my horse, Winston. Every day, twice a day. He, my wrangler, Katherine and I trotted off daily in search of a new trail to wander, and wander we did.
After you have had a day full of activities, a custom spa treatment might be in order. There is a quiet cabin for massages or facials to help melt your muscles into relaxation or just ‘chill’ in the hot tub to bubble away the day. Truly a lovely way to end the day before evening cocktails.
If venturing off the property is something you fancy, there are a few very worthwhile day trips. Both Gunnison National Forest and West Elk Wilderness are just beyond the property line and up for exploration. There is whitewater rafting, floating or fly-fishing on the Big Gunny, which we all took part in a group float. It was relaxing and beautiful and a fun group activity. I highly recommend rising early one morning to drive out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The depth and awe of this dark canyon will leave you breathless.
If you are looking for something a bit less adventure filled, there are tours and classes for glassblowing at a local artisan’s studio. Or for an even more relaxed vibe, sit back at a wine tasting at Black Bridge Winery in Paonia.
Let me leave you with one last rant about the vistas. Smith Fork is situated far away from reality. No TV and only limited WiFi service. AND NO ONE CARES. Why? Because no matter which direction you pan, giant rolling mountains stand proudly before you. One doesn’t need to stare into a TV set when you have green and luscious, full of wild life, packed with majesty right in front of you. Being a New Yorker, I can attest to the extreme difference in both scenery and in air quality. I wish I could bottle the fresh purity of it. Bring it back home and take a whiff every time I need to be healthier, freer and detoxified.
If you desire a week of rustic charm, country luxury, good old fashioned outdoor activities combined with delicious meals and spectacular views look no further than Smith Fork Ranch.
For more information on Smith Fork Ranch, make sure to visit its official website here.