Nestled in the San Luis Valley near Mosca, Zapata Ranch is an upscale, working homestead offering easy access to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Home to a conservation herd of bison and Angus mother cows, Zapata’s 50,000-acre pastureland is also epically beautiful — think green grass valleys in the shadow of snow-capped mountains in summer and trees bedazzled in golden hues come fall.
Owned by The Nature Conservancy, the ranch is all about emphasizing environmental conservation practices. A stay here means you’ll learn about the massive animals living on the ranch and enjoy a diverse landscape including meadows, wetlands, cottonwood groves and sand dunes.
The ranch’s more-than-a-century-old, weathered-brown guest lodge also looks like it could be in a classic Western film — bedrooms have exposed wooden-beam walls, simple headboards and cloud-like bedding, all of which make for a restful night’s sleep. Soak in a clawfoot tub before splashing in the steaming hot tub under the twinkling stars. Grab a seat at the communal dinner table near the stone hearth or pick a picnic table on the shady patio for your breakfast.
What makes it special?
No matter your outdoor interests, this place will offer it. Hop on the back of a horse or help a wrangler with various ranch projects to say you had an authentic farmstead experience. Craving an adrenaline rush? Jumping in an inflatable raft and crashing through whitewater rapids might be more your speed. You can also climb up rock faces, cast a fly-fishing rod or go on a hike through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The most “Colorado” thing about this place
It's all the delicious food made with local "Colorado" ingredients! The lasagna comprised of incredibly soft noodles studded with Zapata Ranch-raised bison is a must-try. Gourmet dinners are prepared by a flawlessly trained chef and feature ranch-raised bison along with other extremely fresh meats and valley-raised produce.
Quirkiest thing to expect
It’s definitely your ability to wake up with yoga on the lawn, then herd tons of cattle before indulging in a long massage. Every day of your stay will be full of stuff like this. Just remember to pack your cowboy hat and boots!
Our favorite traveler review
“The Zapata Ranch is unlike any place I've ever been. I could have easily stayed forever. The location and scenery are stunning, with dramatic contrasts to the sky and landscape. Riding horses through said landscape was incredible and liberating, and the horses were perfectly matched to each rider in our group. It was also very clear that these horses are well-loved and appreciated for their unique personalities, which is a special thing. All of the staff members are incredible people in their own right and together make an amazingly generous, interesting and fun-loving team. …The Zapata Ranch is the perfect combination of relaxation, conservation, outdoor adventure, and luxury cuisine. It is truly a magical place.” — Emily B., Tripadvisor
What you’ll find nearby
Literally across the road from Zapata Ranch is Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, where the tallest dunes in North America reside. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit during your stay, head over to slide down these sandy monsters (on an official sand sled, of course). If you’re visiting April–June, bring your swimsuit and lay in the seasonal Medano Creek. Zapata Falls is 6.3 miles from the ranch and, during winter, it freezes into white, jagged formations that are begging to be photographed.
Or, make the half-hour drive to charming downtown Alamosawhere you can walk the historic main street and pop into San Luis Valley Brewing Company — try the Valle Caliente, a chili-infused lager, and you won’t regret it!
Photos courtesy of Zapata Ranch