Looking for a different type of outdoor vacation? Have you ever been to a dude ranch? These all-inclusive ranch vacations offer guests the opportunity to enjoy a western ranch experience complete with cowboy activities, horseback riding, and western accommodations.

Vacation at a Ranch Formerly Owned by Val Kilmer’s Family

ranch buildings and courtyard
Image Credit: Kay El Bar Ranch.

Imagine hearing horses galloping in the corral and a gentle breeze rustling through your hair while you look out over an expansive plain in the Arizona sunshine. You have just been welcomed to Kay El Bar, a historic guest ranch in Arizona’s Wild West, where they offer all-inclusive vacation packages, riding through miles of fields and across mountain ridges.

The ranch offers an authentic experience for those seeking a true cowboy vacation with its strong Western flavour. Val Kilmer’s family formerly owned this now-famous ranch from 1967 to 1971 before being sold to new owners.

Where Did Val Kilmer Live at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch?

ranch building
Image Credit: Kay El Bar Ranch.

When Val Kilmer’s family-owned Kay El Bar Ranch, he lived in Casa Monterey which is currently the office building. He was 14 years old when his family purchased the guest ranch. His family owned and managed the ranch for several years. 

What Does Kay El Bar Guest Ranch Offer?

kay el bar sign and people standing with dog
Image Credit: Scott T. Baxter.

The Kay El Bar Guest Ranch is one of the oldest in the state of Arizona, built in the early 1900s and listed on both the Arizona and National Registers of Historic Places. It opened full-time as a guest ranch in 1926. Arizona offers fabulous winter weather, and the ranch’s intimate size (about 25 guests max) makes for a welcoming and relaxing vacation experience. 

Specifically in Arizona, the ranch’s proximity to the Hassayampa River in Wickenburg makes for some spectacular riding. The Hassayampa is intermittent, meaning it doesn’t always flow at the surface but rather underground in stretches.

As a result, it creates a unique desert riparian habitat in the area. Guests ride through slot canyons, saguaro forests and sandy stretches of the river’s washes with plenty of opportunities to see Sonoran Desert plants and animals. 

The ranch primarily operates as a winter dude ranch but is open all year round with limited operations during Arizona’s hot summer season. “We hear so often that guests love how friendly our staff members are and how warm, welcoming and beautiful the ranch is” states Bridget Grobosky, Marketing Manager for True Ranch Collection.

What to Pack For a Dude Ranch Vacation

man with suitcases
Image Credit: Unsplash.

The best vacations are the ones where you can try new things every day. At a dude ranch, there’s an extensive list of fun activities and coming prepared will help make your stay more enjoyable.

We’ve put together our essential packing list to ensure that everything goes smoothly during those all-inclusive getaways on horseback or otherwise outdoorsy pursuits. The most important things to bring to a dude ranch are long sleeve shirts, good footwear for hiking, cowboy boots if you own them and of course, a cowboy hat.

Accommodation Options – The Lodge Rooms

lodge room with couches and books

The majority of the accommodations are located in the Lodge, which all have private bathrooms and come in varying bedroom configurations. These rooms have a rustic theme with western artwork and Monterey furniture.

The lodge rooms are connected to the main lodge where guests can relax with a book or board game and enjoy cocktails before dinner. It is a spacious room with a fireplace and inviting couches that are perfect to lounge in after a day out on the trails.

The lodge rooms are located right next to the heated swimming pool and hot tub.

Homestead House

ranch house

The Homestead House was the first building to be constructed at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch. It was originally built as the ranch headquarters and bunkhouse for the cattle wranglers, but today it offers the most extensive accommodation on the guest ranch.

There are two rooms, one with a Queen-size bed and the other with a King or if desired, two twin beds. A sleeping alcove alongside the living area offers space for one twin. The private living area has a cozy fireplace, a big table and chairs, and ample seating both inside and outside.

The Homestead House has lovely porch seating on the corral side, and the heated pool and hot tub are easily accessed from the other side.

Activities at the Kay El Bar Ranch – Horseback Riding

two people on horseback
age Credit: Scott T. Baxter.

A visit to Kay El Bar Guest Ranch just isn’t complete without a horseback ride through the desert. Several different options are available with varying levels of difficulty for riders of all ages, experience, and abilities. In addition, riders can groom their horse if they wish before breakfast.

Each rider is assigned to a ride group based on their riding skill level, experience, and the type of ride they wish to do. More experienced riders may ride at all speeds, including a lope after testing to demonstrate they can safely control their horse.

The wranglers will pick a horse for each guest based on their experience, skill level, height and weight, and guests will be able to ride the same horse for the duration of their stay.

Kay El Bar is a great destination for horseback riding because of its lovely climate, varied terrain, and gorgeous scenery. The horses are impeccably trained, and the head wrangler, Biscuit, will keep you entertained throughout the trail ride. Kids as young as five can take part in the riding program at Kay El Bar Ranch.

Half-day and all-day rides are available on the trails surrounding the ranch, and a packed lunch is served out on the trail. One popular activity for guests is cattle work in the arena. Guests can gather for cutting demonstrations with Emily or join in on horseback for team penning. Kyle has also been teaching guests how to rope on a roping dummy. 

Horseback riding is available twice a day, except on Sundays and holidays when the horses are given the afternoon off. The opportunity to take an all-day journey can be requested. 

Target Shooting

woman firing a gun at target
age Credit: Scott T. Baxter.

Kay El Bar Guest Ranch offers a variety of shooting activities. Guests can experience traditional cowboy-style target practice with pistols, .22 rifles and shotguns while being safely supervised.

The ranch provides reusable targets, eye and ear protection and ammunition for the pistols, .22 rifles and shotguns. There are shooting activities for all skill levels, and the ranch is very accommodating of different abilities. The staff will happily adjust the difficulty level based on guest preferences or abilities.

E-Biking

people on fat bikes
age Credit: Scott T. Baxter.

E-bikes are available for use at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch. These bikes offer a fun alternative to the traditional horseback ride, and guests will love their quiet, electric motor, which helps them cover distances faster while still being environmentally friendly.

Children must be 100 lbs and at least 5’2″ to ride the Fat Tire E-Bikes. Riders can peddle by themselves or get assistance from the electric motor. Guests are with a guide who will take them to desert trails or ride on the roads and trails surrounding the ranch. 

Falconry

man with falcon
age Credit: Scott T. Baxter.

Guests can experience an up-close look at these majestic birds by participating in this activity in the mornings at sunrise. Manager Kyle Hodges is a licensed Falconer and has his falcons at Kay El Bar for falconry flight and training demonstrations for guests. 

In the early morning, before breakfast, Kyle flies his falcons for guests to see in the Hassayampa Riverbed, directly next to the ranch. Each guest will have the opportunity to witness a spectacular flight demonstration if they choose. It is an exciting way to start your day on the ranch.

Dining at Kay El Bar Ranch

dining room

Kay El Bar Guest Ranch offers an all-inclusive dining experience that is truly delicious. There is a large selection of foods available at each meal, and you will never go hungry on the ranch. The ranch chef will ring the bell at mealtimes which signal to guests to come and enjoy their meal family-style with wranglers and other guests. 

The staff will gladly cater the menu to accommodate dietary restrictions or personal preferences. The ranch baked goods are a heavenly treat, and guests can take them for snacks after lunch. The ranch can also set up campfires (with s’mores!) in the outdoor gathering space at guests’ requests. 

How Much Does it Cost to Vacation at Kay El Bar Guest Ranch?

two women on horseback

Kay El Bar offers several different rates depending on the time of year and which package guests choose. The daily rate for The American Plan for adults starts from $555 per night for double occupancy. 

Kay El Bar’s all-inclusive package is called the American Plan. It includes three meals daily, all horseback riding, use of ranch facilities and additional activities (including shooting and fat tire e-bikes). 

There is also a Getaway Today special package that includes lodging, breakfast, and one activity per person per night booked that works great for quick getaways. These specials have limited runs and happen at different points in the year. 

History of Kay El Bar Ranch

house at night

The Kay El Bar began as a cattle ranch until founder Romaine Lowdermilk hosted the ranch’s first guests in 1918, and it became a full-time dude ranch in 1926. The ranch’s original adobe structures were constructed by the Maricopa Tribe in the early 1900s. Lowdermilk went on to open other Arizona ranches and became known as the “Father of the Arizona Dude Ranch.”

In 2018, after recent years of private ownership, the Kay El Bar resumed operation as a year-round guest ranch.

Joe Beattie, the most recent owner of Kay El Bar Guest Ranch, has consolidated ownership of the ranch within Ranch Preservation Holdings, LLC, a historic preservation company committed to maintaining the authenticity and heritage of dude ranches after working with the company for about two years. With its new ownership, it is a member of the True Ranch Collection, a selection of historic dude ranches in the American West that offer guests an authentic western experience. 

Expect to feel relaxed when exploring the beautiful ranch surroundings. Kay El Bar Guest Ranch offers one-of-a-kind experiences to all guests. So whether you want a thrilling outdoor adventure or a relaxing stay in the desert, the ranch has exactly what you’re looking for!

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