Camping At Westgate River Ranch With A Toddler

Saddle up your horses because you are going to want to visit the Westgate River Ranch after hearing about our Christmas camping trip! The ranch has tons of lodging options to suit your fancy and a wide variety of activities.  This wasn’t our average camping trip- it was filled with adventure. We also had wonderful Florida winter weather and I may never camp during the summer again!


My husband and I love getting away- even if it’s just a staycation. Ever since we had our son, we’ve tried to incorporate a getaway into the holidays to create memories around adventures and not necessarily around gifts. This year, our son was 22 months and we knew that we should think of something he would love. What do toddlers love more than being outside and running free?! I camped a lot growing up and my husband and I have camped together one time previously. The thing that worried me was packing EVERYTHING to be comfortable and fed for 3 nights. I decided that if we were going to take on this challenge, that we needed to do it as simply as possible.


Westgate River Ranch is a very large property located about an hour and a half from Orlando off Highway 60. We loved that it’s in a very rural area but also has river access for boats, fishing, etc. The ranch is known for its Saturday Night Rodeo and boasts seasonal events, daily excursions on horseback, airboats, and swamp buggies, hayrides and dinners, zip line, rock wall, free petting zoo, and countless other things to do. Since we were trying to keep simplicity at the forefront, the ranch having a smokehouse was a huge benefit. We ate one dinner and one breakfast, the morning we left, at the smokehouse. My husband and I loved that we got to eat a filling, hot meal without any of the prep or cleanup and it allowed us to enjoy those days so much more.

We passed up the opportunity to rent a golf cart during our stay (they are extremely prevalent and look like a blast) because at $50 a night, the rental would’ve been more than our campsite and that just didn’t make sense!  The pool would’ve been awesome if it weren’t 65 degrees during our stay- luckily the weather made for perfect time around the campfire. There were no mosquitos or noseeums and it was so gorgeous outside!


One of the highlights of our stay was going to chapel on Sunday. It’s casual and at 10am so we didn’t really have any excuse to miss it (what else did we have to do?!) and we were lucky enough to hear an awesome Christmas message. Most of the attendees seemed to be permanent residents of the ranch and they seemed delighted to have us. It was a blast and they also offered a Christmas Eve candlelight service; however, we checked out that morning and missed it!

General Store

I felt a little bit of comfort knowing that the ranch had a store. If we ran out of firewood or milk or ice, we wouldn’t be out of luck. Of course, the items in the store are not a bargain so try to plan accordingly and use it as a back-up! There’s also a laundromat if you have a long or messy stay and need fresh clothes or linens.


The saloon is open daily and is open to all ages. We loved the line dancing lessons and it’s a great place to get a drink. It made us feel like we were real cowboys and cowgirls!


Even though the ranch offers a variety of lodging options, we really wanted the tent experience. It ended up being easy and perfect and I’m going to give you a few tips that helped us tremendously.

Also, one of the things that creeps me out about camping is that the campground bathrooms can be really, really deplorable. I didn’t run into that at all at Westgate. They cleaned the bathrooms every afternoon and may have checked on them during other times too. Sure, there may have been a couple spiders in the shower or something but the floors, sinks, showers, and toilets were clean and updated. There was also a nice bench to set a bag down in the bathroom.

Setting Up Camp

We set up camp under a tree and it allowed for morning sun (to dry out our tent and picnic table) and allowed us shade throughout the day and evening. My husband was so smart to bring a shovel and dig a hole for our firepit- it allowed our firewood to last longer and kept it contained. The ranch didn’t provide fire rings so the hole was great! I also recommend bringing good tent stakes. We set up on a windy afternoon and I’m glad we didn’t have cheap or short tent stakes. Before we laid down our tent, we laid out a larger tarp. It helps to preserve the bottom of the tent over time and adds an extra barrier for dirt and moisture.

We brought an air mattress, a necessity in my opinion. If you aren’t sleeping on some sort of dense mat, then bring a rake because the acorns are prevalent! There are plenty of options for electricity to fill up an air mattress- walk it over to an empty RV site or use the outlets in a bathroom.  Bring an extension cord for this!

While my husband prepped the fire, I worked on getting our beds made.  Since our son was a toddler, a pack ‘n play was a must. There’s no way any of us would’ve coslept well since that’s not what we usually do. If you have a younger baby, it’s great to keep them safe around the campsite too.  During naps, we would lay a blanket over the top of the PnP to provide some darkness and we wedged our pillows in between the mattress and outside of the PnP to keep the blanket in-place. Bring an ample supply of blankets and towels, especially if you camp in the winter with kids!

Before it got dark, I had all of our flashlights and other lights laid out so we wouldn’t be hunting for them. I also used a vinyl tablecloth to cover the picnic tabletop for cleanliness.  We prepped a Rubbermaid of cooking essentials, paper plates, cups, and nonperishables.

At night, we would put anything that needed to stay dry into the car- the dew can really leave things wet in the morning.  This included lawn chairs, food, etc.  It’s possible that you could get a visit from raccoons (we didn’t) so make sure that your food and cooking items are secure.

What to Bring

I searched “Camping Checklist Toddler” and found a lot of great checklists online. The one I loved ended up not including diapers and/or a little potty.  Definitely don’t forget that! Also, wipes can be used for a lot of things and kids get messy so bring extra. I also recommend bringing a couple extra bath towels and separate dish towels. Proper footwear is important- especially while visiting animal areas so I recommend sneakers or boots for that and a pair of flip flops for showering.

Because the ranch offers tons of activities, don’t forget your personal sporting equipment if you prefer it. There are gun ranges and archery ranges and you can bring your own items for them, I believe.

Kids need to be occupied so I recommend packing a set of small shovels, some dirty trucks, balls, kite, etc. I didn’t have any issue with cell phone service at the ranch but I did hear that they charge for wifi. We took this time to unplug more than usual and it was wonderful!

A must-bring is a handheld cordless vacuum. If you don’t have one, a small dustpan and handheld broom will suffice. The ranch is sandy (welcome to Florida) and even if you don’t wear your shoes in the tent, sand still makes its way in!  We have a two-room tent and still had sand and dirt in our back room!!! The vacuum comes in handy to tidy up once during your stay and then for a thorough clean-up before folding up your tent. It’s so important that you keep the inside of your tent clean in between trips. It will make it last much longer and makes for a pleasant stay each trip. I also recommend a small, lightweight rug for outside your tent door.  This will minimize dirt getting in.

We brought two vehicles- my husband’s truck full of firewood and my van with all the other gear. The ranchers said that almost no one brings their own firewood. If you can, even if you buy it at Publix, you’ll save money.  Bring more than you think you’ll need.

Before our trip, we bought a 6-gallon jug for fresh water. It had a tiny little spout that made washing hands or dishes convenient and we had plenty for 3 nights. There are plenty of spots to refill if needed.

I will link some of our favorite items at the end of the blog!

Food Prep

I don’t cook. The idea of making food at a campsite, without the convenience of running water or electricity, with a toddler on the loose made me nervous. The trick was to plan quick meals. This was not the best time to experiment with gourmet campfire food. I made a meal plan (check Pinterest for camping meal ideas!) and prepped everything I could. We were not dicing potatoes at our campsite. We were not eating filet mignon.  No.

The afternoon that we arrived, we set up camp and then ate the Subway sandwiches we brought because I knew that we wouldn’t want to cook immediately.

I premeasured pancake mix into a ziplock bag and wrote the amount of water/milk needed on the baggie and put it into a measuring cup.  I premade PB&J’s for lunch the second day. We brought canned chili, warmed it up over the fire, and mixed it in a bowl with Fritos and cheese and it was spectacular. Our simple, fast meals complimented the smokehouse meals nicely and we weren’t hungry. I highly recommend bringing as few food supplies as possible and prepping in advance. You don’t want to be bringing things back home. Avoid bringing 87 condiments if you can.

Campfire sandwiches are to die for. Splurge and buy a cast iron pie-maker, throw some bread and lunch meat, pepperoni, cheese, etc. in there, and toast it over the fire. AMAZING.

Make your s’mores with Reese’s Cups. Screw the Hershey’s. You’re welcome.

We also filled old milk jugs and smaller containers with water and froze them leading up to our trip. These stayed frozen longer than ice would have and kept our cooler cold the entire 3 nights.

Take Down

We decided to eat the breakfast buffet the morning we checked-out because it allowed time for our tent to dry out in the sunshine before packing up. I also can’t imagine prepping, cooking, and cleaning up breakfast the morning you leave- that’s just too much work!

It’s so important that your gear is dry and clean before you pack it up OR that you plan to lay it out to dry when you get home.


In my eyes, camping sounds like a huge undertaking but with some awesome shortcuts, it’s totally relaxing.  Westgate River Ranch offers so many amenities that you can head there without fear of forgetting something.  We weren’t bored for one second.  And I’d love to try glamping with some girlfriends next time!

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