Colorado, The Rockies, United States of America
At a Glance
Ride amongst the 2,000 head wild bison herd through stunning meadows and grasslands
Enjoy freedom to improve your riding - no nose-to-tail trail rides
Serves its own grass-fed beef and bison along with organic local produce
Offers exceptional value for a fully customized and inclusive experience
Operates for guests March to end of October
Best time to Visit
Good time to visit
Average time to visit
The ranch is located at 7,950 feet above sea level, with high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows that offer of the most scenic and ecologically diverse landscapes in the United States. Spring is a beautiful time to go with lush green meadows, wild flowers blooming and baby bison being born. July and August are typically the busiest months, with big blue skies and sublime summer weather. Throughout the Zapata run excellent horsemanship weeks; photo safaris with photographer Steve Weaver to get up close to wildlife as well as Branding and Calving experiences. The ranch is open from March 1 to October 31. Check-in is on Sundays or Thursdays, Sunday arrivals are recommended as there is no riding on a Sunday to allow horses and staff a well earned rest day.
Call us on to start planning your vacation to Zapata Ranch or take a look at our itineraries to The Rockies
Located in Colorado's San Luis Valley, Zapata Ranch is a historic bison and cattle ranch. For guests that want to live the cowboy dream and experience and learn about the day to day working of a ranch, Zapata offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Zapata Ranch is a historic 103,000-acre ranch owned by The Nature Conservancy creating a unique environment where guests can really live the cowboy dream. With an emphasis on ranching, conservation, nature and education, Zapata Ranch offers a unique once in a lifetime experience where you're visiting alone or with a family. With only thirty guests at the ranch at anytime, every guest experiences a customized stay.
Zapata Ranch offers guests the opportunity to become involved in daily ranch life. Whether you want to help move cattle from one pasture to the next, participate in a traditional branding, rise with the sun for a ride through the Great Sand Dunes National Park, fly fish on pristine rivers, summit one of the six bordering 14,000-ft peaks or white water raft down the Arkansas River, the staff at Zapata will make it happen. The ranch and surrounding valley is a real wildlife mecca and home to thousands of elk, bison, wild horses, deer, coyotes and birds that can be viewed from horseback or jeeps with naturalist guides.
Each day is different and one or two days during the week will be spent exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park by horse back and other fun locations on the ranch and in the surrounding valley depending on the time of year. The ranch also offers specialist weeks throughout the year that include Cattle Branding, Horsemanship Clinics, Calving Week and Painting Workshops.
Nestled in extensive and peaceful grounds, the ranch offers three main lodgings: The Lodge, Bunk House and Stewart House. All cabins are chinked log buildings, some dating back to the 1800s, that have been lovingly designed in keeping with their rustic surroundings, but in a contemporary style to offer a relaxing and comfortable environment to unwind after a day on the ranch. All rooms are equipped with either two double beds or a single king, and private bathrooms. For families, rooms can be arranged next door, or cabin buyouts are available.
Children must be 8 years and older to ride out. Children 7 and under will be offered pony rides with parental supervision in the sand arena. The ranch does not supply helmets, so we recommend parents take helmets with themselves for themselves and younger children.
Zapata Ranch serves its own grass-fed beef and bison, along with local produce, served in a family-style dining room. Zapata was chosen as one of four Ranch vacations for food lovers by Gourmet Live.
The ranch serves complimentary alcohol with appetizers but otherwise offers a BYO alcohol policy - there is no corkage fee and the staff will attend to requests.
Guests can really experience the day-to-day life on a real, working ranch and each experience is entirely customisable depending on your riding experience and interests. There is no shortage of first-hand ranch experiences - riding is dictated by the daily bison and cattle operations and guests can expect to take part in everything from riding among the bison and cattle, to checking water, maintaining fence lines and anything that might be going on that week with the ranch operation.
During your stay, you can do as much or as little as you like, it's not all work and no play! Ride through the Great Sand Dunes National Park and relax with a picnic lunch; photograph the sunrise over one of our lakes; go on an interpretive walk to learn about bison as a conservation species; hike to a high mountain lake and fish for the afternoon; go on a birding trip through the ranch and San Luis Valley; sand board down the dunes for an ultimate thrill ride; white water raft trip down the Arkansas river or fly fish Gold Medal Waters on some of the nation's best rivers.
Camilla Swift (Staff)
With just two nights and one full day to explore the 103,000 acres of Zapata Ranch, I was taken out on a full days ride with Kate, the Guest Services Director, who did an excellent job on ensuring I saw as much as possible.
Dolly was my steed for the day and, if it had been possible to have taken her home with me as carry on, I would have done! We rode out in amongst the wild bison, saw forty or so elk bathing in the river, and then headed over to the Great Sand Dunes National Park where we galloped up the dunes and down the creeks. I couldn't believe how quickly the time went and it was, without a doubt, the most exciting and exhilarating ride of my life!
I was amazed by the sand dunes, on the far side of the vast green ranchlands and sitting in front of snowcapped mountains! The high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows really do offer some of the most scenic and ecologically diverse landscape in the United States.
Returning back to the headquarters at the end of the day, and had a quick look in the Mercantile - the little shop selling gorgeous leather goods hand crafted onsite and at the sister ranch Chico Basin in Colorado Springs, before enjoying a homely meal around a long table and chatting to the delightful staff and other guests.
Zapata is an absolute must for keen riders or anyone who wants to experience the real deal!
Mr Simon Brewer (Guest)
As an English family of 5, with three children between 9 and 14, and of mixed riding ability, the concept of a ranch vacation had always fascinated but also raised some doubts. Would the ranch have the ability to accommodate a diverse group and manage to strike a good balance between pleasure and intensity?
Zapata is fabulous. It succeeds on several levels; Situated on the plains that stretch like an African landscape, it has extraordinary views. Flanked by huge dunes on one side and rolling farmland on the other, the camp nestles almost unseen amongst a copse of trees. It offers charming accommodation, and is not attempting to provide the spa/ranch/Ralph Lauren sojourn but instead an authentic, warm experience. Carefully appointed log cabins - supremely comfortable beds, a lovely camp-fire and engaging staff.
They were young and attentive, yet relaxed. They provided 2 wranglers for our group of 5 and this ensured high levels of attention. The landscapes we rode were stunning. From the dunes to the woodlands and then across to the plains, the views were enthralling and the horses, fortunately, very sympathetic. Each day we put the packed lunches in the saddle bags, clipped on our water bottles and took off for a different adventure.
The food was very good, and the other activities such as the nature-hike, a walk to the Zapata falls, the white-water rafting on the Sunday, when the horses were rested all provided great variety and intrigue.
This was a magnificent experience. It will stay with us forever and is recommended with reservation.
Stayed July 2014, traveled with family
Location & directions
Colorado, The Rockies, United States of America
Zapata is located on the eastern wall of the San Luis Valley of Colorado.