It all started out when friends Cris Sweeny and Claire Lardner invited six pals to join them, and their humungous RV, at a dude ranch called Westgate in River Ranch, Florida. It’s about an hour south of Orlando.
Cris and Claire, owners of Frameworks, live in Miami and go on road trips all the time. They invited us, (Gail Williams and Dawn McCall, Randy Bridges and Ron Moorman, and Eliot and yours truly) to this outing because the ranch guest accommodations suited our individual needs. As big as the RV is, we all couldn’t sleep together. Westgate has lodges, townhomes, teepees, tents, and a huge RV park.
We spent most of the time hanging out in Claire and Cris’ RV, the general store, the saloon, the western store, the BBQ Smokehouse restaurant, and the rodeo. There were so many cowboy outdoor activities, but we loved just spending time together and telling stories around the campfire Claire and Cris built.
The 1,700 acre Westgate River Ranch has horseback riding, swimming, golf, petting farm, nature hikes, trap and skeet shooting, hayrides, cookouts and a full-service marina complete with boating, fishing, and airboat and swamp buggy rides. Westgate River Ranch also features a 5,000-foot paved and lighted runway, the award-winning Smokehouse Grill, River Ranch Saloon and the longest-running Saturday night championship rodeo in the United States that offers trick riding, bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing at the 1,200-seat rodeo arena. A herd of grazing Watusi cattle (known for their long, distinctive horns) makes its home at Westgate River Ranch. New additions to Westgate River Ranch include an 18-hole miniature golf course, rock climbing wall, zip line, mechanical bull, and a bungee jumper.
The 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.” By 1971, the property featured a large motel, Western-style saloon and café, swimming pool, airstrip, rodeo and trap & skeet range. In 1976, the All-American Corp. purchased River Ranch from GAC and sold the development to a group of Ohio developers in 1980. In 1986, that group sold River Ranch Resort to Outdoor Resorts. 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, is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands.
We all had an amazing time. If you want to experience something different, this is the place for you. We all loved it.
Westgate River Ranch Rodeo cowgirl falls from horse
The redo start of the festivities
An uncooperative bull make the cowboys flex their muscle
Bull kicks cowboy down. Ouch!