Westgate River Ranch
American Bison at Westgate River Ranch
Westgate River Ranch offers an out-of-the-ordinary Florida experience. Tourism in the Sunshine State often centers around our urban beaches and theme parks, while the rural "real Florida" is many times overlooked.
This 1,700-acre Florida dude ranch, however, is located about 30 miles from Lake Wales, in a remote area along the Kissimmee River--in the heart of Florida's cowboy country.
A lot of people are surprised to learn Florida has cowboys, but ranching has been a significant Florida industry for well over a century. The term "Florida Cracker" comes from this cowboy tradition.
To learn of this Cracker tradition, I highly recommend you read Patrick Smith's epic novel A Land Remembered. If you love Florida, you'll be glad you did.
During the week, life here at Westgate River Ranch goes at a snail's pace. Just what the doctor ordered if you want to kick back, relax, and let the rest of the world go by.
But if you seek the hustle and bustle of Disney World, don't come to Westgate River Ranch, and especially don't come here mid-week. All you'll get is the peace of wide-open spaces and a feeling of escape that comes with leaving behind busy schedules, traffic, alarm clocks, and that vague sense of urgency that all too often becomes part of our everyday lives.
What Are Those Horns For?
My wife, son, father-in-law and I checked in to our cabin late one Wednesday afternoon. Early the next day, we enjoyed morning coffee while sitting on our spacious front porch watching a half-dozen or so American bison--otherwise known as "buffalos"--graze about 75 feet from us. Bison were once native to Florida, and it was incredibly cool to see these huge animals right outside our door.
A Home Where the Buffalos Roam
An American Bison
The term "cabin" doesn't do justice to our accomodations. Actually, I'd describe it as more of an upscale duplex condo.
Our One Bedroom, Two-Bath Cabin
Quite luxurious, it had a master bedroom suite complete with a king-size whirlpool.
The Master Bedroom Suite
This Ain't Your Grandpa's Cabin
Plus, there was an extra full bathroom off the living area, and sleeping arrangements for at least five people, since the living room had a built-into-the-wall-pull-down Murphy bed and two fold-out couches.
Vaulted ceilings and a wrap-around porch lend a feeling of spaciousness.
High Ceilings Lend a Feeling of Spaciousness
A full kitchen complete with pots, pans, and utensils made us feel right at home from the very start.
A Fully Equipped Kitchen is Mighty Convenient
Rocking chairs on the porch added a special "down-home" touch.
Westgate, the ranch's owner, is a time-share company, and many of the guests here are holders of a time-share. But anyone can call and reserve an efficiency or a one- or two-bath cabin. I can't speak for the other accomodations, but we thoroughly enjoyed our two-bath "cabin."
It's not an exaggeration to say that Westgate River Ranch is off the beaten track. The closest town is Lake Wales, about 30 miles away.
That means you'll want to stock up on groceries and supplies before you arrive. If you do run out of something, however, the ranch's "General Store" is open seven days a week and sells groceries, supplies, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and beverages. They may have just what you need. I made sure they had extra coffee...just in case.
The General Store Oozes Country Charm
Westgate River Ranch springs to life on weekends. More people come in, and the marina, the restaurant, and the saloon open their doors.
The River Ranch Saloon has a bar, tables, and a dance floor. It may not be the Red Dog or the Long Branch, but there is a DJ on Friday and a live band on Saturday. Plus, on Fridays it's open to kids until 10:00 PM. After that, you must be 21 or older.
The Saloon is Open on Friday and Saturday Nights
And, the week's highlight is the rodeo on Saturday night.
The Rodeo Grounds
Winter is the busy season when the cool, mostly mild weather is particularly inviting. The hot summers naturally don't attract as many people as the cooler seasons.
June through September can be hot and humid, no doubt. But central air conditioning and the ranch's big trazpezoid-shaped swimming pool--60 feet long--can help you stay cool even in mid-summer.
Cool off in the Pool
Oh, and by the way, the pool is heated to a comfortable temperature, so you can enjoy it on chilly winter days, too.
Other Activities at Westgate River Ranch
Activities take place mostly on the week-end, although some are available during the week with a 24-hour notice. If you want to ensure you're here when this place is in full swing, plan your trip to include a Friday and Saturday night.
So, besides what's been mentioned, what else is there to do here? Let's look at at some of them:
Go Horseback Riding. Ride for about an hour following area trails.
Rent a Pontoon Boat. Explore or fish the Kissimmee River. From what I hear, this area provides top-notch bass fishing.
Ride a Swamp Buggy.The ranch's swamp buggy takes you through the woods around the ranch.
A Swamp Buggy is Essentially a Motor Hooked
to Big Tires and a High Perch
Go for an Airboat Ride. The airboat takes you along the side channels of the old Kissimmee River before it was "channelized" in the 1960s.
The Airboat is Essentially an Airplane Motor
Hooked to a Water Sled
Play Golf. The Ranch features a nine-hole golf course. Pictured here is the Pro Shop.
The River Ranch Pro Shop
Eat at the Smokehouse Grill Restaurant. Enjoy some barbecue while you overlook the marina.
The Smokehouse Grill Gets Ready to Open
Use the Fitness Center. Located in a small building near the General Store, it has a few machines for working off yesterday's calories from all that barbecue at the Smokehouse Grill.
Pony Rides for Young Children. Gotta little buddy with you? A carousel live pony ride can be a big deal. Oh yes, and there's a petting farm, too.
Play Tennis.The Ranch has two tennis for your enjoyment.
Go Hiking. With 1,700 acres around you, there are plenty of places to set out walking.
Plenty of Places to Roam
The Ranch's property borders on the Kicco (say kiss-o) Wildlife Management Area, and it just so happens you can access
the Florida Trail within a mile or so of the Ranch.
Catch the Florida Trail at River Ranch
Once on the Florida Trail, you can go all the way to Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola if you want to. Going south, you can go all the way to the Big Cypress
Hiking Not Your Thing? Rent a Bicyle. Explore the ranch on two wheels instead of two feet.
Other Stuff To Know about River Ranch
Westgate River Ranch is located at River Ranch, Florida. River Ranch itself is actually a small community. Members of this small community got together and founded themselves a church, the building for which was initially dedicated in 1993. Since then, there have been some additions to create the building you see today. The church is inter-denominational and has an active attendance.
River Ranch Chapel
The RV Resort
Here at River Ranch there are actually two different enterprises: 1) Westgate River Ranch Resort, the primary subject
of this page, and 2) River Ranch RV Resort.
River Ranch RV Resort is an RV/Mobile Home Development consisting of over 500 lots arranged into five distinct sections called "Phases." From what I was able to piece together, these are all RV lots with the exception of "Phase 2" lots which allow for more permanent mobile-home type living, including garden sheds and so forth.
The lots are owned by individuals who sometimes rent them out overnight through the Resort Office here on the premises.
There seem to be always some lots for sale through a realty company.
The RV resort has its own facilities, including Resort Office, fitness center, swimming pool, and more.
The Entrance to River Ranch RV Resort
A Typical Street in River Ranch RV Resort
So...ready to escape the urban crowds and enjoy some wide open spaces? Below, you'll find a link to some reviews from others about River Ranch.
I noticed the reviews were mixed. Everyone has his or her own expectations, I'm sure. All I can say is we really enjoyed our stay.
Who knows? Westgate River Ranch just might be your kind of place.
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