Adventure in the heart of the Rockies at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch—Colorado’s best-kept secret.
Crowds, high prices, and timed-entry reservations have, unfortunately, become all too synonymous with the most-visited U.S. national parks. Our public lands are certainly having a moment, and with it, lodging reservations often get snatched up months in advance.
Lucky for those of us who fancy a visit to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, there’s a tree-filled, family-friendly oasis with affordable prices, pet-friendly rooms, and loads of activities for the little ones. I’m talking about the YMCA of the Rockies and its two well-placed sites – Estes Park Center in Estes Park and the Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby.
On a recent trip to Rocky Mountain, my partner and I wanted to explore the less-traveled western section of the park near Grand Lake. We packed up my car and headed out to the YMCA’s massive Snow Mountain Ranch to check into a two-bedroom cabin for the long weekend.
What is Snow Mountain Ranch?
Snow Mountain Ranch is set on a sprawling 5,000 acres. As such, it’s home to three no-frills, motel-style lodges, 50 cabins, 24 yurts, and 41 RV and tent sites, for those who’d rather sleep under the stars. There’s also a plethora of activities for the young and young at heart, like trail rides (with incredibly friendly and treat-motivated horses), mini golf, a rock climbing wall, a swimming pool, and archery. Many of the accommodations are dog-friendly (but most of the national park isn’t, so do your research and book doggy daycare before heading out), and loads of rooms boast views of the Continental Divide.
What type of lodging is at Snow Mountain Ranch?
I booked one of their private wooden cabins. Upon arrival, I was thrilled to see that the cabins are well-spaced so that they feel private–no smushed-together tiny house farm here! Each of the multi-bedroom cabins I saw during my stay had stands of native aspens and conifers between them, creating a rustic, back-to-roots feel, like you’re staying in the middle of nowhere. One morning, a red fox even scampered across our driveway.
Inside, the cabins are clean and simple (think 1970s décor, big stone fireplaces, high ceilings, and a kitchen with everything you’d need to cook for your family or large group). I’m the kind of traveler who loves to save money by booking a room with a kitchenette or a house with a full kitchen setup when I’m out, and this cozy site certainly did not disappoint. The showers were warm, the beds were comfy enough (I brought my own pillow from home and was grateful for it), the interior heating worked great, and the early morning sunrises (best viewed from the huge windows in the living room) were completely magical.
Guests here will find an on-site cafeteria, Schlessman Commons, which serves up buffet-style meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast hot items like bacon, scrambled eggs, and pancakes were paired with cold offerings, like fresh fruit, cereal, and pastries. Dinner was also served buffet-style with salad, bread, French fries, chicken tenders, steamed veggies, and a protein option. At $15, breakfast was convenient and a steal, allowing my partner and I to load up on all-you-can-drink coffee and treats before a big day of hiking in the national park. At $19.50, dinner seemed a bit over-priced for what was offered. I’d recommend skipping it to support one of the many adorable locally-run businesses in Granby or Grand Lake.
What can I do at Snow Mountain Ranch?
One of the defining characteristics of Snow Mountain Ranch is its huge list of activities and amenities for visitors of all ages. Though I visited during shoulder season, there was still a ton to see and do. Not only does the campus sport a large dog park right on site, but it’s also home to a roller skating rink, swimming pool, mini golf, basketball, disc golf, private walking trails, game room, library, tennis, and playground. The best part? Those are just the included activities. For an additional fee, guests can sign up for trail rides, archery, rock climbing, meet-and-greets with the huskies, and skijoring lessons.
During the coldest months, Snow Mountain Ranch (as the name might suggest) turns into a veritable winter wonderland, where its legendary Nordic Center kicks into full gear. Here, travelers can strap on their cross-country skis (or skate skis, if you’re into that sort of thing), and tackle 82.5k of groomed Rocky Mountain ski trails featuring spectacular scenery. Snow tubing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and dog sledding are also available.
After a long, three-day weekend of fun and uncrowded hiking on the Grand Lake side of Rocky Mountain National Park (check out the Ute Trail for a unique look at the alpine tundra), my partner and I left blissed out and nowhere near ready to head back to work in the city. Though Snow Mountain Ranch is certainly geared up for large groups and adventurous families ready for oodles of on-site activities, I felt that it’s also a great choice for couples seeking budget-friendly accommodations near the park. Just don’t expect luxury dining or a chic, on-site spa.
Instead, YMCA of the Rockies harkens back to yesteryear with its rustic amenities, 1970s vibes, and buffet-style dining. It is, in short, the perfect excuse for grown-ups to relive their summer camp glory and step out of their comfort zone to have a little fun.
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