It’s hard to think of a time in the past few decades when the need to get away from it all felt more vital than ever for our own collective sanity. Americans are lucky in that we have some of the most amazing landscapes in the world just a car ride away. An even luckier few own some of these vast spaces that not a lot of outsiders ever get a chance to enjoy. In Texas, for example, 95% of the land is privately owned. That’s where Explore Ranches comes in, offering an Airbnb-type service for some of the country’s most historic and picturesque ranches.
The land on many of the country’s ranches is actually some of the least explored in the country and that’s exactly what Explore Ranches gives people access to. At the same time, it allows private landowners to highlight the efforts of their stewardship while also creating another revenue stream. Jay Kleberg, a co-founder of Explore Ranches explains, “we’re creating a direct connection between urbanites and suburbanites who may never have been off the concrete of modern America and the people who care for the land that provides our clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, food, fiber and timber.” Kleberg and his family have stewarded King Ranch near Kingsville, Texas, since the 1850s. “Strengthening those connections not only has implications for conservation, but for policy, politics and urban-rural relationships,” he told Land Magazine.
Explore Ranches was launched in 2018 with eight partner ranches, which has today grown to 16 scattered across California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Would be guests can check out all of them at the Explore Ranches website HERE. There are a variety of landscapes represented from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert, with innumerable lakes, ponds, and tributaries. Several of the properties butt right up to some of the country’s iconic State and National Parks.
Guests have access to tons of outdoor activities that can include fishing, hiking, hunting and water sports, depending on the location. Some have pools and there are a few that even have golf. The Rocker B Ranch near Graford, TX, has three baseball fields! The Explore Ranches service also offers amenities such as private chef services, guided outdoor adventures like horseback riding and ATV tours, and site-specific lessons from local astronomers and biologists.
As for the ranch owners, Explore Ranches says the response to the service has been overwhelmingly positive, as many ranchers—especially those that typically sell their livestock to local restaurants—have turned to Explore Ranches as a reliable source of income during a pandemic-stricken economy. Kleberg, along with co-founder Allison Ryan, don’t really like being summed up as simply “the Airbnb of ranches,” believing that as landowners themselves, they could do a much better job than the out-of-the-box product offered by most hospitality companies. “We aim to tell the story of the ranch,” says Ryan, whose family’s Davis Mountains property was among the first ranches listed on the site.
Below are a handful of the amazing ranches that allow guests “beyond the gates” via Explore Ranches.
Ladder Ranch: This is Ted Turner’s ranch in New Mexico, located in Sierra County near Truth or Consequences, NM. The four bedroom ranch house where guests stay was decorated by Jane Fonda.
Middle Creek Ranch: Located in Routt County near Steamboat Springs, CO, is a family-owned, working ranch spanning 10,000 acres, that offers an “authentic Rocky Mountain experience.”
Transition Ranch: Between the southwestern edge of the rolling hills and live oak savannahs of the Hill Country and the mesquite and cactus-covered South Texas Plains near Uvalde, TX, the ranch touts itself as a wildlife photographer and horse lovers dream.
Hudspeth River Ranch: Near Comstock, TX, with 7 miles of private water in the Devils River region. If your stay is timed just right, you can catch a glimpse of thousands of Monarch butterflies that stop here along their migration route from Canada to central Mexico.