When most Atlanta travelers think of visiting a dude ranch, they automatically look to the West and start booking airline tickets. On the other hand, within driving distance to the south, it is possible to get a similar experience, but with a lot of extras!
The Westgate Resorts River Ranch near Lake Wales, Florida bills itself as the largest dude ranch in the world. At 55,000 acres it has a good body of evidence to back up that claim. And, there is no doubt it lies in the midst of cattle country. Cattle were being herded by cowboys in Florida before Texas and the other western states were even a part of the nation.
Though it is a resort, River Ranch is also a working cattle farm, complete with all the gear, cowhands and activities one would expect on such a spread. But, there is far more to do on the ranch than just mount up and follow the herd.
River Ranch is a self-contained community. It has to be. The nearest grocery stores are 28 miles west in Lake Wales or 56 miles to the east at Vero Beach. The closest communities of any kind are Indian Lake Estates 12 miles west and Yeehaw Junction 23 miles east. River Ranch is not a place you simply stumble upon!
Guests at River Ranch have a wide range of amenities from which to choose. Horseback riding, a petting zoo, pony rides for kids, miniature golf and nine holes of regular golf, tennis courts, swimming pools, trap and skeet shooting, swamp buggy tours, hayrides or bicycle rentals are all available on site. Limited shopping for necessities is provided at the General Store and the Western Store offers the chance to “cowboy or cowgirl up” for the ranch life.
The ranch also has a marina with boat ramp that connects to the Kissimmee River and Lake Kissimmee. The lake offers largemouth bass, crappie and bream fishing, as does a catch-and-release pond on the ranch. Boat rentals are offered at the marina, along with guided fishing trips and air boat rides. The boat ramp is ideal for launching canoes and kayaks, as well.
At meal time guest can visit the Smokehouse Grill Restaurant or the grill in the General Store.
Accommodations at the ranch run the gamut of motel style rooms, cottages and an RV park.
Visitors can cap off their stays with the weekend activities. The River Ranch Saloon is open on Friday and Saturday nights for libations, live music and line dancing. Every Saturday night the rodeo arena comes alive with the Westgate Championship Rodeo, featuring roping, bull riding, barrel races and a calf scramble of the kids. The rodeo then is followed by a street dance in front of the saloon,
Come Sunday morning, guests are invited to join the staff for casual dress, cowboy church in the River Ranch Chapel Sunday Service.
Westgate Resorts River Ranch offers a taste of the western lifestyle, but with all the extra amenities of a Florida vacation.