Fresh air, wide-open countryside and endless clear blue sky are just the beginning of the enchantment of a Colorado dude ranch vacation. Also called guest ranches, dude ranches are a combination of traditional ranch and modern resort rolled into one. Some are real working ranches, while others are more like resorts that incorporate traditional ranch activities alongside other indoor and outdoor activities. All guest ranches, however, provide great opportunities to get outdoors and experience nature at its best.

"Watering the Horses at High Lake" by Andy Dittrich via Flickr Creative Commons

Dude ranches offer the convenience of quality lodging and great adventures all in the same place. Every ranch is a little different, which means folks who want to experience a dude ranch vacation can choose how much rustic charm they want versus modern luxury simply by honing in on the right ranch. It's possible to take in the Great Outdoors without giving up any of the comforts of home. You can play hard all day out on the range and relax in luxurious rooms at night. Many guest resorts also offer spa services and quality dining options.

Horseback riding is at the heart of the ranch experience, whether you visit a working ranch or a resort ranch. No matter if you are an experienced rider or a novice, a dude ranch will introduce you to the freedom of the open plain and the joy of riding. Many ranches will offer classes and trail rides for a range of skill levels, so you will be able to ride across the open range like the cowboys of the Wild West, no matter if you have ever ridden before. On a working ranch, you will have opportunities to take part in cattle drives and other real cowboy activities. Of course, kids can join in the riding fun. Appropriate mounts are provided for all ages and skill levels, and ranch hands will make sure that kids ride and have fun while learning how to be safe. If you have any concerns about your riding ability or your kids' abilities, contact the ranch ahead of time to discuss your options. The staff of your ranch will be happy to discuss the riding options available and match you up with both a horse and a set of activities that will suit your level of skill and your comfort.

 "Accommodations at Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch" by Ranch Seeker via Flickr Creative Commons

A dude ranch is a perfect setting for a great family vacation. Many ranches will offer plenty of activities for the kids, including swimming, sports and games, in addition to riding and learning horsemanship skills. The youngest kids will enjoy pony rides, while slightly older kids can take part in guided trail rides. All kids can learn horsemanship skills appropriate for their age level. Learning to ride and care for a horse teaches confidence and independence that kids will take back home and apply to everything else they tackle. Teens may be able to take part in more independent adventures such as overnight camping expeditions and hiking trips.

While the kids have plenty to do, mom and dad can either take part in the family fun or take time out to relax on their own. Along with riding and outdoor activities for adults, some ranches also offer a wide selection of spa services, including massages and facials, manicures and pedicures, saunas and hot tubs. While the kids are out on guided trail rides or enjoying other ranch activities, parents can enjoy some pampering then go to dinner or sit beside an evening camp fire refreshed and ready to hear about their kids' adventures. Adults without kids can also enjoy the ranch life, taking part in as many outdoor activities as they want before retreating inside to a spa or simply to sit by a fire and relax.

"Campfires at Twilight" by Ranch Seeker via Flickr Creative Commons

Many ranches operate year-round, which means winter opens up a whole new set of activities to enjoy. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and sledding are favorites, and ranches may have indoor facilities for riding on days when it's too cold to hit the trail. Some ranches offer transportation to nearby ski resorts for downhill skiing and snowboarding. The winter holidays can be especially wonderful on a ranch, with holiday traditions celebrated with a western twist. Christmas on a dude ranch comes with all of the charm of beautiful decorations and special activities you enjoy at home but with all the amenities of a luxurious vacation away. You can help decorate a tree, sip hot cocoa, take in snowy winter landscapes and maybe even get a visit from Santa while still enjoying gourmet meals, time at the spa or just the crisp, clean air of winter on the open range.

If you have never experienced the wide-open country of the American West, a dude ranch vacation is your perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of the old-fashioned cowboy life while enjoying modern-day amenities. Enjoy rustic charm paired with luxurious comforts, all while leaving your day-to-day life across the plains.

One of our favorites? C Lazy U. Operating for almost 100 years, this gem in Granby, Colorado has racked up accolades for their 5-spur service and is regularly named one of the best in the land by Conde Nast, U.S. News, and Huffington Post.