Lake City’s Vickers Ranch: Frontier Spirit Thrives in the San Juan Mountains

The following article appeared in the July edition of, a travel site dedicated to exploring the best of Colorado’s attractions, lodging and adventures.

Colorado dude ranch vacations can be as simple or luxurious as you want them to be. From airy mountaintop cabin rentals with four-star gourmet meals and spa treatments to rigorous cowboy camping excursions, guest ranch proprietors are ready to make your Old West lifestyle vacation a reality. Adventurous travelers with a yearning for days gone by will find their perfect getaway somewhere in the middle at Vickers Dude Ranch, a beloved family vacation spot in the heart of Western Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

Few things in Colorado have remained the same since the Vickers family opened their property to the public in the early 1900s. But the minute you arrive at their family-oriented resort you’ll see this is one place where the frontier spirit is alive and well. About the only thing that’s changed since J.W. Vickers purchased the 1,800-acre property in 1920 is that beginning this year, guests can own a piece of Western Colorado paradise by purchasing their own vacation cabin in the new Vickers Horse River Ranch, a 66-acre property on the family homestead.

Vickers Ranch is one of the oldest family businesses in Colorado. The property is an easy 4 ½-hour drive west from Denver to Lake City, a historic community founded by prospectors and ranchers in the mid-1800s. This town of just 500 year-round residents is nestled at the foot of the Slumgullion Earthflow, a spectacular landslide that created Lake San Cristobal, the second-largest natural lake in Colorado which today provides endless fishing, camping and exploring opportunities.

The Vickers family, 100 years after welcoming their first guest, remains an integral part of this remote and wild territory. What makes this place extra special is that the Vickers are not only hospitable hosts, but they’re dedicated land stewards, too. The Vickers partner with the Nature Conservancy to keep their property undeveloped and wild, using it for the family’s agricultural and wood harvesting needs, as well as for guest activities, such as hunting, outfitting, fishing and cowboy-style cookouts.

Vickers Ranch is perfect for vacationers who prefer to create their own adventure. Guests of the ranch check in at the early-1900s-era log cabin office. This authentic homestead, originally hand built by the Vickers family in the upper hay meadow, was later disassembled and relocated for easy access to what later became Colorado Highway 149. Upon check-in, you’re certain to meet one if not all of them at the office, since every family member plays a key role in making sure guests have a good time.

The property is managed by head honcho Larry, his son Paul, wife Paulette and daughter Faith. Occasionally the grandkids will be there, along with the resident herd of ranch dogs. One or all of the Vickers family will explain the ins and outs of enjoying the property, which includes four private fishing ponds, guest access to 1.5 miles of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and numerous alpine lakes. Nearly 2,000 acres with heart-stopping views of the Uncompahgre, Weminuche and Powderhorn wilderness areas provide access to the Rio Grande and San Juan national forests.

Whether you enjoy riding horses or jeeps, the Vickers have a fleet of both available at reasonable rates. Group trail rides are offered several days a week, including a popular early-morning breakfast ride where guests dine on cowboy coffee and biscuits and gravy in the backcountry.

The weekly steak fry is a social event.
The weekly steak fry is a social event.

One of the best ways to explore the surrounding wilderness — some of the most remote in Colorado — is by jeeping the Alpine Loop Byway, a technically challenging, epic four-wheel-drive journey that traverses the awe-inspiring San Juan Mountains between Silverton, Lake City and Ouray. This summer Vickers is adding four-door jeeps to their touring fleet so larger parties can enjoy the 65-mile ride together. The ranch is just five minutes away from the Alpine Loop gateway.

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