Smith Fork Ranch has all the makings of an upscale yet unpretentious Rocky Mountain getaway.
When Marley and Linda Hodgson, founders of Ghurka—a company that offers fine, high-quality leather bags with the markings of true craftsmanship—first purchased Smith Fork Ranch in early 2000, it was to satisfy a longing to own a ranch out West. The New York City-based couple had no intention of turning it into a guest ranch. However, their children, who are now grown but loved going to dude ranches as teenagers, suggested that they do just that. Today, the ranch is a virtual oasis of Colorado beauty (it’s located within Gunnison National Forest, midway between Aspen and Telluride—about a 2 ½-hour drive from Aspen). The ranch is carved into its own private valley, and it caters to only 28 guests per week. Think cow prints, an authentic teepee and a private farmstead. It also boasts upscale accommodations, five-star dining and activities such as archery, fly-fishing and horseback riding.
When the Hodgsons purchased the ranch in 2000, it was in very poor condition. They immediately embarked on what would become a 2 ½-year restoration process.
But the story begins long before that. Prior to the settlement of Colorado, the West Elk range of the Rocky Mountains, along with the river valley that is now home to the ranch, was home to the Ute Indians, who lived and hunted in the area for hundreds of years. Then, in the 1800s, farmers and cattlemen staked claims on the land, running cattle ranches, and cultivating farms and fruit orchards.
In 1928, the Ferrier family purchased two ranches, which they combined into one called Bar X Bar. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that the Ferriers built cabins to accommodate paying guests (known as “dudes from back East”), and a dude ranch was quickly born. “They ran it as a modest but effective guest ranch until the 1960s,” Marley says. “They turned it over to their sons, and at some point, they lost the ranch. It fell into the hands of absentee owners who used the land as hunting grounds. When we bought it, it was just a disaster. It was during the early stages of restoring it that our kids said we should bring it back to being a guest ranch.”
The project seemed overwhelming, but the Hodgsons had friends in the entertainment and service industries who encouraged them to take the leap. “They said, ‘If you can do a ranch like you do Ghurka, it would be fantastic,’” Linda says.
Sure enough, Smith Fork Ranch features the same attention to detail and fine materials that transcend your everyday guest ranch.
The Hodgsons took down each building on the property, numbered each log and rebuilt the buildings from the inside out. “There is an amazing number of very good craftsmen in the area—woodworkers, blacksmiths, log craftsmen, silversmiths—and we made each building look like it was built in the 1930s and lovingly cared for,” Marley says. “We added custom finishes, such as custom hinges for the doors, and Linda chose the fabrics.”
Each of the five cabins is decorated differently to reflect its own distinct personality. The Hodgsons added their own sense of panache while being careful to honor the ranch’s history. For example, two types of furniture are used throughout the cabins: upholstered or wooden. All of the leather for the upholstery was cut by Ghurka craftsmen in the Connecticut workshop. Meanwhile, some of the wood furniture was created by Mennonite and Amish craftsmen.
The River House, which Marley designed, features American primitive antiques, original art, Navajo rugs, and handmade furnishings from Western and Native American artisans. It is the largest of the cabins, able to accommodate up to 10 guests. Conversely, the Aspen Cabin, which sleeps only five guests, features an antler chandelier and log stove in the living room, and a slate-tiled bathroom, providing a different ambience. All accommodations boast feather beds with fine linens, handmade soaps and organic lotions.
Also on the property is a hot tub that is open to all guests (the River House has its own hot tub on a private deck), an authentic teepee that pays homage to the Ute Indians, a horse stable, miles of trails, a spa with three treatment rooms (try the Smith Fork Ranch Signature Facial—it features ingredients foraged in the forest) and a kitchen where Executive Chef Marcus Parrott works his magic. It helps that he has an on-site farmstead with nearly 80 different organic fruits and vegetables at the ready. And all meat served, such as heritage lamb and beef, is sourced right down the road. Seafood is flown in twice weekly.
“Our farmstead is the center of organic growing [in the area],” Marley says. “We grow 24 different types of heirloom tomatoes, specialty fingerling potatoes, strawberries and melons, and we have apple and apricot trees.”
The farmstead acts as an educational guest experience and dining venue as well. “Kids love to dig in the dirt and plant in the garden,” Linda says. “They can plant a carrot and then see what a carrot looks like when it’s pulled out of the ground. There’s also a little patio there where guests can have a picnic lunch and cocktails in the evening. We also offer educational mushroom foraging, where a guide talks about the flora and fauna.”
Menu items at Smith Fork Ranch change seasonally, following local harvests. A sample of menu items might feature beef and elk tartare, Columbia River salmon or Desert Weyr rack of lamb. The restaurant’s extensive wine cellar has won the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, one of only three restaurants in Colorado to do so. “Our wine cellar is the result of our son and I being crazy about wine,” Marley says. “We have more wine than we will ever sell.”
This year, Smith Fork Ranch is offering new experiences, including the Cocktail and Horseback Riding Experience. It features a scenic, early evening horseback ride to a hilltop overlooking the ranch and valley, where guests will be treated to delicious food and cocktails. Of course, the service is impeccable, regardless of what you choose to do while at this idyllic getaway; for couples or guests who are seeking an authentic yet luxurious ranch experience, there’s no better place to be.
During peak season, guests can book six-night stays. During the shoulder season (before June 16 and after Aug. 31), guests can book three-night stays. Cabins range from $475 to $583 per person per night in the shoulder season; during peak season, prices range from $625 to $775 per person per night. Rates are all inclusive, except for alcohol and spa treatments. Smith Fork Ranch is open Memorial Day weekend through Halloween. 45362 Needle Rock Road, Crawford, Colo., 970.921.3454