Westgate River Ranch is located on 1700 acres in Central Florida, just an hour from Orlando. Not your typical cattle-wrangling operation, Westgate provides plenty of family opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with everything from a petting corral and rodeo to swamp buggy rides and trap and skeet shooting.
We fired off some questions to the ranch to find out exactly what they have to offer.
Believe it or not, Florida actually served as the original birthplace of the American cowboy. Long before cowboys became the symbol of the American West in the late 19th century, Seminole Indians, Spanish colonists and American settlers called “Crackers” herded cattle in Florida. Westgate River Ranch is located on some of the same land that those first cowboys roamed years ago.
In the early 1700s, American settlers began migrating to Florida out of the Carolinas and Georgia. These early settlers quickly took advantage of the wild cattle roaming the state. They often were called “cow catchers” because they would capture the wild cattle and build herds from them that they would drive to the seaports of Florida and sell to the Spanish that were sailing in from Cuba and Puerto Rico. The cattle would be taken back to Cuba and Puerto Rico to stock the ranches of the Spanish islands and be used as a food source.
These first American cowboys eventually became known as “cracker cowboys” and the Spanish cattle and horses that they made their living with were called “cracker horses” and “cracker cattle.”
The area that became known as River Ranch once served as a stopping point along the trail for the cracker cowboys during their cattle drives across the state. They would meet each other here at certain times of the year and bring together the small herds of wild cattle that they had caught into one large herd. By doing that they could help each other get those cattle to market.
River Ranch was originally built in the 1960s by Gulf American Corp. (GAC), then one of the largest land developers in the state, as the centerpiece of a huge proposed development in the area called “River Ranch Acres.” In 2001, Westgate Resorts purchased River Ranch and Westgate River Ranch reopened its doors the following year.
Westgate River Ranch, which has evolved into the largest dude ranch East of the Mississippi, lies on 1,700 beautiful acres and is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands. We are located about an hour south of Orlando – easily accessible by car and RV.
We cater to couples, families and groups. We are extremely child friendly with endless activities.
We have an abundance of activities on offer at the ranch – horse back riding, air boat rides, swamp buggy rides, archery range, basketball, boat rentals, dinner hayride, fishing, full service marina, mechanical bull, nine hole golf course, petting farm, pony rides, trap & skeet range, video arcade, horseshoes, tennis, outdoor pool.
A huge favorite among the kids in particular is our adventure park which features a bungee jumper, mini-golf, rock climbing wall and zip-line We also have a ropes course which can cater for group/corporate team building events.
The live Rodeo takes place every Saturday night and is open to guests and the public alike. (Additional fee for ticket applies). It draws rodeo athletes from all over to compete in trick riding, calf roping, barrel racing and, of course, bull riding.
Plus the fun doesn’t stop once the rodeo ends! If you feel bull riding isn’t that tough, take a spin on our new Mechanical Bull. Or get your feet moving to the lively Dance Party just outside the River Ranch Saloon where you’ll hear music and games from a lively DJ to end a perfect day.
We neglected to ask about the food but, after-the-fact, found out that the Smokehouse Grill restaurant serves excellent smoked BBQ. The onsite General Store serves breakfast, salads, deli sandwiches, pizza, beverages as well as offers sundries and groceries. Future plans (sometime this year) include a renovation of the Saloon (located next to the Rodeo) to convert it to a steakhouse, bar and live music venue.
So, while this might not be the typical farm or ranch stay, there's plenty to enjoy from sunrise to sundown. In fact you can book your reservation right here right now, then head out to the ranch, jump on a horse and ride into a bit of Florida history, if only for the afternoon.
(Photo credits: Westgate River Ranch)
Gently rolling Kentucky bluegrass and antebellum charm abound for guests who visit The Farm, LLC in Danville, Kentucky, an 1825 working farm home with a modern addition.
Roy and Angela Martin are the owners and hosts at The Farm, LLC, and Angela tells us that Roy has "always been a farmer, like his father and grandfather before him." Roy is a cattle rancher, raising mostly Angus cows. Over the years, they've added chickens (and an egg business), goats, and a couple of Jersey dairy cows which provide milk for farm-made butter, cheese, and yogurt.
Other animals include ducks, rabbits, guineas, pigs, kittens, Great Pyrenees dogs, and a peacock family!
Angela and Roy love to give their guests a true farming experience with a daily barn tour, milking goats, collecting chicken eggs, or - depending on the time of year - taking part in an instructional class such as cooking, canning, and making butter or cheese.
But guests don't have to stick to farming... the property has a pond and two walking trails, as well as sitting porches for relaxing, and a tire swing and playhouse for kids. In the evening, there's a bonfire and stargazing (and fresh goats milk ice cream!) Offsite adventures - if you can tear yourself away - include the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Keeneland.
The Farm, LLC offers 7 large in-house rooms for guests, with spacious formal and informal dining and entertainment areas, and multiple fully equipped kitches. For private lodging, there is "Belle's Cottage" (that's Belle in the photo above, next to her namesake cottage), which sleeps 4 and has a kitchenette and bathroom.
To learn more about what The Farm, LLC has to offer, check out their listing here on Farm Stay U.S. - fun, relaxation, and a good old fashioned farm experience in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region await!
(Photos courtesy The Farm, LLC)
NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT!
Farm Stay U.S. was happy to welcome Waihuena Farm in Haleiwa, Hawaii to the site in 2013.
Just across the street from Pipeline, neighboring the Pupukea Paumalu nature reserve, Waihuena Farm runs a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program featuring their organically managed crops. The farm is also host to a weekly yoga class and monthly permaculture workshops and events, including guest chef dinners.
Waihuena Farm has a lodge, which can sleep up to 12 people, a beach house, which sleeps up to 6, and also welcomes campers. Guests of all ages are invited to stay.
To learn more and plan your farm stay in Hawaii, visit the Waihuena Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S. Aloha!
(Photos courtesy Waihuena Farm)
Mariposa Creamery is a small micro-dairy offering a farm stay in the middle of the historic Zane Grey Estate in Altadena, California. Who would have thought you could take a real farm vacation in the Los Angeles suburbs?
Besides being able to stay overnight on the farm, guests can opt in for cheese-making classes and a chance to taste a variety of the cultured milk products produced by the resident Nubian goats. Goats are milked twice a day and guests are allowed to try their hand. It's harder than it looks, but the goats are patient teachers.
Great for couples or young families with at most two small kids (due to the size of the Airtream trailer that resides in the middle of the garden), Mariposa Creamery has been selected by Airbnb as one of the Top 40 on its Wishlist. Could it be they were chosen because their promotional photo shows baby goats in front of the Airstream? Or could it be just the most interesting, fun, natural, foodie stay in LA - and for only $169 per night?!
We sat down with Gloria Putnam, goat herder/cheesemaker/farmer to find out more about her farm oasis and what it's like to be an urban farmer.
We are in a suburban neighborhood. About 15 minutes from downtown LA. And only 5 minutes from the hiking trails of the Angeles National Forest.
The Estate is on the National Register of Historic Places, both because the western author Zane Grey lived (and died) here, and also because it was built by architect Myron Hunt, who is most famous for building the Rose Bowl in Pasadena but also for building many other commercial and residential structures in the area and was an early pioneer in poured-in-place concrete construction.
The property has no history of farming before our project. But it's an ideal location for a suburban farm because the lot size is large compared to most properties, and Altadena has zoning laws that allow livestock. Altadena is kind of an urban farming hot spot in Los Angeles.
The most popular activity is the morning goat milking. Guests can watch or get a private goat milking lesson. Many students plan their visit around a food crafting class offered on the Estate by the Institute of Domestic Technology. Others arrange for private cheese making instruction.
Off farm, guests enjoy visiting the nearby Huntington Gardens and hiking in the mountains. We have a collection of ruminant-related DVDs in the Airstream that are also very popular!
Our Bambi is the smallest trailer made by Airstream--only 16ft. Think Tiny House size. The main bed is a little bit more narrow than a full, so fine for a couple that doesn't mind a night of snuggling. The dinette also folds down into a smaller bed. We've had up to families of 4 work it out, but that's a little bit tight. Families of 3 and couples are the most common guests.
We've been farming here for about 7 years. Our dairy goats are the main focus, but we also keep chickens and quail, and have a reasonably sized vegetable garden and herb garden. We were motivated initially by just wanting good food. But now I think we are mainly motivated by our love of our animals, and an appreciation for the magic of what they do: make milk out of grass!
I love milk. And goats seemed an obvious choice since our space is relatively small compared to most farms. Our goats are Nubians, so they make especially rich milk, which is great for drinking but also high-yielding for cheese.
The most fun part of small-scale farming for me is learning something new, since I didn't grow up on a farm. I love learning about the goats, how to best keep them happy and healthy, and how to make the best use of their generous offerings. I'm a scientist by training, so cheese making is a natural hobby for me.
Our farm's focus is education. We don't sell our milk or cheese although farmstay guests get to enjoy both while they are here. We teach cheese making classes and operate a dairy internship program for locals. There aren't many farms or ranches near Los Angeles, so it's a great place to invite people to come and see what what small scale farming is like. Everyone who visits is surprised by how friendly the goats are. The most common comment I get is "They are just like dogs!" Except dogs don't give you their milk!
So ended our conversation with Mariposa Creamery, obviously great lovers of goats, hanky-panky aside. Did we forget to say that their Mariposa Creamery Facebook page is full of the daily antics of their four-legged friends, including sneaking in through windows into the kitchen and getting stuck in all manner of things?! A visit to this farm is sure to bring some peace into the middle of an LA stay, but also a few tales to tell!
Please give a warm Farm Stay U.S. hello to Harmony Fields in Bow, Washington!
Growing herbs and specialty produce, and raising lamb and ducks, Harmony Fields is an organic farm located in the Skagit Valley of Washington. Guests can help feed sheep, ducks, and donkeys, and explore the herb and vegetable beds. In the summer, there is a workshop focused on health and creativity.
Located near the town of Edison, the farm has views of Mount Baker and there are other farms nearby that guests can visit for fresh berries, cheese, and other treats.
Harmony Fields welcomes guests of all ages in their seasonally available guest cottage. The cottage has a full kitchen, bath, and loft bedroom.
To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Harmony Fields listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!
(Photos courtesy Harmony Fields)
We'd like to invite you to come like our page on Facebook, if you haven't already. We love to chat and hear your stories, and we often share great photos and info from our farm and ranch members there.
Are you as addicted to Pinterest as we are? It's a little dangerous, actually, because we can get to looking at the various pins and following them back to their sources, and an hour (or more, shhhhh) goes by in a blink!
Recently, Pinterest rolled out maps for place-pins. It's a really cool feature that lets us pin our farm, ranch, and vineyard stays and have them show up on on a map.
We're still working on getting all the pins linked to their spots on the map, but we're having lots of fun with it! (Looking at the screen-shot above, we clearly need to get that middle area populated!)
Anyway, we love to find new folks to follow, so either post links to your Pinterest profiles here in the comments, or give us a follow over there and we'll find you that way... happy pinning!
We have another new member to spotlight today - Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm in San Cristobal, New Mexico. Please join us in welcoming them!
Nestled in the Sangre De Criston Mountains, just 11 miles from Taos, the Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm raises organic goji berries, chickens, and goats. Guests will enjoy taking in the surrounding creeks and ponds, aspens, flower gardens, and orchards, and bird watchers will be happy to discover that this is also a bird sanctuary!
Taos Goji Eco Lodge welcomes guests of all ages. They have three cabins, as well as a 3 bedroom adobe Artists Residence with adjoining log cabin, and an Artist Retreat Casita. Meals are self-prepared, and there are lots of activities. The farm welcomes weddings and other special events.
To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!
(Photos courtesy Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm)
In the early 90's, a fifth generation cattle-ranching family decided that they wanted to share the beauty, history, and heritage of the land that they'd been working since 1940... and, so, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch began extending their country hospitality to overnight guests.Located in Idaho's scenic Panhandle region, the 1,100 acre ranch has spectacular views of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, as well as being adjacent to thousands of acres of land for horseback riding or cross country skiing. Owner Janice Schoonover tells us that they enjoy four true seasons and "the landscape is stunning with the changes that each of the seasons bring."
Guests staying at the ranch can enjoy different activities, depending on what time of year they visit. Summertime brings all-inclusive guest ranch packages, which feature horseback riding as the main activity, with additional opportunites to enjoy wagon rides, working with cattle, skeet shooting, and archery. Guests may also enjoy a dinner cruise on Lake Pend Orielle, or canoeing down the Packriver.
In the winter, there are horsedrawn sleigh rides, cross country skiing, and snow shoeing. Right now, in the fall, it's an excellent time for leaf peeping - taking in all the gorgeous autumn colors.
The lodge - made of handhewn logs - has six private rooms with private baths, plus a rec room, a great room with a large riverrock fireplace, a loft sitting area, and a hot tub. There are also four private log cabins with private baths that each sleep six. The cabins have furnished kitchens and wood stove heat.
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch welcomes group retreats, family reunions, corporate retreats and provides a beautiful and unique setting for weddings. Beginning September 30th, the ranch will host Bed and Breakfast stays - an example of the different offerings that change with the seasons.
To learn more about Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, take a look at the video below, and then visit their listing on Farm Stay U.S. Now is a great time to book for a winter getaway, or start thinking about a guest ranch adventure for next summer!
Another new member to the Farm Stay U.S. website this year is Pebble Cove Farm on Orcas Island, Washington.
Overlooking Massacre Bay on Orcas Island, this south facing salt water farm grew out of a dream of raising children by the sea. Guests may stroll through the organic garden and enjoy in-season produce, collect organic eggs, pick berries, and visit with the goats and Buddy the pony.
Pebble Cove Farm welcomes guests of all ages to stay in one of their studio suites, the family suite, or the cottage. Weddings, family reunions, and other special events may be held at the farm.
To learn more and plan a visit, check out the Pebble Cove Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S.!
(Photos courtesy Pebble Cove Farm)
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