Winter Park On a Dime

GUEST POST                                                by Sara Brunsvoldsara-horsebackridingAmerica is a geographically diverse, gorgeous slice of earth. My husband and I love exploring it with our two daughters. Like many young families, we have to keep a close eye on the budget.

For summer vacation this year, we challenged ourselves to give our girls a memory-making adventure in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for as few dollars as possible.

He has a nose for adventure. I have a nose for a super-sweet deal.

This is how we landed on the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch just outside Winter Park.

At the risk of sounding like a Snow Mountain Ranch paid endorsement (which I am not), I have to say that we were so impressed with what the ranch offered: accommodations, food, activities, and attractions all on one campus. We literally didn’t leave for days.

Where we stayed:
Some people go to Colorado to camp. We are not those people.

Snow Mountain Ranch offers varying levels of simplistic accommodations, from campground to hut to dorm room to cabin.

We opted for the quasi-glam option of Indian Peaks Lodge.

“Lodge” is a bit of a strong word in this case. Make no mistake; this is still a YMCA, which means bare-bones.

Indian Peaks feels a lot like a Super 8.

The room itself was very spacious but a bit…meh. However, the view from our balcony was stunning.
sara-balconyviewbWe chose Indian Peaks over the other lodge options for two reasons: the mini fridge and the microwave. These proved to be positively essential to our food budget.

What we ate:
Between the altitude and the remote location, food prices are ri-dic-u-lous at Snow Mountain Ranch.

Meals in the dining hall (yes, dining hall, like a kids’ summer camp) start at $9…for breakfast…for kids.

The advantage of staying in Indian Peaks was our reservation included two free breakfast tickets per night’s stay. Kids 5 and under eat free, which covered one of our children. That meant we had to pay for only our oldest child’s breakfasts.

Meals are buffet style and consist of reasonably tasty food, like biscuits and gravy, bacon, turkey sausage, oatmeal, and Denver-style scrambled eggs.

Bonus: to-go containers. Leftovers, stored in our room’s mini fridge, came in quite handy for later meals.

We used the dining hall only for breakfast. Our other meals comprised sandwiches/wraps, apples, oranges, nuts and shelf-stable, microwavable meals, all of which we brought from home. It saved us a small fortune, and it didn’t feel like a lot of work.
What we did:
Snow Mountain Ranch is all about getting people active. Free, low-cost and higher-end activities are plentiful.

We hit up all the free stuff, of course, which included roller skating, mini golf, playgrounds, swimming, horseshoes, s’mores at the campfire, hiking, and a history tour at an old settlers’ homestead.

The ranch also has a library where guests can check out board games and puzzles in addition to books.

Every day the ranch has staff-led games for all ages.
One of our favorite low-cost activities was archery. Sounds cheesy, but it was actually a lot of fun for both the adults and kids. The instructor was fantastic and helped all of us get a right on or near the bullseye.

sara-horseshoesAnother low-cost option the girls enjoyed was the Craft Shop, where they each painted their own trinkets. Pottery and leather working are also offered.


sara-tubinghillOther activities did require us to shell out some bones, but they were worth it:
Horseback riding – The wranglers lead a pack of riders on well-trained horses for a trail ride ranging from 1 hour to virtually all day. The shorter rides are perfect for novice riders. I opted to take my girls on the 1-hour. My inner thighs have only recently recovered.
Zip lining – Not for the faint of heart, but my 8-year-old did it…twice. It’s a great beginner zip-lining experience.

Snow tubing hill – The large, wavy hill is covered with a specially made material that feels a lot like the hard side of a Velcro strip. A light mist of water covers the material, creating a super slippery surface that sends tubers racing down the hill. It was a highlight of our stay. In fact, we planned our trip around when the Summer Tubing Hill was open. I had to call the ranch to confirm the hill’s opening day before I booked our stay for mid-June. It is not unheard of for the mountains to get snow in late May, and the tubing hill opens only when the snow is gone and the mud has dried.

What to know before you go:
• High altitude = sunburn city. No joke here. When they tell you to apply sunscreen liberally every day, they mean it. And drink lots of water.
• Activities require preplanning. Some require reservations days in advance, like the Summer Tubing Hill. Others, like the pool and roller-skating, are only available during certain hours. Get on the ranch’s email list ahead of time to see the weekly schedule.
• Accommodations at the ranch do not have TVs because the Y encourages family time as much as possible. Oddly enough, they do have WiFi for your other electronic needs.
• Winter Park has a McDonald’s. Just so you know.
• There are no snakes in the mountains. Had I known that, I would have hiked more.

Sara Brunsvold is the blogger behind Find the Lovely, where she chronicles her quest to find the lovely God weaves into every day. Read more about her family’s Colorado adventure here
Thank you, Sara. You’ve given us some good tips for economy-conscious families like ours.

I know what I’ll do if I go to Snow Mountain Ranch—horseback riding and the zip line. Though I may need to work on my muscles before I go. By the way, I don’t think archery sounds cheesy.

What activities would you like to do at Snow Mountain Ranch? Give your answers in the comments below.

Until next time…Travel Light,
© 2016 SuZan Klassen

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