Westgate River Ranch

Five American Bison Graze in a Pasture at 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.

A Longhorn Grazes in the Pasture
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 Half Dozen American Bison Graze in a Pasture at Westgate River Ranch
A Home Where the Buffalos Roam




A Close Up View of An American Bison in a Pasture
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.

A Front View of a Two-Bedroom Cabin at Westgate River Ranch
Our One Bedroom, Two-Bath Cabin

Quite luxurious, it had a master bedroom suite complete with a king-size whirlpool.

A View of the Master Bedroom in a River Ranch Cabin
The Master Bedroom Suite



A View of the Master Bedroom's Bathroom in a River Ranch Cabin
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.

A View of the Living Room in a River Ranch Cabin
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 View of the Full Kitchen in a Westgate River Ranch Cabin
A Fully Equipped Kitchen is Mighty Convenient

Rocking chairs on the porch added a special "down-home" touch.

Three Men Sit in Rocking Chairs on a Cabin's Front Porch

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.

An Interior View of the River Ranch General Store
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.

An Night-timne Exterior View of the Lit-up River Ranch Saloon
The Saloon is Open on Friday and Saturday Nights

And, the week's highlight is the rodeo on Saturday night.

A View of the Rodeo Grounds at Westgate River Ranch
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.

The River Ranch Swimming Pool
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.

View of a pontoon boat moored at River Ranch Marina
Rental Boat

Ride a Swamp Buggy.The ranch's swamp buggy takes you through the woods around the ranch.

A Large Swamp Buggy Parked in a Grassy Field at Westgate River 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.

An Airboat Moored at the Westgate River Ranch Marina
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.

River Ranch Pro Shop
The River Ranch Pro Shop

Eat at the Smokehouse Grill Restaurant. Enjoy some barbecue while you overlook the marina.

Interior View of River Ranch Restaurant
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.

View of a Two Tennis Courts with the Inn in the Background
Whose Serve?

Go Hiking. With 1,700 acres around you, there are plenty of places to set out walking.

A Man Walks Down a Florida Backwoods Road
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.

A Florida Trail Sign Points the Way
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 National Preserve.

A Wooden Sign Shows Florida Trail Destinations
Happy Trails

Hiking Not Your Thing? Rent a Bicyle. Explore the ranch on two wheels instead of two feet.

A View of Several Dozen Bicycles under a Covered Roof
Ranch Cruisers






Other Stuff To Know about River Ranch

The Chapel

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.

A Distant View of River Ranch Chapel from Across a Pasture
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
The Entrance to River Ranch RV Resort



View of a Typical Wooded Street in 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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