If you think it’s impossible for three children under the age of four and their parents—one of whom was seven months pregnant—to have the trip of a lifetime at a destination that takes 12 hours of travel from the East Coast and has single-degree temperatures, you haven’t been to The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch. The American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property in Saratoga, Wyoming (a four-hour drive from Denver) is one of a handful of next-level ranches that have become increasingly popular bucket-list destinations because of their unique take on laid-back luxury, top-tier family-friendly offering, and (mostly) authentic Western ranch experience. (Manual labor is optional.)
What, exactly, is a next-level ranch? Imagine exquisite pelt-draped lodges adorned with exposed wood, cast iron, and leather with arrays of secluded, upscale cabins, each with its own luxury four-wheel-drive ride; bursting with amenities like fine dining, spa treatments, and steam baths; expertly guided and fully-equipped outdoor sports experiences for every taste; wall-to-wall kids programming; five-star service; and even a private ski mountain, all situated on a working ranch surrounded by thousands of pristine, Ansel Adams-worthy acres of wilderness where elk, antelope, and horses roam free.
So, forget the one-note ski or beach resort and head for any of these five ranches that are upping their game in 2020. Many, after beginning as summer getaways, have recently mastered the art of winter hospitality, and feature specialized winter sports, hearty cuisine, and cozy accommodations.
Vermejo, A Ted Turner Reserve
When media mogul and environmentalist Ted Turner does something, he doesn’t skimp. And that goes for the hospitality arm of his ventures. Vermejo, a wildlife preserve spanning 550,000 acres on the New Mexico-Colorado border, is a rancher’s ranch with acres of free-roaming bison, elk, black bears, bald eagles, wild horses, and more. Akin to your own private, luxury wilderness reserve, it is likely you’ll see more animals than people during your stay. Speaking of accommodations, you can stay at the Casa Grande, originally designed by Joseph L. Silsbee, mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, a 25,000-square-foot house with seven guest bedrooms. In the winter, you can go ice fishing or take a cooking class that sources ingredients from nearby ranches and farms, such as locally-raised bison and country-fried quail. Summer activities include 3D archery, photography lessons, fly fishing, and horseback riding. Of the overriding ethos at Vermejo is Turner’s mission to preserve the land and animals through his Turner Endangered Species Fund, which has resulted in an abundance of wildlife species making their home in the reserve.