John Muir said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” Had the renowned naturalist experienced the wonder and peace of C Lazy U Ranch, he might have added “and make sure a few of them are snow.”
The ranch, a buzzing beehive in summer, transforms into a gleaming white tablecloth set with adventures once the first snow sticks in December and the ice-skating pond freezes solid. The all-day summer kids camp and the nightly cookouts yield to family (or romantic) sleigh rides and leisurely meals; tubing and snowshoeing replace swimming and hiking.
The morning and afternoon “jingles” remain, however, and the backdrop enhances the beauty of what many visitors consider to be the star attraction at C Lazy U: a herd of 200 horses, storming into the corral in the morning and racing out to snowy pastures at night.
Don’t worry, the C Lazy U experts assure us: Their coats are warm.
100 Years: It Starts and Ends with Family
The family vibe at C Lazy U starts at the top, and always has. The ranch celebrated its first 100 years as a guest ranch in 2019, and general manager David Craig reveled in the task of co-authoring C Lazy U Ranch, 1919-2019: A History.
“Just driving down the ranch road feels cathartic,” says Craig, who moved from Denver and his job at Hotel Teatro in 2013. “You feel the sense of calm when you see the natural landscape and the wholesome nature of the offerings. You find yourself putting your phone down. Especially families. They disconnect because they’re playing Capture the Flag and horseback riding and doing things with the family on the reservoir. It feels like it’s the right recipe for families to come together.”
It was a merging of two family ranches on Willow Creek that became the F Slash in 1917 and then in 1946 the C Lazy U. In 1919, Jack Smillie, his wife, Gertrude, and their four children started running the property as a working guest ranch, where $40 a week got all the activities plus all of Gertrude’s steaks and pies one could eat. In 1946, New York City designers Dick and Katie Schoenberger bought the ranch and renamed it after the shape of the creek. They started building the Lodge in 1947, when rates were up to $130 a week.
In 1973, Denverites George and Virginia Mullins bought the place where they’d honeymooned and ran it for 15 years before selling it to the Murray family of Kansas City, who had summered at the ranch for 30 years and would operate it for the next 20 years before forming a four-family partnership in 2008.
Two families preside over C Lazy U today: Don Bailey and Leslie Stanford and their three children, and Dean and Adrienne Singleton and their three children. Rates are a far cry from $40 a week, but the surroundings remain nearly as pristine and peaceful as they were 100 years ago.
No Excuse for Boredom
It wasn’t until 2008 that C Lazy U evolved from summer dude ranch to year-round mountain escape. And although the staff peaks at 150 in summer months and drops to 60 autumn through spring, guests cannot complain at any time of year that they have nothing to do.
In fact, an argument might be made that the ranch offers more activities in winter than in summer. Let’s tally them up.
• horseback riding
• whitewater rafting
• zip line
• hatchet throwing
That’s 11, not including the game room, hot tub, and nightly entertainment.
• horseback riding
• cross-country skiing
• sleigh rides
• hatchet throwing
• ice hockey
• ice skating
That’s 12, not including the game room, hot tub, and campfires with s’mores.
If anything gives summer a slight edge, it’s the Summer Kids’ Program, where kids are grouped by age (Cowpokes 3-5, Mustangs 6-12, Teens 13-17), assigned a horse for the week, and engaged by enthusiastic summer counselors in nonstop activities from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then again starting at dinner, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Says general manager David Craig, “What happens is, the kids have a great vacation, the parents have a great vacation, but they’re slightly different vacations because they’re catered to their respective age groups.”
In summer, kids and parents even eat dinner separately— kids earlier than parents. In winter, however, families who visit C Lazy U tend to do more of the activities together—and, especially during the week, couples can find the setting much more peaceful and romantic.
Summer or winter at C Lazy U? Sounds like it’s all good.
Where a Horse Is Not Just a Horse
It happens every winter: A kid who spent a week at C Lazy U Ranch will send an email asking how his or her horse from the previous summer is doing, maybe even asking if the horse itself would email back.
“We’ll send an email back from the horse,” says assistant general manager Paul Klees, who started at C Lazy U as a summer wrangler back in 2007. “It’s a bond thing. The herd is like a high school class. There’s a bunch of different cliques, a ton of different personalities, and you get to know the horses for their personalities. Some guests love certain horses and don’t love others, but somebody else will love that same horse because their personalities are a match.”
The C Lazy U Ranch herd of quarter-horses and a few half-drafts, drafts, and Haflingers works hard in the summer. Guests arrive for the week on Sunday— the herd’s day off—and are assigned one of the 200 horses by head wrangler Ami Cullen. Cullen, who left a cushy life as a D.C. attorney to start at the bottom at the ranch, sizes up personalities and riding skills to make matches.
“Our horse herd is really cool because, no matter your ability, we have a horse for you,” says Klees. “If you’re a first-time person stepping up to a horse, never been on one, we have that cruise-control horse that’s going to take great care of you. But if you’re a more seasoned rider and you want a horse that has more feel or challenge, we have those too.”
That’s all due to the ranch’s polished horse program. Each year, 10 to 15 new horses are added to the herd, which will have lost some members to disease or old age and others to retirement at the Drifter’s Hearts of Hope horse rescue in Denver. The wranglers break in the new horses, who are then passed off to more experienced guest riders. As the horses themselves become more experienced and older, they’re moved to the kids’ program, and, finally, retirement.
The horses ride six days a week, from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 2 p.m. to at least 4 p.m. in the summer, and on shorter outings in winter. There are no formal meals, of course—“They’re always eating,” says Klees. “Horses have smaller intestines and process food fast. So they’re always kind of munching.”—but with snow covering the pastures in winter the horses need hay, about 3 tons daily of the 900 tons stockpiled in the fall.
Guests love to visit the barn and feed the herd, and to watch the “jingle” in the morning, when the wranglers fetch the herd from its overnight pasture and lead it into the corral, then again in the late afternoon, when the herd is again free to roam.
C Lazy U Ranch
3640 Colorado Hwy 125, Granby, CO