Spring Break is on it’s way. Last year, we decided that we wanted to do something that was off the beaten path. We decided to skip the beach and the theme parks and check out a dude ranch!
A Dude Ranch?!?
My first step in our dude ranch vacation was Googling ‘Dude Ranch Florida.’ The first place that popped up was Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo in River Ranch, Florida. Never heard of River Ranch, Florida? Me neither!
After I mapped it, I found that River Ranch is in Polk County in the middle of nowhere. This was exactly the vacation we wanted. We were looking to escape the hustle and bustle and just return to a simpler time.
Rustling the Cattle
In my head I was picturing the cattle herding scenes from “City Slickers.” That doesn’t happen at River Ranch. But there are a lot of activities that you can’t necessarily find in Lakewood Ranch. My family definitely enjoyed our stay. Speaking of Lakewood Ranch, when we got back my daughter confused all of our friends by saying she went to the ‘Lakewood Ranch Dude Ranch’ for Spring Break! Silly girl!
Here’s what we did and where we stayed…
Their biggest event and draw is the rodeo they offer every Saturday night. We actually didn’t make it to the rodeo since our whole purpose in visiting was a slower pace. After talking to several of the staff I did hear quite a bit about the rodeo. People travel from all over the state to check the rodeo out. A huge crowd of people descend upon the ranch on Saturdays. So if you’re looking for a slower paced trip, wait until Sunday to head there like we did.
At the rodeo they have barrel racing, trick riding and of course bull riding. They also have a mechanical bull set up if you want to see if you can last 8 seconds. Even though we didn’t make it to the rodeo, we were able to check out the bulls that are featured. During the week, the bulls are kept in a paddock on the property. Just seeing them behind the fence convinced me that I will never be a rodeo star. Those horns are massive!
The Petting Farm
We spent A LOT of time at the petting farm. My daughter adores animals, so this was heaven for her. Also at the petting farm, they offer pony rides. There were a lot of pony rides that happened during our trip. There are goats, geese, deer, horses, ponies, pigs, turkeys, rabbits, and so much more!
The Ranch offers a 9 hole golf course for real golfers. We are not golfers, but the course itself looked beautiful. We did, however, check out their mini golf course which was western themed and completely adorable. I did have to explain about quicksand, though. That was a tricky conversation because for a month afterwards my kiddo thought that all sand could be quicksand! She avoided the school sandbox for awhile!
This isn’t listed on their site as an ‘official’ activity, but we did a lot of exploring while we were at River Ranch. We rented a golf cart and just drove all over the paved parts of the property. That was a total thrill as we found a herd of buffalo (I didn’t know we had those in Florida!) and a whole lot of excellent climbing trees!
Where We Stayed
There are so many different options for staying at River Ranch. If you have an RV you can park it there. They also offer tent camping (not for me!), guest rooms, suites, Teepee glamping, cottages, and rail cars. After much debate we ended up in a lodge suite. But the teepees looked so fun! Our suite offered a full sized refrigerator, electric range, microwave and a full set of dishes. Behind our suite there were charcoal grills, but I didn’t know that before I packed. I definitely wish that I would have brought more food that we could cook ourselves. I did bring picnic items and we enjoyed a few picnic lunches under the gorgeous oaks.
What to Eat
That brings me to the food situation at River Ranch. They have one restaurant and a general store. The Smokehouse Grill left a bit to be desired. The Deli at the General Store makes pretty good pizza, though. Depending on where you are staying, I would definitely recommend bringing your own fixings for meals. They do offer a dinner hayride, but I can’t say one way or the other how that food is since we opted out of it because of our daughter’s allergies.
Stuff We Didn’t Try
I knew before we went to River Ranch that our daughter was too young to go horseback riding. Kids have to be 8 years old. Younger kids are able to experience the pony rides as an alternative to the horseback riding. This was still a difficult conversation to have with my horse loving girl. She settled for the pony rides and getting to pet the horses.
The ranch also has a marina where you can rent pontoon boats or go on air boat rides and they offer swamp buggy rides around the property. The first night we were there, the swamp buggy started up near us and totally flipped my kid’s wig. She isn’t usually sensitive to loud noises, but she wanted no part of that swamp buggy and we figured the air boat was the same story. Ooops.
Near the miniature golf they offer zip lining and bungee jumping. Our daughter didn’t meet the height and weight requirements (she was 5 at the time we visited), so we had to tell her no to those activities. She also couldn’t try rock climbing for the same reason.
Would We Go Back?
Yes! Everyone in our family had a great time. But we won’t be going back until our daughter is a bit older. I feel like activities for younger kids are pretty limited. My husband and I had to get creative to keep her entertained, so it wasn’t as relaxing for us as we’d hoped, but still lots of fun!