Safe Travels

Camping in Style at a Secluded Florida Ranch

Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo rivals Texas's finest.

By Bill Wiatrak July 27, 2020

Relaxing at the glamp site.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

You’ve probably heard that 2020 is the year of the “road trip.” With social distancing rules in place and countless businesses closed, vacationing has become seemingly impossible, and travel itself far more difficult. There're certainly fewer choices for where we can go and how we can get there, but as we figure out how to live in the new reality, alternative travel is starting to boom.

Needless to say, I recently spent three days glamping at Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo (say that three times in a row) during a long road trip and I loved it. Glamping, in case you haven’t heard, is a travel trend that gets its name by combining the words glamorous and camping. If you love the idea of being in nature, but you don’t want to set up a tent, sleep on the ground, or make your own fire, you’re not alone. Leave the details to the professionals, I always say. You’ve got marshmallows to roast.

Glamping in Florida in the summer? You bet there's air conditioning.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Westgate is about a 90-minute drive south of Orlando and has two signature glamping experiences: a tent or a tepee. I spent a night in each one. The tent was a complete reboot of my previous camping experiences, though it’s not the kind of tent I set up in my boy scout days. There’s no crouching or crawling. I didn’t have to sleep on top of protruding tree roots. Instead, you enter a beautifully decorated canvas-walled room with full-sized beds, furniture, a ceiling fan, and electricity. You’ve got all the comforts of home, but instead of a door, you have a flap. When you walk out of your tented sanctuary, there’s a beautiful campsite, a blazing campfire (at night), and a natural setting, which a few other like-minded guests will surely be enjoying too. Each tent comes with a private restroom and shower next to the campsite with all the amenities you’d expect from a nice hotel.

Bison on the dude ranch.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

There’re golf carts on the property if you want to go for a spin to take photos of the bison, longhorns, and emus that live on the ranch, or go fishing at the catch-and-release pond. Since the property is about 30 minutes from town, most of the things you need can be found on-site. On Saturdays there’s a private rodeo for guests. Every day there’re lots of fun activities, and you’ll find some amazing things to do that you may have never experienced. 

But first I’ve got to tell you about my tepee. Each one has a name. Mine was Flying Arrow.

Flying Arrow's sitting room.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

It was air conditioned, thematically decorated and incredibly interesting, and I spent the first five minutes inside just snapping photos for Instagram. The interior is huge with a faux fireplace as a partition between the entrance area with its Southwest furnishings; sitting room and antler chandelier; and the bedroom. The bathroom had both a clawfoot bathtub and a Japanese bidet. In other words, you won’t need TP for your tepee (sorry).

Every tepee comes with a golf cart to explore the property.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

One of the coolest touches is the tent's sky projector light, which gives guests the illusion they're sleeping under the stars. Outside you have your own private grill, and a common area is built to resemble a traditional Seminole hut. Your tepee also has a roomy deck where you can sun yourself, stare into space, or eat the goodies from your breakfast basket that's hand delivered via golf cart in the morning. Everyone needs to stay in a tepee at least one night of their life.

A guest poses with the swamp buggy.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

I tried to squeeze all the activities I could into two days. Even with COVID-19 safety measures in place (including a few closures), there’s plenty at the resort to keep guests busy. Archery and skeet shooting, for starters—I’ve got to say, I’m not a hunter, but few things are more fun than blowing up those pesky clay pigeons. The resort's personal instructor can provide shooting tips, some earplugs, and a box full of shells. What more could you ask for?

The swamp buggy tour was next on the list. Like some mutant Jeep from a Mad Max movie, our vehicle whisked us over mud, dirt, water, and places neither boats nor trucks could go.

Airboatin' for the first time.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

After lunch the next adventure was on an airboat. The ride took us out onto the Kissimmee River, where we spotted alligators, egrets, and other Florida wildlife that accidentally got in our way. Riding on an airboat is exhilarating, and this is the perfect place to try it.

Horseback riding is a must. 

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Since the resort is built around a rodeo theme, it was only fitting to go on a horseback ride. The horses were well behaved and easy to mount and ride. While on the ride, we also spotted an area where there's a mechanical bull, zip line, miniature golf course, and a small petting zoo. The resort has a little chapel on site, too, that I assumed has been the setting for many a romantic, rodeo-style wedding. They also offer a Sunday service if you need a little inspiration on the weekend.

I’ve stayed at dude ranches in Bandera, Texas (the cowboy capital of the world), and I’ve got to say, I think I love the Florida twist better. Horseback riding and airboat rides on the same day? Tepees with bidets? It doesn’t get more glampy than that.

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