Living on a mountain ranch is one of those good-only-in-your-imagination kinds of scenarios. But what if you could reap the benefits of the ranching lifestyle without waking up predawn and mucking stalls? Thanks to a developing trend in Colorado real estate, it’s now possible. “Recreational ranching” balances land conservation—of utmost importance to outdoorsy Coloradans—with the growing demand for high-end second homes in our state.

Here’s how it works: Buyers purchase a parcel of land (ranging from less than an acre to several hundred acres) in a recreational ranching community. Pre-built homes are available on some properties, but it’s more common for buyers to construct custom dwellings. Homeowners then have access to all the community’s amenities, which usually include activities such as fishing, cattle driving, hunting, horseback riding, and hiking on private trails and in wilderness areas. In many cases, the ranches have a central lodge and guest cabins, which can be used for visitors. HOA dues cover the costs of maintaining the communal spaces.

The preservation side of recreational ranching is one of its biggest draws, says Ron Morris, broker and co-founder of Colorado’s Ranch Marketing Associates. “Most purchasers want to protect or improve the property,” Morris says. “That may be enhancing a stream bed or doing things to the land that provide a better habitat for wildlife and livestock.”

Of course, real estate—especially if it’s rich in natural resources—is a good investment. “Land… they’re not making any more of it,” Morris says. But, he adds, much of the draw is “simply about enjoying the great outdoors.”

1. Maytag Mountain Ranch

Profits from beef raised at this organic cattle farm and orchard in Westcliffe are used to cover the ranch’s operating costs.
Westcliffe; 2,953 acres, homesites from $500,000,

2. Cordillera’s Territories

This equestrian-focused community in the heart of the Vail Valley offers both indoor and outdoor riding arenas, and residents can take multiday trail rides within the 10th Mountain Division hut system.
Edwards; 7,000+ acres, homesites from $750,000,

3. Wilder on the Taylor

A working cattle ranch between Gunnison and Crested Butte, Wilder boasts six stocked fishing ponds and world-class fly-fishing on five ultraprivate miles of the Taylor River.
Almont; 2,100 acres, homesites from $1.65 million,