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)
Stillwaters Farm, located in Henderson, Tennessee, is 131 acres replete with green pastures, shady wooded areas, small ponds, and grassy hay fields. We spoke with Valeria Pitoni about what makes Stillwaters such a special spot.
Valeria shared with us that although the farm has a "way out" feeling, due to being nestled among approximately 1,000 acres of cropland, wooded areas, and other family farms, it's actually quite close -- only 2 miles -- from the city limits of Henderson. The farm, farm stay, and their animal inhabitants live on the front 25+ acres of the property, while the rest is considered hay fields and natural habitat.
This "back 100+" acreage is an excellent place for a hike or golf cart ride, and, after being assessed by a semi-local ornithologist, Valeria says they can boast a good population of birds whose species are rated as in-decline. (Bring your binoculars!) Other wildlife in the area are deer and wild turkeys in abundance, an occasional coyote, and once in a great while visitors to the farm may see a red fox, an armadillo, or even otter or bobcats.
When asked what guests typically do when they visit the farm, Valeria said, "while many of our guests arrive with a list as long as their arm, most emerge from the Cottage after a couple of days with hair sticking every which-way, coffee mug in hand, stating -- emphatically -- that they can't remember when they've rested so well!"
Aside from all that wonderful rest, guests receive "critter tours" to get to know the inhabitants and landscape of the farm, any questions they have are answered, and from that point on, they decide what they'd like to do. Guests are welcome to join in whatever farm activity is happening, whether it be hay season, bringing in the crop, animal feeding and/or grooming, trimming time for horses, gardening, animal babysitting, nature hiking and photography excursions, flower collecting, and much more.
The farm occasionally hosts artist's workshops, where they prepare and paint gourds that are raised on the farm. Off farm activities can include visits to Civil War monuments, such as Shiloh National Battlefield Park, a pearl farm attraction, Casey Jones Village and Museum, a minor league baseball park, and several state parks within an hour's drive. Guests may also enjoy horseback riding, canoeing, visiting the nearby Amish community of Lawrenceburg, or attending events at the West Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The town of Henderson boasts a new day spa, only 4 miles from the farm, where guests can find services like massage, facials, manicures, and pedicures.
Local food enthusiasts can make their way to the West Tennessee Farmer's Market in Jackson, where dozens of vendors sell a wide variety of produce, grass-fed meats, arts, crafts, and products from Stillwaters Farm. The farm itself also has "The Silo", their very own on-farm store featuring their handcrafted artisan soaps, soy candles, art, photography, and more.
Guests staying at Stillwaters Farm enjoy a free-standing 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,000 square foot cottage at the leading edge of the farm. It's climate-controlled with central heat and air, and it offers an outdoor lounge area with views of the diverse gardens and pastoral vistas. A private drive leads to the private parking for Cottage guests.
Inside, Valeria tells us, "the Cottage is furnished in period antiques, albeit touchable antiques, along with a 1917 cast iron claw foot tub for soaking." The bedrooms are spacious and the beds have premium mattresses for guests' comfort. There is a television and DVD/VCR player, along with a small library of videos, and a stereo hidden away in the living room, but there is no satellite, cable, or Wi-Fi service. A small, but eclectic, library is maintained for guests to use.
Guests self-prepare their meals, and the kitchen is outfitted with all major appliances, cookware, tableware, and flatware necessary. The Cottage is stocked with coffee, soaps, and essentials like cooking oil, salt and pepper, and spices for guests to use, and guests are encouraged to partake of the fresh, in-season produce from the farm's garden.
To learn more, we invite you to visit the Stillwaters Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S., as well as their website and Facebook page.
(All photos courtesy Stillwaters Farm)
We are glad to welcome two new members to the Farm Stay U.S. family! Introducing...
Cherry Hill Farm, Cheraw, South Carolina
The Dawg House, a cheery vacation cabin at Cherry Hill Farm, is a perfect South Carolina getaway for pet lovers. Nestled next to a pond and a young hardwood plantation, the cabin offers a relaxing spot from which to head out and fish, watch birds and other wildlife, and even bring your art supplies and do some painting.
Cherry Hill Farm can accommodate two guests in the cabin, which features a queen bed, private bath, living area, and a small full kitchen for self-prepared meals. All pets are welcome, as are children under 12, weddings, family reunions, and other special events.
Featherfoot Farm, Aurora, Maine
A beautiful, organic, homsteading farm in downeast Maine, Featherfoot Farm offers guests the opportunity to enjoy the farm life with their organic gardens, horses, cows, and goats. And don't forget the chickens!
The private, three bedroom guest house can accommodate up to six guests. A 16' x 16' cabin can accommodate two and features a loft and woodstove. Breakfast and dinner are served family style, and there is a full kitchen. The farm welcomes children under 12, weddings, parties, and other special events, and they also offer children's camps.
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