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Smith Fork Ranch – A Luxury Colorado Dude Ranch Experience

Smith Fork Ranch – A Luxury Colorado Dude Ranch Experience


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.

Smith Fork 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.

Smith Fork Cabins Inside

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.

Group picture at Smith Fork, Colorado

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.

 Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado property

Wagon Wheel at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado

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.

Meals at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado

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.

Vegetable garden at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado

Meal at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado 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. Also, it can get cold in the evenings so be sure to bring a good fleece jacket.  Check out some of my favorite options here.

Meal at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado

Meal at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado Enjoying friends and the outdoors at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado 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.

Breakfast Trail Ride at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado Breakfast served at Smith Fork Ranch, Colorado 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.

Hiking and Horseback Riding at Smith Fork Ranch Colorado

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.


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About the author

For over 20 years, Dana Perri enjoyed a successful career in the TV production industry. After decades of story telling, she turned her attention to a different medium, writing and publishing a children’s picture book series entitled Think…then Jump™. This jump started a period of fully expressing all her passions; Writing, Cooking and Entertaining. She has been and continues to work in the culinary world for caterers, and in front and back of house at Despaña in SoHo NYC. These opportunities have helped to round out her knowledge and experience. Dana’s latest writing endeavor is food and lifestyle blog. She shares her 'something from nothing' approach to life, putting words and pictures together stirring it all with the most important ingredient; LOVE.


  1. Viktoria
    February 10, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    I LOVE this place! The horse riding, the cabanas, the food, the everything! Sign me up, I’m going there!

    • Dana Perri
      February 10, 2017 at 7:59 pm

      Viktoria, definitely sign yourself up. It is a magical place with so many outdoor activities and glorious views. Enjoy
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  2. Jing
    February 11, 2017 at 1:07 am

    I love everything you described here from the cabins, outdoor views and activities, food, and especially the excellent service. Must be a really great experience. 🙂

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Thanks Jing,
      The service was beyond reproach. The staff were there to attend to your every need. We really were able to get to know them as much as they got to know us. A truly different and special experience. I hope you get an opportunity to visit.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  3. Revati Victor
    February 11, 2017 at 1:27 am

    I would never consider a dude ranch to be a luxury. It seems like a contradiction in terms. But this place definitely hits the mark! It looks like you were pretty well taken care of!

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      I understand the contradiction and it may not luxury in the traditional sense, but it is in terms of service. The ranch is yours to roam and explore. Each staff member is at the ready to help make your vacation a meaningful one. If you want to learn to fly fish, they patiently teach. If you want to venture off the ranch, they schedule rafting trips. It hit the mark!
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  4. Punita Malhotra
    February 11, 2017 at 2:39 am

    Farm stay, horse riding, cozy bedroom, yummy food and such stunning surrounds. Sounds perfect!
    Punita Malhotra recently posted…Treasure hunt for the most exquisite hidden havelisMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 8:39 am

      Hi Punita, You have it exactly right. This location is so special for so many reasons, the breathtaking scenery, the activities, the quiet calm . But the true key is that at any one time there is only 30 guests on a property of 300 acres. It feels like your own country home with mountains to roam. It is perfect and I am so grateful for having had the experience.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  5. Siddhartha Joshi
    February 11, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Wow an almost 1:1 ratio at a luxury property is something I have never heard of, and I can completely understand why your experience was so unique! Lovely pictures as always 🙂
    Siddhartha Joshi recently posted…Planning a trip to Finland? Here’s all you need to know!My Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Siddahartha for your kind comments.
      I have only been to one other property where there is a limit to the amount of guests, Little Palm Island. The big difference is that is a small island and this is 300 acres. 1:1 = special indeed.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  6. Danik
    February 11, 2017 at 6:47 am

    I never done a ranch experience yet but after reading and looking at this post, I so want to do it. 🙂
    Danik recently posted…Our top 5 things to do whilst checking out BeijingMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Hi Danik,
      I never had a ranch experience before this one, and now I am spoiled. This was an extraordinary experience. I live just outside NYC and love to ride horses but I am not a ‘rider’. This gave me the opportunity to ride every day. But if that isn’t your idea of fun there is so many other activities in which to partake. I hope you can visit this glorious estate.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  7. Nat Deduck
    February 11, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Wow! This place seems to be a the perfect place to escape the busy cities/life! This is super inspirational! It looks lovely!
    Nat Deduck recently posted…Romantic Bangkok – Things To Do and Attractions for CouplesMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Hi Nat,
      Indeed, this is an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Often times, I would just wander through the paths and take in the beauty, or sit and write as I pondered the majesty of the mountains before me. I am so glad that you find this inspirational.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  8. Mel and Marcus
    February 11, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Looks amazing. We fancy being cowboys for an afternoon but only for a few hours before relaxing with an evening cocktail. Yes we know it’s not exactly Gary Cooper but it’s a start.
    The Black Canyon looks amazing.

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Well Mel and Marcus this would be the ideal location for you then. I don’t fancy myself a cowgirl at all, but do love riding horses. Smith Fork affords you the best of both worlds. Afternoon cowboy/girl + Evening cocktails. Which I enjoyed each and every night!
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  9. Gokul Raj
    February 11, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Horse riding on a ranch is something I would love to do. That is really a laid back retreat away from the chaos of the city.
    Gokul Raj recently posted…Ways to Make Money while TravelingMy Profile

    • dana
      February 11, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Hi Gokul,
      Quite honestly this was a horse riding dream. Of course, there are many other activities but for me this experience of riding through trails and mountains, rivers and streams was beyond anything I could have imagined. The wranglers make it so easy by readying your horse and guiding you through the various trails throughout the 300 acre property. I can’t say enough good things about my experience. If you have an opportunity to retreat from the ‘chaos of the city’, this is it.

  10. Angela
    February 11, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Sounds like you had an amazing experience! I love that they switch up the locations for breakfast! What a fun idea. We went horseback riding in Colorado this summer and it was exhilarating! Thanks for sharing
    Angela recently posted…Spain and Portugal Itinerary | A 90 Day Unforgettable AdventureMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 11, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks Angela,
      The morning breakfast was an exhilarating way to start the day. The other lovely meal setting was the one by the vegetable garden under the lighted trestle. Having drinks in the garden under that big country sky filled with stars was amazing.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  11. Nathan
    February 11, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    oh wow– I never thought to do something like this but it looks like so much fun. And the food, always my favorite part, looks amazing! I’ll have to look into this one or something like it for a future trip.
    Nathan recently posted…The Best Restaurants in Seminyak, BaliMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 12, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Hi Nathan,
      This was a trip that was spurred on by one of our friends and I’m so glad that they suggested it. It’s one of those trips that you remember for a long time.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  12. Sandy N Vyjay
    February 11, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    It is such a nice feeling to eat food made with freshly grown vegetables. It gives a great farm-house feeling. The idea of eating together and at different locations is an innovative and fun idea.
    Sandy N Vyjay recently posted…Connecting with Nature at Prestige GlenwoodMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 12, 2017 at 10:02 am

      Hi Sandy,
      If they don’t grow the vegetables on site, they locally source all the rest. Everything is fresh. I can’t eat chicken eggs so they were able to get me quail eggs to have for breakfast. Just wonderful.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  13. Vicki Louise
    February 11, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Sign me up! This places looks amazing. The horses, the activities, the cabins. It would be the perfect way to escape city life and get back to nature (with the benefits of massages and cocktails in the evenings!)
    Vicki Louise recently posted…48 Hours in Chicago: Where to Stay, What To Do & Where To EatMy Profile

    • Dana Perri
      February 12, 2017 at 10:04 am

      Vicki, you stated it perfectly. You can be as rugged as you wanted during the day but at night you can dress up and sip a cocktail after your massage and have a perfect end to your day.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  14. Jenn
    February 12, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Ahhh you got me with the food photos. Those scallops look amazing! I’ve always wanted to try something like this out, but I didn’t realize it could be so luxurious! Thank you for sharing, I’ll definitely keep this in mind for a future adventure.

    • Dana Perri
      February 13, 2017 at 11:48 am

      Thanks Jenn,
      The food was delicious and had a wide range, from bison to scallops, from a taco bar to velvety soups. Please keep Smith Fork in mind for your next trip.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  15. Anneklien Meanne
    February 13, 2017 at 7:31 am

    Wow that ranch looks a great place to stay and with those outdoor activities . A great place for adventure activities.

  16. Clare
    February 13, 2017 at 8:42 am

    It looks like a stunning place and the location looks amazing. I would try the horse riding though I am not very good. Also the clay pigeon shooting, always wanted to try that. A few cocktails in the evening too would be great 🙂
    Clare recently posted…Pisac – A day trip from Cusco PeruMy Profile

  17. Dana Perri
    February 13, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Hi Clare,
    There were several people in our group that were not the horse riding types but the wranglers are so good at safety and teaching you the basics that everyone rode at least once or twice and loved it. The cocktail featured in the piece was the one I had a the appetizer hour every night. It was light and fleshing and perfect to start the evening.
    Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  18. Bob
    February 13, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Looks beautiful and the food looks amazing. A far cry from when I worked with my Uncle in his ranch.
    Bob recently posted…6 American Castles Where You Can Spend The NightMy Profile

  19. Vicky and Buddy
    February 13, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I think it’s really cool that they ask you to fill out a questionnaire before you arrive. You don’t usually find places that make that extra effort to know their guests. And I love the ratio of guests to staff, that kind of personal attention is rare as well.

    • Dana Perri
      February 14, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      Smith Fork is all about creating a unique and individualized experience. The answers that a guest provides helps guide the staff as to his/her interests and level of expertise for each of the activities, plus any food restrictions. Rare indeed, and so very special.
      Dana Perri recently posted…Sherry Stirred MushroomsMy Profile

  20. UK Student Visa
    February 14, 2017 at 2:43 am

    Somehow I want to travel to a place like this, Horse riding and laying down on a comfy bed is kinda my dream.

  21. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer
    March 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Visiting a dude ranch seems to be so interesting and looks like so much fun! When I get to Colorado, I definitely want to a similar experience!
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted…Food in Your Face: 11 Must-Try Japanese FoodsMy Profile

    • dana
      March 1, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      First let me say that Colorado is breathtaking. The ranch experience was more than I could have asked for. I hope you have the chance to experience both.

  22. Sarene
    June 11, 2018 at 5:04 am

    I love the Smith Fork Ranch! It’s a mixture of luxury and rustic vibe. It’s perfect for family or even just for vacation because it feels just like like home, looking so warm and cozy. Love to experience and see the ranch for myself.

    • Carmen Edelson
      June 11, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      You would absolutely love it, Serene!

    • dana
      June 11, 2018 at 6:05 pm

      You hit the nail on the head. It is the ideal mix of rustic and luxury. The luxury comes in how private it is. How they know the needs, wants and expectations of each guest. How they can caterer to any request. And it is private, and breathtakingly stunning. Please go check it out for yourself.

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