Winding River Ranch is located less than 30 miles from Buena Vista, Buena Vista Central Colorado Regional Airport and 10 minutes by paved State Highway 285 south of Fairplay. It encompasses a highly diverse block of 6,397± acres (4,797± deeded) that lies at 9,300 feet just below the continental divide which includes some of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks. The lower reaches of the ranch include a rich wetland complex that supports nearly five miles of world-class private fishing on the highly regarded South Fork of the South Platte River. The upper reaches of the ranch include steeper, timbered terrain that offers private trophy quality elk and deer hunting – with rare hunting tags. There is enough land to support modest hay production, summer grazing for livestock and horses and three irrigated food plots, although fish and wildlife are the crop of choice for the current owners. The ranch has an extensive common boundary with the Pike National Forest and boasts dramatic postcard-quality views of Pike’s Peak to the south and Teller and Hoosier Ridges along the continental divide to the north. To further “ice this cake” it is a short 45-minute drive to Breckenridge Ski Resort and only a 90-minute drive to Denver/DIA. The turnkey improvements are comfortable, useful, appropriate but not over the top in any way. In summary, Winding River Ranch pretty much has it all: scale (over 6,000 acres), great fishing, quality hunting, terrific scenery, good privacy plus easy access to major international air service, to an attractive small town and to a destination ski resort.
Just the Facts
- 29 miles to Buena Vista
- 10 minutes south of Fairplay and 45 minutes from Breckenridge, Colorado
- 90 minutes from Denver and two hours from DIA
- Eastern boundary is Highway 285
- 30 minutes to Buena Vista Central Colorado Regional Airport offering 8,300 x 75-foot asphalt landing strip
- 4,797± deeded acres
- 3,251± acres under conservation easement(s) held by The Nature Conservancy
- BLM lease for 354.6± acres of lease
- State land lease for recreational and agricultural purposes totaling 1,246± acres
- Approximately five miles of both banks of the South Fork of the South Platte River – rainbows and browns
- Four lakes stocked with Snake River cutthroat, Donaldson steelhead, Kamloop rainbow and German brown
- Extensive water rights including reservoir, ditch, spring, and groundwater well rights
- Two tributary creeks, Rough and Tumbling, feed the main stem
- Multiple residences including manager’s home, bunkhouse and four cabins
- Adjacent to Pike National Forest, BLM and State Land
- Highly diverse habitat featuring irrigated meadows, riparian, wetlands, timbered mountains and open prairies.
- Wildlife includes abundant elk, deer, bear, antelope, and numerous small game species, while also participating in Colorado’s Landowner Preference Program (LPP)
- Three irrigated food plots planted in oats
- 300 days of sunshine with an average of 15± inches of annual precipitation
- 9,300± foot elevation
The ranch lies generally in a north to south configuration with the central portion being dominated by a high timbered mountain known locally as Black Mountain which rises above a rich riparian corridor where nearly five miles of the South Fork of the South Platte meanders through. The property rises to the south where it is protected by multiple miles of common boundary with the Pike National Forest. The ranch also extends to the north of Black Mountain and somewhat to the west which offers additional protection and privacy. The combination of the protection offered by Black Mountain and the lush green river meadows makes for a compelling home for a broad array of Colorado’s iconic wildlife species. The property has the feel of a private valley, flanked by expansive native grasslands with a majestic backdrop of 14,000-foot snowcapped peaks. Thanks to their high elevation, snow is ever-present, creating picturesque panoramas throughout the year.
There is no question that the Winding River Ranch is the “real deal” - as they say. Easily accessible and convenient to a plethora of social, recreational and cultural amenities, it offers world-class hunting, fishing and wildlife along with sensational scenery and views. It is large enough to offer complete privacy and the absolute control of one’s environment. The best news is that it has comfortable and completely appropriate improvements with no overbuilt structures.
Located 10 minutes south of the charming mountain community of Fairplay, Winding River Ranch has easy access to international air service in Denver via a 90-minute drive on US Highway 285. The Buena Vista private 8,300 foot airstrip is about 25 minutes from the ranch. The concept of having a sizeable ranch near a major destination ski resort is appealing to many but almost impossible to achieve. Winding River is unique in that regard in that it lies an easy 45-minute drive from the Breckenridge Ski Resort.
The ranch represents one of the larger properties in a high mountain valley that forms the headwaters of the South Platte River. These valleys have increasingly become known for their wildlife populations and exceptional fishing. Seasonal grazing of livestock and some hay production have replaced the year-round cattle operations of the past century.
Fairplay is the center of this region and offers a number of very popular restaurants, a grocery store, library, bowling alley, and a fly fishing shop. A somewhat longer drive will take one to Breckenridge via the scenic Hoosier Pass road which is kept open year-around. It allows ranch owners and guests immediate access to the fine dining, boutique shopping, and alpine skiing that make Breckenridge a truly global resort destination. It features over 2,300 acres of skiable terrain, ranging from beginner friendly slopes to expert runs spanning four peaks of the majestic Tenmile Mountain Range.
There are extensive recreational opportunities in the area surrounding the ranch. An hour to the south one finds the town of Salida which is well known as a whitewater rafting and kayaking center. Park County itself is home to multiple 14,000 plus peaks and associated wilderness areas - an absolute “mecca” for outdoor enthusiasts. There are four of these peaks within a short distance of the ranch.
In short, this is an area that offers virtually unlimited social, cultural and recreational amenities while still retaining a sense of the ranching culture of the old west that is still alive.
The ranch sits at 9,300± feet above sea level and enjoys an average of 300 days of sunshine annually although the growing season at this altitude is short. Typical summer days are defined by comfortable daytime temperatures, a blue-sky backdrop and abundant subalpine flora. Mid-summer displays of wildflowers in the meadows and along the river’s edge are a blaze of color. In the fall the aspen groves scattered amongst the timber come alive and offer postcard vistas with the snowy peaks as a backdrop. Winters bring plenty of snow and cold temperatures offering opportunities for a full spectrum of winter activities.
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
Winding River Ranch consists of 4,797± deeded acres, 354.6± acres leased for grazing from the BLM and 1,246± acres of state of Colorado land which is leased for both recreation and grazing.
Approximately 3,251 acres of the 4,832 acres of total deeded ownership are protected in perpetuity by a series of conservation easements with The Nature Conservancy. This leaves 1,544± acres unencumbered and the easements permit the enhancement or expansion of the multitude of existing improvements. Any further easement details cn be provided upon request.
* Some of the outstanding photography herein was provided by John Birkey. (Contact information is available upon request.)
As a completely turn-key property, Winding River Ranch has multiple furnished residential structures plus barns, and corrals. The residences are briefly described as follows:
- Manager’s home: 1,774± square feet comprised of three bedrooms and two bathrooms built in 1956. This home has since been updated with a new roof, new windows, and new wood siding.
- The Ridge Cabin: Sitting on a ridge overlooking the river, it is 1,406± square feet with three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
- The View Cabin: Also, on a ridge with both river and mountain peak views, it is 1,632± square feet with three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
- Bunkhouse: Comfortable 912± square feet with two rooms and one bathroom. All cabins are fully furnished and include kitchens plus phone, power, and satellite.
In addition to the above-described structures, there are several cabins on the outer perimeters of the deeded acreage. These lend themselves to spill-over lodging for additional guests and/or staff quarters. They include an off-grid A-Frame cabin, a 2-bedroom/2-bath ranch home with kitchenette and wood-burning stove, and a 1-bedroom/1-bath manufactured home with walk-out basement.
Perhaps most important on a ranch of this size is the established network of roads and bridges that exist throughout the property. This ensures easy access across the deeded lands to access fishing resources and surrounding public lands.
While the ranch is comfortably improved for guests, it thankfully does not have a massive owner’s home that is typically built at great expense to someone else’s taste! We believe that the premier homesite lies just west of the Ridge Cabin where a private drive through a stand of mature timber leads to a level building site overlooking the river with picturesque views of the Buffalo Peaks and Mosquito Range. This site is conveniently accessed across the ranch and enjoys complete privacy with unparalleled sightlines.
Winding River Ranch has an extensive water rights portfolio, including reservoir rights, ditch rights, spring rights, and groundwater well rights. In Colorado with its burgeoning front range population, these water rights have good long term investment value.
The reservoir water rights are associated with four existing reservoirs: 1) Dixon Squirrel Reservoir (3.8 surface acres), 2) Burlingame Reservoir (6.81 surface acres), 3) Burlingame Reservoir No. 2 (4.87 surface acres), and 4) Chapelle Reservoir (13.49 surface acres). All four reservoirs are decreed for fish propagation and/or fish and wildlife habitat and are stocked with trout. They also are decreed for multiple additional beneficial uses such as stock watering, irrigation, domestic, and fire protection. All reservoirs have water storage rights dating from as early as 1876.
Additionally, Burlingame Reservoir, Burlingame No. 2 Reservoir, and Chapelle Reservoir either have decreed or pending flow-through water rights which allow for year-round freshening flows. The Dixon Squirrel Reservoir is fed by the Dixon Spring, which provides freshening flows. Burlingame Reservoir also has a decree which exempts the reservoir from having to replace the water that has evaporated. This grandfathered right would likely not be possible in today’s regulatory environment. The cost today of the constructed storage and the acquisition of these water rights to fill the reservoirs and replace evaporation would be in excess of $1,000,000. Frankly, it is unlikely that it would even be possible today.
Winding River Ranch recently purchased 30 acre-feet in the Kester Sweet Ditch and 9 acre-feet in the Burlingame Ditch. These water rights were purchased to keep the reservoirs as full as possible in the event of more strict administration of the local water rights. They are also the primary source of replacement water in a pending water court application for approval of a plan for further augmentation.
Winding River Ranch has four decreed ditch water rights with administrative priorities ranging from 1874 through 1883. These ditch rights come from Weaver No. 1, Weaver No. 2, Burlingame, and Kester Sweet ditches. Some of the decreed beneficial uses include irrigation, stock watering, storage, domestic, recreation including fishing, and augmentation.
No. 1 and No. 2 ditches are currently used for irrigation, while the Burlingame and Kester Sweet Ditch rights are or will be used in the Burlingame, Burlingame No. 2, and Chapelle Reservoirs.
Winding River Ranch has seven decreed spring water rights. These seven springs are decreed for various beneficial uses such as irrigation, storage for fish culture, scenic and recreational purposes, stock watering, and domestic use. The seven spring water rights have administrative priorities from 1876 through 1896, with one spring right having been changed for use in the Burlingame Reservoirs.
These water rights enable Winding River Ranch to keep water in the four reservoirs, irrigate, and provide water for stock and domestic use. They are a significant resource of the ranch.
Real estate taxes are estimated to be approximately $12,894 per year.
Nearly five miles of the South Fork of the South Platte River ribbon through the ranch presenting unmatched private fly fishing for wild brown and rainbow trout. The fishery has been well managed and maintained with several diverse types of water to fish, including deep pools in the tight bends, riffles over quality gravel, and large deeper impoundments created by the local beaver population.
Impressive resident trout populations are supplemented annually with the fall migration of trophy size brown trout up from the Antero Reservoir, just eight miles downstream from the ranch. A very healthy food source of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, scuds, and terrestrial insects along the vast expanse of high-quality fishing waters are responsible for growing large trout. Average trout in the stream range from 12-16 inches in length, with an opportunity for much larger fish in the deeper holding water. To date, the two largest wild trout landed on the ranch reportedly measured 29 inches and 31 inches in length. According to the Flyfisher’s Guide to Colorado in referring to this stream, “Browns in this class also hold over from year to year because of the excellent cover and undercut banks the stream provides them.”
In addition, the ranch has four exceptional fishing lakes stocked with Snake River cutthroat trout, Donaldson steelhead, Kamloops rainbow, German brown, and brook trout. These lakes are ideal for a novice looking to perfect their cast with a high probability of landing a feisty trout, while still providing a challenge to seasoned anglers who are eager to land line-ripping trophies with a well-placed midge or stripped wooly bugger.
Most notably, Winding River Ranch distinguishes itself by offering completely private fishing. Unlike other Rocky Mountain states, in Colorado, the ranch owner owns the bed of the streams. The stream on Winding River Ranch is not large enough to support any float traffic. This allows ownership to truly manage the resource by dictating fishing methods used, controlling pressure, periodic fish stocking, and organizing restoration projects as desired.
Both the South Fork and Rough and Tumbling Creek (which joins the South Fork just upstream of the ranch) remain undammed above the ranch, bringing high waters that recharge the wetlands running through the middle of the ranch. This seasonal recharging, along with severely limited livestock grazing along this vibrant riparian corridor, has enhanced the various reaches of the river and it has definitely paid off in fish size and numbers. Rough and Tumbling Creek, by the way, is an easily accessible nearby fishery – one of many.
In addition to fishing on the above mentioned private water within the ranch, this is an area that is well known for its publicly available trout water. Most notably there is a nearby stretch of the South Platte between Spinney Mountain Reservoir and Elevenmile Reservoir that is known as the “Dream Stream” because of the quantity and size of the fish that are resident there. Spawners out of Elevenmile can reach up to 10 pounds. There are over 50 miles of Gold Medal designated fisheries in the area – not to mention some incredibly prolific public reservoirs.
As previously described the Winding River Ranch offers an incredible diversity of habitat types. Elk are the primary species and the ranch has at times received up to 18 elk tags which Colorado allows to be sold or transferred to others. The heavy timber interspersed with meadows and abundant water is a magnet for deer, moose and elk. The open grasslands also host antelope. The property’s extensive shared border with Pike National Forest offers important protection for an array of Rocky Mountain species. Deer and elk are often seen roaming the property coming out of the timber to graze in the ranch meadows in the mornings and evenings. A local elk herd spends the winter in and around the ranch giving one another reason to visit in the winter.
The ranch is large enough to produce income from grazing and hay. It is important that the ranch continues to be operated at a basic level. It is most easily operated by taking in cattle from outside operators and the hay can be contracted as well. The ranch’s primary attributes are unquestionably its outstanding hunting and fishing.
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