By Carole Jacobs

Glamping. We’re talking 1,200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, 5-star cuisine, designer spas, and outdoor pros who can show you the ropes—whether you want to bag a peak, cast a line, paddle a river or fly across the sky like Wendy on a high-altitude zip line.  From California to Maine, seven resorts let you embrace the great outdoors without carving a ridge in your shoulders or getting dirt under your fingernails. With no heavy lifting required, the only thing you really need to pack in is your credit card.

  1. Elk River Guest Ranch, Clark, Colorado

Bex, forefront, the owner of Elk River Lodge, leads a fall horsebacking excursion. Photo courtesy Elk River Guest Ranch.The dirt: Located just north of Steamboat, Elk River ( www.elkrivergr.com) is one of the few guest ranches in the U.S. that is owned and operated by a real cowgirl, Becky “Bex” Damman. Set on 40 pristine acres at 7,520 feet overlooking the rushing Elk River and surrounded on three sides by national forest and the saw-toothed peaks of the Continental Divide, this intimate ranch with room for just 15 guests offers all-inclusive, week-long vacation packages that are highly personalized -- you’ll feel like family within hours.

The ranch is also the perfect place to absorb a Rocky Mountain fall, with crisp mornings, sun-splashed afternoons, never-ending views of aspen torching the evergreen mountains and star-spangled skies.  If you’re looking for a quiet, unpretentious retreat where the Wild West vibe still shines through, and where you’ll have the trails, river, back country, 27 horses and staff all mostly to yourself, you are home.

The digs: Homesteaded in 1902, Elk River was a former summer base camp for miners searching for gold, rubies and diamonds in the local rivers and hills, a former hotel, saloon and horse outfitting business before becoming a guest ranch in the 1950s. Today, Elk River’s quartet of rustic log cabins have one or two bedrooms, living rooms and full kitchens. In the fall, the ranch operates as a B&B; do you own cooking or sign up for a package that includes home-style meals in the historic main lodge.

The doings: Hike trails that climb from the ranch through golden valleys and along rushing rivers, enjoy guided horseback riding and instruction and take an overnight camping trip in the wilds. Or try fly fishing in the Elk River, kayaking on Pearl Lake, white-water rafting/tubing, hot springs soaking at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, swimming at King Solomon Falls and evening entertainment at the Steamboat Pro Rodeo, which includes cowboy singers and campfires.

From Elk River Guest Ranch and Home Ranch, both in Clark, Colorado, it’s an easy drive to spectacular hiking near Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy of Steamboat SpringsThe grub: “Most people when coming to a guest ranch are not expecting the food to be so good, so they get a pleasant surprise when they get here!” says Bex. “Our food is not your typical ranch fare. We offer a more upscale, healthy experience and cater to special diets. The salmon with maple Dijon glaze, creamy Parmesan orzo and sautéed garlic green beans with peppers is one of my favorite meals!” 

Down time: Head into Steamboat Springs (the ranch has a shuttle), the town is the epitome of Wild West chic where art galleries and eclectic eateries face off from opposite corners of Lincoln Avenue and antique shops, boutiques and stores stock everything you need to pose as a local. Choose from a dozen different takes on Eggs Benedict at the Creekside Café Grill overlooking Soda Creek or do lunch at La Montana, a Southwestern Tex-Mex restaurant serving sunflower seed–crusted tuna and bananas Foster spiked with a medley of Hispanic spices.

Don’t miss:  The Clark (general) Store, located a few miles from the ranch and your one-stop shopping place for anything you might need – from cookies, cosmetics and fishing licenses to craft brews, espresso and gourmet eats at the Clark Store Deli dished up by Home Ranch Chef Clyde Nelson. Have a Gorgonzola Burgers made from all-natural grass-fed cattle sourced from the local Sand Mountain Cattle Company or a salad comprised of fresh greens from the Firefly Farm. Want to mail a letter or need something to read? The local post office and library are both located here, too.

Start here: www.elkrivergr.com


2. Home Ranch, Clark, Colorado

For  blazing fall colors and panoramic views from a fire tower, hike Hahn’s Peak near Steamboat, just a short drive from Home Ranch and Elk River Guest Ranch. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs.The dirt: This 5-star stunner is Colorado’s only Relais & Chateaux guest ranch the only guest ranch listed in the first edition of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. It’s pricey – but you really want to leave it all to your kids?

Set at 7,300 feet and backed by a million acres of national forest and wilderness, the ranch has been in operation for 30 years and offers all the usual dude ranch doings (guided horseback clinics/riding, fishing, hiking, white-water rafting, kayaking) as well as yoga, gourmet dining with wine pairing (the ranch has its own wine cellar) and all-day children’s and teen programs that include guided outdoor activities, pool parties and overnight camping trips.

The digs: Home Ranch’s drop-dead-gorgeous log cabins (from 1-bedroom cabins with sleeping lofts to 3-bedroom cabins) are the epitome of rustic-chic. Overlooking meadows, aspen and streams and furnished with wood-burning stoves, hot tubs, porches, luxury furnishings and deluxe bedding, they even come with plush robes --Martha would approve. The deluxe lodge rooms are ideal for guests who prefer to be closer to the pool, dining room and library.

Visit Home Ranch in winter for dramatic horseback rides through the snow. Photo courtesy of Home Ranch. The doings: Home Ranch is also open in winter for guided cross-country skiing and skating, snowshoeing, tubing, sleigh rides, winter horseback riding and off-site skiing, snowboarding, dog-sledding and snowmobiling in nearby Steamboat Springs, the home of champagne powder.

The grub: Home Ranch is legendary for its “Colorado Haute Mountain Cuisine,” which revolves around produce, flowers and herbs grown in the ranch’s greenhouses, Home Ranch’s own Sand Mountain Cattle beef, pork and poultry, and fish from local lakes and streams.   During the summer, meals are served in the dining room or at the ranch’s al fresco venues, which include the Farm Kitchen and Campfire Cookout.

Down time: Check out the fall colors (and work off those haute cuisine calories) by taking a hike.  Follow the Elk River through blazing aspen to Three Mile Lake, hike to 280-foot Fish Creek Falls or climb to 10,839-foot Hahn's Peak. An old fire tower at the summit overlooks OMG views.

Don’t miss: Steamboat’s OktoberWest Sept. 15-17 celebrating Colorado brewed ale, local cuisine, food and festivities. The Friday Night Beer Stroll features 45 Rocky Mountain brews or come on Saturday for an all-you-can eat beef cookout, live music and gondola rides.

Start here: www.homeranch.com


3. Camp Ogontz, Lyman, New Hampshire

Saddle up for cattle drives, overnight campouts and rodeos at the Cattle Company and become a real-deal wrangler in just a week. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Cattle CompanyThe dirt: Set on a secluded lake in the White Mountains about 134 miles northeast of Manchester Vermont, Camp Ogontz began life as a turn-of-the-century exclusive girls’ camp/finishing school that lured the likes of Amelia Earhart. After falling on hard times, it was resurrected as a music/arts conference and camp in the 1980s. Today, depending on when you visit, your fellow campers could be anyone from classical violinists to members of a tuba convention.  Meanwhile, talk about cheap: For what it would cost you to overnight at a Motel 6, you and two pals or family members can share a rustic cabin and enjoy three home-cooked meals.

The digs: With room for 200 campers, Camp Ogontz has everything from Adirondack-style cabins with roll-down flaps (as walls) and shared bathhouses to luxurious homes like Mountain Meadows and White House that offer premium digs for multiple family members plus plenty of privacy.

The doings:  Go jump in a lake, ply the still waters in a canoe or kayak, hike trails along waterfalls, play tennis or volleyball—or perfect your pastry in a pie-making class.

The grub:  Think farm-to-table sustainable cuisine. Veggies are grown in on-site greenhouses and window boxes, the camp bakery cranks out homemade breads and goodies like hot-from the-oven sticky buns and all-you-can-eat buffet-style dinners feature entrees like stuffed pork tenderloin with pesto vermicelli stuffed tomatoes, gourmet cheeses made by local artisans and home-made blueberry pie.

Down time: Steam-clean in the old-time wood-fired hot tub, roast s’mores at the nightly bon fire, catch lightning bugs in a jar, or sneak into the rehearsal hall and spy on world-class musicians rehearsing for their next gig.

Don’t miss:  For breathtaking fall foliage, head 30 miles to Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park. From late September through early October, deciduous forests blaze orange, gold and red against the gray granite ledges and dark fir trees. Ride the park’s Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to the top for panoramic views.

Start here: www.campogontz.com


4. Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

During Sylvan Dale’s all-women’s week, you can hike, horseback ride and fly fish and return to the ranch for luxury pampering and gourmet cuisine. Photo courtesy of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.The dirt: Nestled on the Eagle and Thompson rivers just a half hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, this historic working cattle guest ranch (1920) offers a slice of the New West – “just like the Old West but a lot more comfortable,” the owners joke. 

The digs: Upscale cabins and historic farm/ranch houses furnished in Western décor overlook flower gardens, giant cottonwoods, towering blue spruce and the rivers.

The doings:  From guided horseback riding and instruction to hiking, bass fishing, white water rafting, an outdoor heated pool, campfires with s’mores and overnight camping, the ranch is a perfect family vacay and has a Morning Youth Program where kids between 3 and 12 can learn to ride/care for horses and help with ranch chores.  In winter, the ranch becomes a B&B and offers guided horseback riding in the snow.

The grub: Hearty meals revolve homemade everything – from pancakes and biscuits to salads made with locally sustained produce, fresh fish and grass-fed beef culled from the ranch’s herds of Charolais, Red Angus, Lowline Angus and Devon stock.

At Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch located just 35 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re never far from a mirror lake or beautiful meadow. Photo courtesy of Sylvan Dale Ranch..Down time: The old-time front porch of the Heritage gathering room, with a vaulted log ceiling, large stone fireplace, hickory wood floors and picture windows overlooking flower gardens, is a perfect place to hunker down in a rocker and unplug from the 21st century for a spell. Or check out the craft breweries, antique shops and quaint restaurants in downtown Loveland, located seven miles away.

Don’t miss:  Rocky Mountain National Park. In autumn, quaking aspen torch the evergreen slopes gold, orange and crimson, lofty spires like 14,255-foot Longs Peak pierce the cobalt sky and snow glints from the aptly-named Never Summer range. With countless looking-glass lakes and tarns, deep moraines and miles of hiking, you’d need a lifetime to see it all. Drive Trail Ridge Road to 11,716 feet for eye-popping views.

Start here: www.sylvandale.com


5. Sequoia High Sierra Camp, Sequoia National Forest, California

Photo courtesy of Sequoia High Sierra CampThe dirt: Nestled on a steep wooded hillside overlooking Kings Canyon National Park in Giant Sequoia National Monument, this rustic-chic tent camp, built by owner/sustainable architect Burr Hughes, is the last luxury outpost before entering two million acres of High Sierra wilds (running from Sequoia to Yosemite national parks). Pack light!  It’s a mile hike into camp—but there’s a fresh-baked “Welcome Cookie” waiting for you upon your arrival.

The digs: Shuttered windows let in the views and forget about sleeping bags: The tents are furnished with flush-top beds made snug with high thread-count sheets, Pendleton wool blankets and down comforters. Your hand-crafted bed stand even has a reading lantern. The deluxe bathhouse has high-end toiletries, soft towels and a hair dryer so you can look cute for the chipmunks.

The doings: Enjoy guided hikes to Mitchell Peak for panoramic views of the Sierra’s sea of sheer rock mountains, waltz through thigh-high wildflowers at Rowell Meadow, or climb to Seville Lake, a crystal gem rimmed with granite cliffs. 

The grub: Chef Ryan Solien, a California Culinary School grad and former private chef to Bruce Springsteen and Faith Hill, serves up lumberjack breakfast (omelets, homemade muffins and granola and squeeze-your-own OJ), gourmet trail lunch sandwiches made from imported deli sandwich meats and cheeses, and five-course dinners. Lamb shanks in Chianti, New Zealand mussel amuse bouche and bananas flambee, anyone?

Down time: Get starry views through the high-powered Orion telescope, or curl up with a blanket before the evening campfire.

Don’t miss: Hiking beneath giant Sequoias, some as tall as 26-story buildings. Seven groves are within a round-trip day hike of the camp.

Start here: www.sequoiahighsierracamp.com


6. Colorado Cattle Company Guest Ranch, Raymer, Colorado

Visit Home Ranch in winter and enjoy skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, sleigh rides, hot springs soaking and upscale shopping and dining in nearby Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs.The dirt: Want to channel Annie Oakley but never been on a horse? This working cattle guest ranch (18 adults max) will have you roping live steer from horseback in a week. The ranch has a large herd of well-behaved horses so count on a perfect match whether you grew up in the saddle or have never ridden anything except the subway.

You’ll spend mornings riding alongside professional wranglers as they move cattle to the next pasture and check water tanks. Afternoon “Cowboy School” includes lessons on team penning, team sorting, cutting, tag, cowboy handball, barrel racing, obstacle courses and other games that teach cattle-handling while improving your riding skills.  Once you feel comfy on a horse, you can take a guided overnight camping trip or even participate in a real live cattle drive – yahoo!

The digs:  Restored guest rooms that were part of the original 1897 homestead and charming log cabins with porches have rustic log furnishings and deluxe baths with bucket sinks.

The grub: Hearty ranch fare includes "made to order" breakfasts, trail lunches (sandwiches, salads, fruit, cookies) and for dinner, BBQ ribs, chicken, beef and pork with all the fixings.  Tuesday nights feature “all you can drink” Margaritas.  

The doings: The ranch’s wide-open spaces beckon you to ride out and explore to find that missing calf or yearling or just to see what’s over the next hill. Or unwind with hiking, fishing, shooting sports, horseshoe and volleyball.

Down time: Saddle sore? The ranch’s hot tub and dry sauna will help get those kinks out.

Don’t miss: The Wednesday night campout, when wranglers guide you to a pristine campsite for a campfire dinner and sleeping under the stars. It’s magic.

Start here: www.coloradocattlecompany.com


7. El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

The dirt:  Wedged between Santa Barbara’s unspoiled coastline and Los Padres National Forest, El Capitan Canyon is a luxury tent/cabin resort set on 350 acres of undulating hills and canyons. Located about 20 miles north of Santa Barbara in wine country immortalized in the Hollywood film, Sideways, the resort is also a five-minute walk from El Capitan State Beach.

The digs: “Rough it” in a canvas safari tent with screened windows and doors and a rustic tree-branch-framed bed; in a streamside wood-floored sleeping yurt with a domed ceiling and skylight; or in a spa tent or cabin a step from the massage table.  (Deluxe bathhouses are nearby.)  Or stay in a contemporary rustic-chic cedar cabin with a porch, peaked ceiling, kitchenette, gas log stove, and full bath. All resort furnishings, fences and signs are handcrafted at the El Capitan Canyon Workshop from reclaimed trees on the property.

The doings: Take a guided botanical hike, explore 3,500 acres of pristine nature preserve in Los Padres National Forest; hit the beach for a swim or stroll or borrow one of the resort’s complimentary bikes for a scenic spin.   

The grub: All digs come with picnic tables, fire pits and grills. BYO groceries or purchase BBQ kits for marinated steak or fresh fish (plus side dishes) at The Canyon Market & Deli, a barn-style structure with a corrugated tin roof. Don’t feel like cooking? Head to The Café inside the market for organic gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner items or hire a “Butler Chef” to grill and serve your meal at your tent.

Down time: Get an “al fresco” hot stone massage at the spa,  swim in the solar-heated swimming pool, enjoy morning yoga, Thursday night outdoor movies, Saturday night BBQ dinners and concerts under the stars, and evening story-telling and star-gazing around the campfire.

Don’t miss! The Ellwood Butterfly Grove in nearby Goleta. From mid-November through mid-February, Monarch butterflies migrate here from the western Rocky Mountain and transform the trees into fluttering waves of orange, yellow and brown.

Start here: elcapitancayon.com

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