by Julie Bielenberg
If your family wants an authentic Western experience, complete with Hollywood-esque desert moonscapes, rolling hills of cacti with Southwest accommodations, cuisine and atmosphere, then this is the ultimate choice located in southern Arizona. Open late October through early May each year, the current family has been in ownership since 1976; however, this ranch is the oldest continually operating guest ranch in all of the state. Originally a sheep ranch, it was developed into a dude ranch in the 1920s. Numerous generations of families connect with this dude ranch as grandparents bring their grandchildren to share similar memories and experiences of the Wild, Wild West, with little change.
For movie buffs, study up on Broken Lance with Spencer Tracy, Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin, El Dorado, with John Wayne, and the final episode of Gunsmoke—all filmed on ranch property. Legendary stars require legendary accommodations, and there is not shortage at Circle Z Ranch.
There are cottages on property with individually controlled heat and air-conditioning, a mini fridge, iron and board, and a blow dryer. Each cottage has a lovely outdoor patio for cowboy relaxation. Each cottage has also been newly remodeled with tile bathrooms, carpeted floors, and comfortable beds.
The adjoining-rooms options are suited for friends traveling together looking for value, yet wanting separate bedrooms, or for small families with youngsters or teens. There are also two and three bedroom cottages.
The ranch also provides daily housekeeping service, plush towels and complimentary toiletries. Onsite there is a complimentary guest laundry room that is stocked with laundry detergent and fabric softeners. Note the area is in the middle of the desert; don’t expect to stream any movies while on ranch property. Head to the cantina if you need to use social media or internet.
The colorful cantina is a centerpiece of the historic property. Adults enjoy the BYOB cocktail hour, snacks are always and pre-dinner appetizers are served with stories of the day. The fridge is well stocked with soft drinks and mixers and there is plenty of space to store your drinks of choice. Children enjoy the large, outdoor porch with inside seating. The cantina also has two game tables, an assortment of books, as well as a computer and printer.
When it comes to riding, Circle Z is a standout for its landscape. One moment you are traversing desert and cacti, the next you are ambling up a mountain in alpine greenery. The variety of horseback riding trails is impressive and there are also riding lessons, horsemanship clinics and a herd of more than 100 horses to get you acquainted with the real West.
There is also swimming pool, tennis court and game room at the ranch with a pool table, a foosball table, board games, outdoor covered Ping-Pong and an outdoor basketball court. Just enough to keep the family busy, but not too scattered.
Our Editor Loves
- Authentic dude ranch experiences
- Variety of family activity
- Kids program
- All Inclusive Rates
- Horse Back Riding
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Dude Ranch
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Me and my friends had a fun time at the ranch and enjoyed our cabins, the food (one friend has tons of food allergies and they were great about making sure she also had plenty to eat) so the only issue I had was with the riding. The horses do seem well cared for and the tack was in good shape but the rides were a bit on the quiet side for us (we are all good riders and one friend is competes in eventing) and a bit too much nose to tail which we all understood especially in certain areas but when just walking on flat land without anyone else in sight we were asked not to ride side by side. It's ok - and we understood the wranglers have rules they need to make sure guests follow but we were just a bit disappointed and were hoping for more challenging rides. Still, it was a nice holiday and we were all happy we went for our yearly get together.
Our family had a wonderful stay at Circle Z ranch in April. Our two children (ages 9 & 7) were in heaven riding and caring for the horses every day. Their riding improved considerably as the week went along. They were assigned their own wrangler that took them on all the rides throughout the week. She was patient, attentive, and fun.
My wife and I enjoyed all the rides throughout the week. The rides were extremely varied - up mountains, across streams, through wooded areas. We were surprised with the diversity of landscapes available on Circle Z's trails. The staff worked really hard to put together great rides and always responded to last minute change requests. The meals were fabulous and accommodating of dietary restrictions. Our lodging was comfortable and clean. We truly enjoyed our adventure there and will hopefully be back soon.