Zapata Ranch has been featued in several high-profile magazines from CondeNast Traveler to Western Horseman as well as being highlighted on TV. To stay up-to-date on Zapata's media features, follow this link: Zapata's Features and Highlights

The Zapata Ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by Ranchlands. Zapata’s high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows offer one of the most scenic and ecologically diverse landscapes in the United States.

Join us throughout the year and immerse yourself into day-to-day life on a real, working ranch and experience the outdoors. Each experience is customizable and trips can consist of activities from either of the programs below:

Ranching with Nature Move cattle (rotational grazing for conservation), riding real cow horses; Participate in a traditional branding; Help maintain irrigation flow in our pivot fields; Monitor water levels and grass growth; Enjoy 1-on-1 horsemanship instruction; Fix barbed wire fence or stretch electric to hold our cattle and bison

Great Outdoors Exploration Ride through our wild herd of 2,000 bison in a 50,000-acre pasture; 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

Also enjoy a White water raft trip down the Arkansas river*; Fly fish Gold Medal Waters on some of the nation's best rivers nearby* and more... (*denotes additional cost)

Good to know

  • Works with travel agents?

  • Belongs to

    Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Dude Rancher's Association, Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association
  • Good time to go

    Definitely call ahead if you are looking for specific activities and experiences like branding or pack trips. Brandings are always held in the spring and our pack trips vary from year to year, so be sure to call ahead and we’ll help you figure out the best time to come.


  • Owner(s)

    The Nature Conservancy
  • Manager(s)

    Duke Phillips
  • Address

    5305 State Highway 150, Mosca, Colorado, USA, 81146
  • Tel

  • Capacity

  • Open

    Mar-Oct - view details
  • Nightly rate

    $328-471 - view details
  • Ranch Type

    Dude Ranch, Working Ranch, Authentic, Hands-On, Safari Ranch, Bed & Breakfast
  • Great for

    Romance, Action & adventure, Peace & quiet, Solitude, People of all ages

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  • A 103,000-acre bison and guest ranch on the eastern wall of the San Luis Valley bordering the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the newest National Park in the United States
  • The ranch and surrounding valley is a wildlife mecca and is home to thousands of elk, bison, deer, coyotes, birds and many other species
  • Enjoy mouth-watering meals prepared by previous chef to the Carnegie family - who also catered JFK Jr.'s wedding
  • Non-riders can choose from a range of activities including visiting the bordering Sangre de Cristo mountain range
  • Featured in Conde Nast Traveler Magazine as Hot Locations in the American West; on CBS as Top Ranches in Colorado; in Western Horseman as 15 Best Holidays

Summer Season Rates & Booking

  • Open

  • Nightly rate

    $328-471   view details on lodging rates
  • Nightly rate (children)

  • Minimum stay

    3 days
  • Preferred arrival day

    Thurs, Sun
  • Preferred depart day

    Any day is fine
  • Booking Policy

  • If reservation is canceled outside of 30 days, 50% deposit returned. If canceled within 30 days, no portion of deposit is returned. Any retained portion of your deposit may be credited towards a future stay within 2 years from cancellation date.
  • Included in your stay

  • meals, activities, lodging, tax, Riding
  • Extras

  • Gratuity

    Optional-- typically between 5 and 15%
  • Massage

    Prices begin at $70/hour
  • Other

    Gold Medal Fly fishing and white-water rafting trips can be arranged and are a short drive from the ranch.

Environmental & Social Practices

  • Environment

  • In practicing holistic resource management, we want a healthy ecosystem which creates and supports a vibrant and diverse wildlife and human community which is supportive, caring, productive, honest, and not afraid to set high goals. We desire to create a knowledge base available to members of our community, used to realize the full potential of the land and the people living on it.

    We want a healthy, natural environment that supports a sustainable local economy and provides an aesthetically pleasing landscape of large open spaces. We want to live in a community of people who lead fulfilled, meaningful lives with feelings of freedom, peacefulness, and privacy.

  • Community

  • Most important to our success as a modern ranching business are the relationships we are building with our neighbors, both locally and in nearby towns. We are forming partnerships with people who want to become more informed and involved with a ranching organization such as ours that produces products that are useful to them while enhancing the natural environment from which they are produced.

    We believe that ranchers provide an increasingly important role in the stewardship of our nation's native rangelands. As ranchers, we already live on the land and our families' futures depend on our success at building and maintaining the health of the ecosystem on our properties. A rich tradition in ranching and an innovative business strategy form the backbone of the ranching operation.

  • Food

  • We are a working bison and cattle ranch; therefore, the bison comes directly from the Zapata. We butcher ourselves and sometimes send meat off for specialty items like jerky, pepperoni and summer sausage.

    Many meals at the Zapata include bison; guests enjoy this as they are eating something they have such a connection to through their experiences at the ranch.

  • Conservation

  • Conservation is an important product we produce through our ranch management practices. Life as a rancher puts us out on the land almost every day. This first-hand experience provides us with a valuable understanding, respect and knowledge of the land, livestock and wildlife. In our ranching philosophy efforts, we combine our perspectives with ecologists, botanists and biologists. Conservation on the ranch is achieved through a multi-dimensional partnership with several organizations in the ecological community here in the San Luis Valley, both state and federal.

    Some of the ways we implement conservation goals are as follows:

    * Employ monitoring transects to analyze grazing programs and make management decisions.
    * Study bison, elk and other plant and wildlife populations and map findings scientifically.
    * Implement intensive time-controlled cattle grazing programs to achieve land stewardship goals that improve the soil, watertable and health of the ecosystem.


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Avg Temp (°F):


Avg Rainfall (in):



  • Elevation

    7,950 ft.

Nearest Airports

  • San Luis Valley Regional Airport, Alamosa

  • Nearest town / city

  • Distance to ranch

    28 miles
  • Time to ranch

    30 mins
  • Ranch shuttle

  • Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado Springs

  • Nearest town / city

    Colorado Springs
  • Time to ranch

    3 hours
  • Denver International Airport, Denver

  • Nearest town / city

  • Time to ranch

    3 hours 45 mins

Private Air travel

  • Nearest town / city

    Alamosa, Co
  • Travel by

    Helicopter, Airplane
  • Distance to ranch

    28 miles

Nearest Town / City

  • Alamosa

  • Population

  • Distance

    28 miles
  • Time from ranch

    30 mins
  • Facilities

    grocery store, pharmacy, church, school, post office, medical clinic, hospital, bank, atm, gas station, museum
  • Shopping

    small hometown necessity shops, boutique shops, western wear
  • Ranch shuttle


Our riding stands out

  • Our riding is primarily dictated by the daily bison and cattle operations - we could be doing anything from moving bison or cattle to a new pasture, to checking fence to keep on schedule with our intensive rotational grazing.
  • All of our horses are real cow horses that we've trained and worked with to be conditioned for the type of work and riding we do.
  • Learning is also central to program, so as you work side-by-side with us we can provide one-on-one horsemanship instruction for those who are interested.

Our Riding

  • Riding Freedom

    Our riding is dictated by the daily bison and cattle operations. We will be doing everything from gathering and moving bison and cattle, to checking water, maintaining fence lines and anything that might be going on that week with the ranch operation. We practice intense rotational grazing for conservation and with that comes a lot of prep work and the actual moving of the animals from one pasture to a fresh one. This means that there is work to be done every day of the week, so there is no shortage of real, first-hand ranch experiences. Each day is different and one or two days during the week will be spent exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park and other fun locations on the ranch and in the surrounding valley depending on the time of year.

Good to know

  • Riding considerations

    300+ lbs, no riding experience needed
  • Saddles



  • Type of riding

    Western Riding
  • Riding opportunities for

    Beginner, Intermediate, Experienced
  • Rides are grouped by

    Everyone rides together, Rides tailored to guest requests, Rides dictated by ranch work
  • Riding is primarily dictated by ranch work and throughout the week we'll go on special rides in the Sand Dunes National Park or other fun locations depending on the time of the year and what's happening.
  • Pace of ride

    Walk, Trot, Lope

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You'll enjoy

  • hours in the Saddle

    Morning - 3 hours, Afternoon - 4 hours, Evening - n/a
  • Hours in the saddle depend on what's going on that day. If people are sore or tired we can arrange for shorter rides or to take people in early.
  • Riding

    Openly through property

Riding Lessons

  • Details

    lessons come with package
  • Lessons given by

    wrangler, ranch owner or manager
  • Learning is central to our program and one-on-one horsemanship instruction is available to those who are interested.

Cattle work - pasture gathers

  • When

    Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct
  • Frequency

  • Interaction

    Guests watch, Guests participate
  • Depending on what's happening with ranch operations during your visit, you'll get to experience first hand working with the bison and cattle herds.

Buffalo work

  • When

    Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct
  • Frequency

  • Interaction

    Guests watch, Guests participate
  • Depending on what's happening with ranch operations during your visit, you'll get to experience first hand working with the bison and cattle herds.

Branding work

  • When

    May, Jun, Jul
  • Frequency

  • Interaction

    Guests watch, Guests participate
  • Depending on what's happening with ranch operations during your visit we could be branding every day or not at all - be sure to call ahead if you are interested in attending a branding week.

Calving work

  • When

    Apr, May
  • Frequency

  • Interaction

    Guests watch, Guests participate
  • Guest have the chance to work with calves depending on what's happening with the ranch operations. This is something that cannot be scheduled, but if we are working calves, guests will be with us side-by-side helping out or watching.

Wildlife Safaris

  • When

    Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct
  • Frequency

  • Rides are taken through the wild bison herd where it's not uncommon to see herds of elk, antelope and migratory birds depending on the time of year.

Pack Trips

  • Details

    overnight trips
  • Extras

    Pack trips are generally planned for specific dates during the year, but if groups of 5 or more specifically would like to do a pack trip, it can be arranged. Pack trips are typically 3 to 5 days long.

Arena Work

  • Type

    outdoor arena
  • Activities

    sorting, roping from the ground, roping from horseback

Horsemanship Clinic

  • Clinician

    Duke Phillips
  • Details

    Clinics occur yearly
  • Cost

  • Focuses on

    August 4-11, 2013 Our horsemanship clinic will be led by Zapata Ranch and Chico Basin Ranch general manager, third-generation rancher and horseman, Duke Phillips, who is invited to speak around the country on conservation, horsemanship and what it means to be a modern day rancher. Days will be spent with personal one-on-one horsemanship instruction, educational demonstrations, rides through the surrounding meadows and dunes and working cattle and bison on horseback. Applying working ranch horsemanship and riding by feel, you'll leave the week feeling a deeper connection to the magnificence of the horse and will understand how to better communicate with it. You are more than welcome to bring your own horse. Space is limited to 15 participants. Cost: $2,700 pp, includes all meals, lodging and instruction


  • Private Land - more than 50k (acres)

  • 103,000 acre nature preserve bordering the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, littered with 14,000-foot plus mountain peaks. The high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows offer one of the most scenic and ecologically diverse landscapes in the United States. The ranch and surrounding valley is a wildlife mecca and is home to thousands of elk, bison, deer, coyotes, birds and many other species.

Utilizing our own grass-fed beef and bison, along with local San Luis Valley produce, our style is down home gourmet with meals served family-style in our dining room. We use only the best ingredients and prepare them with creativity and respect.

Award-winning chef Mike Rosenburg has run and owned several restaurants, been the personal chef for the Carnegie family and catered high profile events, most notably JFK Jr.'s wedding.

Special diets, requests and allergies are all easily accommodated.

Good to know




  • Enjoy

    Gourmet, Ranch-style, Health oriented
  • Meals served

    family style, buffet style, everyone eats together, scheduled meals
  • Enjoy dining in

    nature settings, patio, dining room (casual attire)
  • You'll definitely love

    ranch-raised beef, organic produce, locally grown produce, fresh daily bread, fresh daily desserts
  • Dietary restrictions catered for include

    lactose intolerant, vegans, vegetarians, other

Email Ranch  View Website


Your Chef

  • Your dedicated chef is Mike Rosenburg

  • Please contact us for further information on our chef.

Sample Menu

    • Bison steak or Chicken with mushrooms
    • Bread with sea salt and fresh peppercorn
    • Spinach salad with local vegetables and 2 homemade dressings
    • Roasted fingerling potatoes with sage
    • Sautéed seasonal vegetables

Ranch Recipe

    Bison Pot Roast

    1 4-5 lb. bison chuck roast or other suitable cut
    1-2 tbsp. canola oil
    2-3 oz. red wine
    1 medium onion, quartered
    3 stalks celery
    1 6 oz. can tomato paste
    1 lb. carrots, peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
    2 lb medium potatoes, quartered
    Salt and pepper

    Pour canola oil into a preheated roasting pan over high heat. Salt and pepper the roast prior to searing on all sides. Remove roast from pan and deglaze the pan with the wine. Reduce the wine by half and place celery and onions in pan. Return meat to the pan and add tomato paste and enough water to almost cover the bison. Put lid on pan and place in preheated 275 degree oven for 4 hours. Add potatoes and return to oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and add carrots and cook for another 45 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Children at the Ranch

Great for children aged 8 and over

Children 8 and over are welcomed and encouraged to ride with the group and take part in the daily operations. Children 7 and under can do led rides in and around the corrals.


  • Available for children age

  • Provided by

    Babysitting can be arranged for an additional cost.
  • Hourly prices from


The Medano-Zapata Ranch and its location in the San Luis Valley are full of fascinating history and folklore - including everything from the early Spanish settlers and their attempt to domesticate bison with tragic results, to some of the first recorded remarks by Thomas Jefferson’s appointed explorer, Zebulon Pike, upon seeing the great sand dunes, and even a man who trained a team of elk and put them in harness for entertainment on Mosca Pass.

When you visit the ranch you’ll see and possibly even stay in the historical buildings around the lodge, that at one point were post offices, blacksmith shops and stagecoach stops in the 1800’s. Also during our rides and excursions we’ll point out all of the landmarks and where the various events occurred. It is all fascinating history that we enjoy being involved with and sharing with our guests.

These full stories and other fascinating history, including how the Mormon Church came within a hair of colonizing on Zapata Ranch and the recent discovery of 11,000 year old bison remains can be found at the Zapata Ranch.


  • Ranch established

  • Guest ranch since

Duke - General Manager
Tess - Lodge Manager
Asta - Programs Director

Owner Info

  • Owner - The Nature Conservancy

  • Languages spoken

  • The Zapata Ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy and managed by Ranchlands.

Our Managers

  • Manager - Duke Phillips

  • Languages spoken

    english, spanish

Rooms & Rates

  • Room type | nameSummer ratesWinter rates

  • Lodge | $328-$471n/a

    • Description

      Each guest room is equipped with either two double beds or a single king and its own private bathroom. Wifi is available in the main lodge sitting area. The guest facilities are built on the original Zapata homestead with buildings that date back to the 1800's. The buildings are all restored chinked log and boast high comfort and rustic elegance. Daily maid service and laundry facilities are included. Prices are all-inclusive and include breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared by our gourmet chef.
    • Rooms

    • Max occupancy

    • Prices listed are

      per person
    • Minimum stay

      3 nights
    • Bathrooms

      Private bathroom
    • Amenities

      fridge, hair dryer, seating area, wood fireplace, washer / dryer
    • Entertainment

      hot tub



  • wireless internet
  • telephone
  • Business Services

    • Executive business center
    • Conference center
    • computer and fax hookups
    • printers
    • common computer
    • Both AV and Wi-Fi available in the meeting room

    Cell Networks

    • AT&T
    • verizon

Additional Services

  • Spa

    relaxation massage, deep tissue massage, rock treatments.
  • Corporate Retreats

    For groups of up to 30. With 15 rooms, retreats and meetings are intimate and easily customized around all ranch activities and experiences.
  • Weddings

    We can cater for groups of up to 30.



  • We have a collection of Zapata themed products including t-shirts, leather made goods, etc.

Outdoor Activities

  • campouts
  • wagon rides
  • bird watching
  • interpretive hikes and nature walks

Winter Activities  

  • cross-country skiing
  • snowmobiling
  • down hill skiing
  • snowshoeing

Good to know

  • You can borrow

    Saddle bags, Rain coats

Fishing & Wildlife

  • Fishing

  • Types of fishing

    fly, guided non-inclusive
  • Fly fishing trips on some of the best gold medal rivers in Colorado can be arranged and are just a short drive away. High mountain lake fishing is also available on hikes and pack trips into the 14,000-foot mountain peaks directly bordering the ranch.

  • Wildlife and birding

  • The high desert grasslands, alpine forests, wetlands, sand dunes, creeks and lush meadows offer one of the most scenic and ecologically diverse landscapes in the United States. The ranch and surrounding valley is a wildlife mecca and is home to thousands of elk, bison, deer, coyotes, birds and many other species.

Offsite Activities

  • Within proximity to the ranch, you can enjoy taking a relaxing soak in a natural hot springs or be a little more adventurous and take in some whitewater rafting or fishing.

Local Attractions

  • We've only highlighted attractions that may add to your stay!
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • The Great Sand Dunes National Park is the United State's tallest sand dunes in North America. Just minutes from the lodge, this is a must-see while you are here visiting. There are also several hiking trails into the mountains surrounding the Dunes, as well as Medano Pass, a primitive road that winds beside the Dunes and into the mountains. Sledding down the Dunes is always fun, especially for the kids- we have some you can borrow in the office!
  • Distance

    2 miles
  • Time from ranch

    15 mins
  • Zapata Falls

  • The Zapata Falls trailhead is also located just minutes from the lodge. It is an easy hike up to the falls and is only about ½ mile and exploring the falls is well worth the hike. Also, the view of the valley from the Falls is spectacular. If you want the best view of the Falls, be prepared to get your feet wet! From the trailhead, you can also hike to Zapata Lake. This hike is longer, about 5 miles, and fairly rigorous, but also an amazing view.
  • Distance

    1 miles
  • Taos, New Mexico

  • Taos is full of culture, great food and always has something going on. A great place to visit traveling to or from the ranch.
  • Distance

    100 miles
  • Time from ranch

    1 hour 30 mins
  • Mesa Verde National Park

  • Mesa Verde National Park is home to the 700 year old cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. These are some of the best preserved sites in the country, with much of the buildings and dwellings still in tact.
  • Distance

    220 miles
  • Time from ranch

    3 hours 30 mins
  • Black Canyon

  • Distance

    200 miles
  • Time from ranch

    2 hours 30 mins

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