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
Our stay at Circle Z could not have been more perfect for a family Christmas get-away. Hosts George and Jennie and Owner Diana Nash and son Preston welcomed us immediately and saw that our every need was met. The 3 bed, 3 bath Hilltop House with wood fireplace was perfect for our family; such a welcome retreat after a great day of riding the trails and making new friends. Our stay included wonderful food--a mix of healthy and comfort foods with fresh ingredients and variety to satisfy everyone. The cookie jar in the lodge was a regular stop after every ride and featured fresh baked sugary delights each day. Happy Hour, before the evening meal, was a favorite time as well, as everyone gathered in the Cantina for their favorite byob beverage. The ranch provided appetizers to prime your taste buds for supper! By far, our most enjoyable activity everyday was the horsebackriding with other guests. The horses were well-cared for, gentle, trail safe and very well trained. Miko, the Corral Manager, took time to get to know our riding needs and wants and planned the riding groups accordingly. The trails we traversed were about as diverse as any place in the Southwest; on daily rides we explored dry creek beds, running streams, lush meadows, hillsides, marshland, canyons, grasslands, gullies, and rocky, mountainous terrain. Wildlife we saw included turkeys, deer, rare and beautiful birds migrating and a coatamundi--a unique animal like a cross between a monkey and a raccoon. Wranglers were consistently safety conscious and knowledgeable about the areas in which we rode, adding stories and details along the way. Don't know when I have enjoyed the Southwest scenery more. In summary, if you want a beautiful ranch vacation-- to thoroughly unwind and recharge, read a book, make a friend or two, play a game, enjoy outstanding sunrises and sets, watch a large herd of horses move effortlessly between pastures, ride scenic trails for hours each day, eat wonderful meals, relax by the fire or heated pool, or play a few rounds of tennis or ping pong, Circle Z is just the place for you! The staff, accommodations, riding, other activity offerings and access to other guests make a perfect family experience. We enjoyed our Christmas holiday with Circle Z so much and definitely plan to visit again soon. Tim and Cherie, Indiana
Circle Z was the perfect place for my teen daughter and I for the holidays. The staff from owner and managers to housekeeping were warm, welcoming and great to get to know. The food was lovely. And the horses! As an advanced rider, my daughter had wanted to make sure we didn't end up at a "nose to tail" plodding trail ride resort. Circle Z delivered fantastic rides in a gorgeous setting with their fun and knowledgable wranglers. Truly, our week couldn't have been better and we booked for 2019 while we were there.