Imagine this: You own a ranch, 5,800 acres nestled in the northern reaches of Summit County. You roll out of bed to stunning views of the Blue River Valley and the Gore Range. You have ponds stocked with trout and private access to the Blue River. Real cowboys—Francisco, Nolberto and Cruz—keep your 150 head of cattle nice and tidy. You have private cabins for hunting retreats, groomed trails for snowmobiling, an accomplished chef to feed you, and a sweet lady named Barb to handle any logistical snafus.
Sound like a slice of subalpine heaven? It just may be. Located a few miles west of Colorado Highway 9 near Kremmling, Shadow Creek Ranch is the only upscale, master-planned ranch community in Summit County. Owners here get the best of the ranching lifestyle—cowboys, cattle, farmland, tractors, barns, horses and stables—without the hassle of daily maintenance. They can participate in chores such as branding, mowing and digging ditches if they so choose, or they can let the staff take care of it all, leaving them to revel in the landscape instead.
Shadow Creek has 22 homesteads, each of which has 10 acres open for development. The purchase of a lot (they go for between $1.6 million and $1.9 million) includes private ownership of a homestead and part ownership in a 5,640-acre open space and recreation area. Ownership privileges include 55 suite nights in either the lodge or the guesthouse and 45 cabin nights at one of five out cabins. Many owners leave their lots vacant, preferring to stay at the lodge or in the cabins when they visit.
Outdoor activities here include hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Fly-fishing and hunting are particular treats here at the northern tip of the Gore Range. The ranch has its very own fly-fishing guide, a burly man by the name of Marty Cecil, who sports a mustache that reaches all the way down to his jawline. Cecil leads owners on expeditions to any of the ranch’s 22 stocked lakes and ponds, or to a private stretch of the Blue River. Pick the right spots, and you’ll have cutthroat, rainbow, brook and brown trout jumping at your fly.
Cecil also doubles as Shadow Creek’s hunting guide in a vast open space etched with elk rubbings on almost every aspen. Expeditions begin at the ranch’s base camp and generally head south toward Deep Creek and the high country of the ranch (which climbs to a peak elevation of 9,800 feet, versus 8,400 feet back at ranch headquarters). Bide your time, and you’re bound to find more than a few trophy elk and mule deer crossing your path.
“The owners are here to have fun,” Barb Kollar, the ranch’s office manager, told me. “The staff is here to take care of the details and make sure they do.”
And it’s not all outdoors here, either. The lobby at ranch headquarters is rustic but luxurious, with high-vaulted ceilings and an elegant chandelier of intertwined antlers. Base camp, where the homeowners hold an annual branding each June, is equipped with bunk beds, furnaces, a fire pit and a cozy sauna. The rustic cabins, scattered across the open space, are stocked with board games and food options.
On a recent visit, Kollar took me on a tour of the grounds in an all-terrain vehicle. We lurched and bumped along the ranch’s many trails as she related the history of Shadow Creek. Ute Indians were the first to occupy the land, with mountain trappers arriving in the 1800s. Then a man named Frank Smith Sr. claimed ownership in 1880, making the ranch one of the earliest in Summit. At the start of the new millennium, a group of investors bought the ranch, organized a homeowners association and reopened the property as Shadow Creek.
On the way back to headquarters, we passed several ranch hands, tending to hay; a cow that had unexpectedly perished; and a mother black bear and her two cubs. At the sight of the bears, Kollar brought the ATV to a halt. I was clutching my pen and paper, mouth ajar. The two cubs came charging over to us as if they wanted to play. Then their mother emerged on top of a small ridge, lumbered down the slope to the road, and emitted something between a roar and a cry. The cubs recoiled, and all three went bounding off into the brush.
Kollar sighed a breath of relief.
“Now don’t tell me Shadow Creek isn’t the real ranching life,” she said.
Former Summit County resident Andrew Tolve is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Colorado Summit Magazine.