We Swear Your Kids Won’t Say “I’m Bored” at this Rocky Mountain Ranch in Colorado
I write a lot about family travel, but I find myself in an odd predicament when talking about the YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado. On the one hand, I want everyone to know how awesome it is. On the other hand, I don’t want everyone to know how awesome it is. But, because I’m a giver and because it’s been around for 50 years and isn’t exactly a well-kept secret, I’m going to go ahead and tell you why it’s the perfect family vacation spot.
The first thing to know about the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado is that they have two properties. The Estes Park Center is located near the city of Estes Park, and it’s wonderful. (My review of that location is here.)
Snow Mountain Ranch (SMR) is located higher up the mountain near the town of Winter Park, Colorado. It’s a two hour drive from the Denver airport, but private shuttle service and Amtrak transportation are also available. My husband and I thought the drive up the mountain was really scenic and pleasant. The kids, not so much, but that’s because we listened to about 20 hours of Yacht Rock radio on the way from Austin, Texas.
We stayed in one of the three lodges that are basically like no-frills hotels. “No frills” meaning you have a private bathroom, comfortable beds, quiet and privacy, but no TV. (But there’s free Wi-Fi, so nobody panicked.) There are also campsites available for rental, as well as really great cabins and houses that range in size from sleeping five to sleeping 12. Their seven and eight bedroom reunion cabins are perfect if you have a large family gathering. And the cabins and houses all have TVs, but who needs ’em when you have this view?
The other lodging option at SMR, which proved to be controversial in our household, is the new Yurt Village. My son Jack and I were up for it, but my husband and oldest son Sam were a hard “no” because they’re not really campers. I explained to them that the yurts are actually more like glamping than camping, but they still didn’t bite. The word “wussy” may have been yelled once or twice by me. But as you can see, the yurts are a unique way of experiencing Colorado. They’re round, platform tents with a wooden frame, available year-round (but they’re not heated, so keep that in mind). Each one can sleep up to six people, with one queen bed and two sets of bunk beds. There’s a communal bathhouse with hot showers, hair dryers, a washer and dryer, etc., so it’s not exactly roughing it. I’ll be there one day, yurt! Wait for me!
Dining-wise, the cabins and houses have full kitchens, but if you’re staying at a yurt, campsite or lodge room, SMR has a couple of other options. There’s a restaurant that has items like pizza and chicken fingers in the main building, and a dining commons offers three buffet-style meals a day for a reasonable fee.
Activities at Snow Mountain Ranch
Now, on to the activities at SMR! There are many of them. Much like a resort, a schedule is printed daily that helps you plan your fun. There’s also a website for activity sign-up, and a staffed activity office to help you out with your choices. The Winter activities are mostly at the Nordic Center and they include downhill skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, ice skating, tubing, and sleigh rides. And get this: they even have dog sledding! Like, yelling “Mush!” at a team of dogs that pulls you around. Isn’t that cool? My chunky poodle Teddy definitely won’t do that. Even when I give him snacks. Check the website for rates and equipment rental information.
Now, on to the summer activities that we enjoyed. SMR offers hiking, canoeing, a llama adventure, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, tennis, swimming and more. I can’t even type it all, so look here for the complete list. Some of the activities are for a small fee, but the majority are free. Like mini-golf, the climbing wall and archery. (Ahem, who’s the only one in my family who got a bulls-eye? This aging Katniss right here.)
There are also plenty of indoor activities at the Kiva Center. We played basketball, ping pong, and Foosball, and then I threw all caution to the wind and roller skated for the first time since the 70s. I’m happy to report, there were no injuries. Not even to my pride. (But would it have killed them to play some Andy Gibb for me? Just one song?)
There’s also a library and a craft shop to keep you occupied when the weather is bad, or when you need a little break from the outdoor fun. The crafts include painting pottery, glass fusion, mosaics, copper enamel, wood burning, tie dye and more.
Must-Try Activity at SMR
Now, on to the biggest hit of Snow Mountain Ranch for all of us: The Summer Tubing Hill. Imagine flying down a steep hill on a tube while water misters spray you to keep you cool and make you go faster. Then when you reach the bottom of the hill, a people mover easily takes you back up to the top to do it all over again. So. Much. Fun.
The boys LOVED this and went on it about a gajillion times. My husband and I went down it quite a few times, too, and then I got tired and needed to check Facebook. There’s also tubing in the winter, but you have to walk back up the hill yourself and that doesn’t seem quite as appealing.
Kids’ Sleepaway Summer Camp at SMR
Now, in addition to SMR being an excellent place to vacation, it’s also adjacent to the wonderful Camp Chief Ouray. CCO has been a traditional overnight camp for boys and girls age 7-17 for over a century. Last summer, after our stay as a family at Snow Mountain Ranch for a few nights, both of my boys spent a week at CCO and had a blast. (Since we drove there from Texas, my husband and I spent a week–alone–at a nearby resort, then returned to SMR to pick them up. Genius!) The camper to counselor ratio is really low at CCO, and the kids were happily busy all week long. Sam, my kid who didn’t want to stay in a yurt, even spent a night sleeping under the stars and loved it. Summer Camp Registration is happening now, so take a look and see if it’s a good fit for your kids.
Women’s Adventure Camp at SMR
Which brings us to yet another cool thing SMR is now offering: the Women’s Adventure Camp at Camp Chief Ouray during 8/24-8/27/17. How cool is that? Women 18+ in age can learn outdoor adventure skills while playing in the outdoors and sleeping in the same cabins the kids use. Grab a couple of your friends and head on up to try things like archery (aging Katniss), hiking, climbing, zip lining, canoeing, etc. You get the idea. Plus, s’mores! Who doesn’t love s’mores after a day running around outside? And the best part is, since you’re the camper, you don’t have to put labels on your underwear.
Mark your calendar for April 5th, 2017 when the reservations open for summer cabins at Snow Mountain Ranch. (You can book lodge rooms, yurts or campsites now for this summer.) And check out CCO (the kids’ summer camp) and Women’s Adventure Camp, too!
My family stayed at Snow Mountain Ranch as guests of the YMCA for promotional purposes. We tell all our friends about it now because it was a fantastic family vacation.
Top photo: courtesy of the YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch. All other photos by Wendi Aarons, except where noted.