Discover the True Spirit of the West at Smith Fork Ranch
In issues past, we’ve typically shined a spotlight on Colorado towns with where to stay, eat, drink and play. But in visiting Smith Fork Ranch, we uncovered a true gem deserving an escape all its own. Located 246 miles from Denver, the 285-acre property is far beyond the beaten I-70 path, with the final destination more than justifying the journey. Located just outside of Crawford—home to generations of ranch culture—you’ll instantly feel a world away. Owners, Marley and Linda Hodgson, acquired the abandoned spread in 2000 and have since transformed Smith Fork Ranch into a luxurious retreat, all while keeping the authenticity of a more simple time intact.
Truly intimate, the ranch sleeps just 26 guests in two historic log houses and three quaint cabins that underwent careful restoration. Roaring fireplaces made from river rock, as well as plush robes, handmade soaps, feather beds and the welcome absence of television ensure the soundest of sleeps after a day of adventure. As founder of legendary leather accessories brand, Ghurka, Marley has an impeccable eye for design. Together with his wife, Linda, they adorned rooms with pieces from their personal collection of American primitive antiques and enlisted works from the thriving community of artisans and craftsmen in the area. Guests can also take a piece of the ranch home with them from the Marley Hodgson Studio, the onsite gallery featuring creations of his own along with a curated selection of limited edition collections.
It’s unexpected to find an award-winning culinary and beverage program at a guest ranch, but here, it’s a cornerstone of the experience. Utilizing the half-acre, chemical-free farmstead garden and adjacent greenhouse, ingredients for all three meals are picked fresh daily. Executive Chef, Seth Bateman, tailors each menu based on the harvest of the day, complemented by sustainably raised meat from ranches across the North Fork Valley. The culinary team shares their knowledge about sustainable farming practices and high-altitude organic gardening through the expanded agritourism program. Pre-made picnic baskets are ready and waiting for lunch breaks on the bank of any one of the serene ponds scattered throughout the grounds. Come sunset, guests gather for cocktails to recap their days and sit down for three courses punctuated with pairings from the extensive wine cellar. And in true western tradition, the vintage dinner bell is struck nightly, a true honor the little ones playfully fight over.
Choose Your Own Adventure
With a one-to-one guest-to-staff ratio, any activity you wish for is their command, all tailored to experience with expert guides. Championship wrangler, Chris Maxon, leads the impressive horseback-riding program, with more than 40 horses at your disposal. Learn the basics, barrel race in the arena or take a full-day ride culminating with mountaintop wine and hors d’oeuvres while watching the sunset. Hiking and mountain biking also take full advantage of the endless miles of trails, while fly-fishing aficionados have full reign over a stretch of private river and five stocked trout ponds. Test your shot with sporting clays or archery, and end the day with a custom treatment in the boutique spa housed in an open-air tent. The ranch is also family-friendly with a dedicated daily children’s camp itinerary, all supervised of course.
There’s more than enough to stay active on the ranch, but with unique access to more than one million acres of Gunnison National Forest and West Elk Wilderness beyond the property line, the options continue. Explore the “Big Gunny” whitewater rafting, floating or fly-fishing or trek through the steep, deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. For the less adventurous, take a tour to a local artisan’s studio for a glassblowing class or go wine tasting at Black Bridge Winery in Paonia.
However you spend your days, when you gather each night with your lover, family or newfound friends, you’ll reflect on the breathtaking beauty that surrounds you and the moments spent seemingly frozen in time. Beyond just a vacation, an escape to Smith Fork Ranch feels like an invitation into the Hodgson’s home, leaving with the hope they’ll ask you to return.
The fastest route from Denver to Crawford is approximately 4.5 hours, and although remote, traveling along I-70 is unavoidable. Situated in the shadow of the stunning 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris, Carbondale is the best bet to stretch your legs before heading south over McClure Pass. Refuel at the local’s favorite restaurant, Village Smithy, and gallery hop down the burgeoning arts town’s historic Main St. To fully recharge, sneak in a soak at Avalanche Ranch, a natural hot springs resort right off Highway 133.
Needle Rock Marks the Spot
The road to the ranch earned its name from the rock formation that lies at its entrance. Protected through the Colorado Natural Areas Program, Needle Rock is the remnant of a volcanic plug that pushed up through the earth’s crust 28 million years ago. The Crawford landmark stands 800 feet tall and is also visible from the many incredible vistas on Smith Fork Ranch’s property.