Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Location: Westgate River Ranch Resort

Even if you're a city slicker who doesn't know the right end of a horse, I guarantee you'll like this luxe ranch resort near Lake Wales in Polk County Florida, about an 80 minute drive from Orlando.

Set on 1,700 acres, Westgate River Ranch is the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi River.  You get a true ranch escape experience because the property is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands.

Fully renovated and refurbished, the resort offers a first class ranch lifestyle getaway. If you doubt a greenhorn like The Golf Travel Guru, how about the kudos provided by one of the genre's esteemed experts. In 2013, Westgate River Ranch received the Gene Kilgore "World's Best Ranches Award" from, the number one website for dude ranch vacations worldwide. Other awards include the 2012 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence and the 2011 Florida Chapter of the National Skeet Shooting Association Skeet Club of the Year.

For golfers, there's a nine-hole, on-site golf course and some excellent 18-hole options nearby. (See golf subhead below).


If you participate in all the recreation activities at Westgate River Ranch, take it from the Guru, you're going to be one tired cowboy or cowgirl.

In a two day stay, Mrs. Guru and I took a hayride, attended the Saturday night rodeo, hit the dance floor for some line dancing to a live band, engaged in some Trap & Skeet shooting, rode horses and took a nature hike.

Other things to do, include airboat and swamp buggy rides, zip lining, bungee trampoline, rock climbing, a mechanical bull, guided fishing tours and a petting farm and pony rides.

If you really want to get away from the smart phone, tablet and computer screen, this place is the perfect antidote.  The activities are wholesome and just plain fun.


Rest assured, you don't have to stay in a bunk house at River Ranch. The accommodations menu runs the gamut from tastefully appointed standard guest lodge rooms and suites to multi-bedroom cottages and cabins.

If you're really into the great outdoors, there are also places for tent camping, glamping and RV camping.

We stayed in a Deluxe Lodge Suite, which was completely renovated in October 2013. (See picture below). It had all the amenities a city slicker turned weekend cowboy needs such as a big screen flat panel television and a kitchnette with a range, mini refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker.

Ten Little Things I Liked

1. The fire pit surrounded by wood benches in front of the saloon where you can sip on a brew and gaze up at the stars.

2. The mechanical bull in front of the saloon that costs only $5 a ride.

3. The general store, which has everything from Barbeque Bloody Mary Mix to breakfast sandwiches with country biscuits.

4. The rodeo staged every Saturday night featuring bull riding, barrel racing and an inspiring patriotic theme that'll make you extra proud to be an American.

5. The cowboy crooner that sings and tells stories on the old-fashioned, tractor-pulled hayride that weaves through the property and the adjacent KICCO Wildlife Management Area.

6. The amazing group of buffalo you'll see grazing by the first tee of the golf course.

7.  The outdoor dance floor in front of the saloon where you can line dance till the cows come home.

8. The longhorn cattle you see grazing in the pasture as you walk to the Westgate Smokehouse Grill restaurant.

9. The River Chips (pickle chips tossed in flour and cornmeal) that are fried and served with ranch dressing at the Smokehouse Grill.

10. The big 32 oz. boot (a plastic one) of beer at the River Ranch Saloon that costs $8 with $5 refills.


Here's a list of other important amenities at the resort:

--The Westgate River Ranch Aviation Center with a 5,000 foot fully paved runway with lights and fuel service accommodations.

--River Ranch Saloon, which has a full bar, live music and dance floor.

--The General Store and Village shops.

--WiFi is available at the General Store, Main Lodge, Saloon and Smokehouse Grill.

--Miniature golf course

--A catch and release fishing pond

--Westgate Smokehouse Grill where you can order steaks, ribs, chicken, salads, burgers and more.

--Little White Chapel, where they hold wedding ceremonies and non-denominational services every Sunday.

--A full-service marina.

--Swimming pool and hot tub

--Conference Center

--Rodeo Arena, where a western-style rodeo is staged every Saturday at 7:30 p.m.


The on-site, 9 hole, par-36 golf course at River Ranch measures 3,321 yards. Peppered with large mature oak trees and water features, the course is playable for all skill levels. It's beautiful in its simplicity and the golf experience would be comparable to playing at a good, reliable municipal course. Not many golfers seem to play so you most likely will have the course to yourself our just a few other golfers unless there's a group outing. When you're out on the course, you get the sense you're hundreds of miles out in the country. It's a great ambiance and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours if you want a reprieve from ranch activities.

There's a driving range and putting green near the course and balls and club rentals are available. Greens fees are $20 for nine holes.

For those who want to step up and play an 18-hole course during your stay at Westgate River Ranch, there are a couple of options less than a 10 minute drive away: Indian Lakes Estates Country club has a George Cobb designed 6,485-yard layout built in 1962 and the Oakwood Golf Club features a 6,891-yard course designed by Karl Litten that opened in 1993.


Westgate River Ranch is located just south of Lake Kissimmee about 25 miles east of the town of Lake Wales just off State Road 60.


For more information or to book a reservation, call 863-692-1321 or click to Westgate River Ranch.