The Texas Hill country is calling. Escape to one of these six Texas ranches and you’ll find a special inspiration, focus and perspective that only wide-open spaces can provide. With unique team-building opportunities like hunting, horseback riding and even a Cowboy Olympics, ranches provide a fresh venue for meeting planners who want to go outside the typical hotel ballroom.
Close to cities or in the midst of Hill Country, these six properties offer options for planners looking for a day trip or an overnight event. Some properties offer luxurious lodging on-site, while others are just a short drive from overnight accommodations. The settings may be rustic, but you’ll still enjoy full-service venues and modern amenities, including cell phone reception, Wi-Fi and professional on-site planners.
Located where the rolling hills meet the Nueces River, the 12,000-acre 501 Ranch offers opportunities to see and hunt the diverse array of animals drawn to its unique ecosystem. The property, which is located about 80 miles outside of San Antonio, is known as a prime spot for bird-watching and for hunting whitetail deer, though guests can also hunt quail, turkey, dove, waterfowl and antelope.
Meeting planners can take advantage of the 501 Lodge, which mixes the property’s rural charm with a modern twist.
“When guests walk into the lodge for the first time, they’re taken aback,” says Nan Ede, events manager for 501 Ranch. “The space is absolutely beautiful. It’s rustic and ranch-like but has a modern flair to it with wooden chandeliers. It’s very Texas.”
The Lodge offers about 14,000 square feet of event space, including a Great Hall with two fireplaces and a bar where about 300 people can be seated. A private dining room can accommodate up to 100 people. The Lodge has two outdoor patios; the stone patio at the back of the building features a fire pit and an outdoor bar overlooking the lake.
An outdoor pavilion can seat up to 800 people, though it typically hosts groups of about 300. The pavilion is popular for corporate picnics, Ede says, and has an outdoor kitchen with two wood-burning fireplaces. The ranch does not offer on-site catering; meals are typically catered into the property.
501 Ranch offers fishing and a variety of shooting sports, including skeet shooting, trap shooting and sporting clays. Guests can also explore the property on the ranch’s lifesize steam locomotive, which travels along 2 miles of track around the ranch.
The ranch currently has accommodations for 25 guests, but plans to add cottages around the lake this summer and fall to accommodate triple that number for church and corporate retreats. Additional accommodations are available in Uvalde, 6 miles north of the ranch.
Chuck and Nancy Leshikar have owned this 124-acre property since 2005. Agarita Ranch is located in Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin. The landscape features rolling hills studded with lots of trees, Chuck says.
“It’s mainly wooded, with mesquite trees, elm trees and oak trees,” he says.
The ranch has an Old West town to explore, including a jailhouse, bathhouse and the Lucky Lady Hotel and Saloon. St. Michael’s Church on property can seat 150 people and has a pitched roof, carved oak pews and an antique piano.
If a group decides to bring their horses for trail riding, dressage or obstacles, there is a livery stable, blacksmith shop and corral. Horse and buggy trails crisscross the property. The American Driving Society has used the trails, as well as individual groups, Chuck says.
There are limited accommodations on-site. Two bedrooms with their own baths and access to a covered porch are available above the saloon. A bunkhouse sleeps six, while the Marshall’s house sleeps five. Neither the bunkhouse nor the Marshall’s house has air-conditioning. Guests can also stay at hotels in Lockhart or in San Marcos, which are about 17 miles from the property.
Agarita Ranch can accommodate between 200 to 400 people. The property features a 3,600-square-foot pavilion with a full kitchen and serving areas with two side porches. Walls of windows can be moved to open the building to the outdoors. A 30-foot-by-40-foot tent can be added at one end of the pavilion to accommodate more people.
Shooting sports are the most popular activity on the property, and the group atmosphere is very relaxed, Chuck says. “Our place is really relaxing and restful. The biggest problem is getting people to leave.”
Life Magazine covered the grand opening of the Flying L Guest Ranch in 1947, where Neiman Marcus sponsored a “Fashion Rodeo” at the Pilot’s Lounge.
The 542-acre ranch was originally owned by Colonel Jack Lapham, who introduced an Air Park and flight school to the property. The ranch’s historic villas (still available to guests today) were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s associates to resemble grounded aircraft.
The ranch is located about 50 miles northwest from San Antonio in Bandera, a city that calls itself the “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Set against the rolling hills of Texas Hill Country, the Flying L Guest Ranch offers two amenities that make it unique when compared with other Texas ranches: an 18-hole championship golf course and a water park.
The award-winning golf course stretches almost 7,000 yards along rolling hills studded with oak trees. The water park includes water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool and kiddie pool.
The ranch can accommodate 200 people for overnight groups and up to 1,500 for groups planning a day trip. Overnight accommodations range from Lapham’s Lodge or The Colonel’s Quarters, with 10 bedrooms and baths each, to the condo-style layouts of the golf and water park suites.
Groups can enjoy a variety of activities from horseback riding, bird-watching and mini golf.
One of the most popular activities on the ranch is the Cowboy Olympics. Teams compete in events including a donkey pull, tug of war, calf roping, sheep herding and an eggand-spoon race on horseback.
At the Branding Iron Saloon, a local blacksmith will design your logo on a branding iron and your group can brand hats and the cedar Saloon walls.
Flying L Ranch offers three indoor meetings spaces. The Roy Rogers room, lined in cedar, can accommodate up to 150 people and also features a wraparound covered deck. The Dale Evans Room can accommodate up to 60 people; the Legends Rooms can fit up to 65 people and features a stone fireplace and cedar trim. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are standard in group packages.
Every Saturday (seasonally, March to August), Flying L Ranch holds its popular Chuck Wagon Dinners, barbecue dinners held in its rustic Ghost Town that feature live music, an antique photo booth, wagon rides, roping lessons and line dancing.
Located 90 miles outside of Fort Worth, Greystone Castle Sporting Club offers some of the best hunting in the United States. Greystone has been named the 2015 Orvis Endorsed Wingshooting Lodge of the Year, the highest honor for such a property, according to Jennifer Miller, sales and marketing manager for Greystone. Greystone Castle also earned the award in 2011 and received a nomination in 2014. There are only 22 Orvis-endorsed wing-shooting lodges in the United States.
“In the sporting world, that is a huge honor,” Miller says. The award is based largely on customer feedback, as well as an audit of the facility.
Greystone also offers hunting for whitetail deer, turkey and 40 species of exotic animals.
The Greystone Castle was built in the 1980s. Several additions and renovations to the castle have taken place since then, including the newly constructed 2,000-square-foot pavilion. The pavilion features a horseshoe bar, a game room with a pool table, and an outdoor fire pit with seating for 20 and a perfect view of the sunset.
“It really is an interesting experience for people who are from the city to be out in the country,” Miller says. “There’s a huge field where deer and antelope come up all the time.”
Although some groups just spend the day at Greystone, most groups like to spend the night, since the facility is so unique, Miller says. The castle offers 26 rooms, all of which are single occupancy with a king or queen bed. Rooms are broken up into five lodges with a shared living room area and minikitchen. The layout encourages more interaction than a typical hotel, Miller says.
A European pheasant shoot allows all 26 people in the group to hunt at the same time. Greystone also offers fishing trips and three different shooting sports: clay shooting, wobble deck and team five-stand.
Greystone caters its amenities to each group; there are no set group packages.
An open bar is included with all meal packages, and Greystone offers 20 different scotches and whiskeys, as well as beer and wine. Enjoy gourmet dining on-site; some of the chef’s specialties include steak and mushroom ravioli, bacon-wrapped duck and a seven-spiced crispy quail.
But make no mistake, Greystone is equipped for business as well. There’s a conference room with seating for 30-plus, a dropdown screen with projector, white marker boards, flip charts, copier, scanner fax machine and Wi-Fi throughout the facility, Miller says.
Joshua Creek Ranch is located about 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio.
Like Greystone Castle, Joshua Creek has been recognized as one of the best wingshooting locations in the country, and as an Orvis-endorsed Wingshooting Lodge. Joshua Creek has also been recognized as a Beretta Trident Lodge.
The ranch offers a variety of habitats that cater to different game and hunting styles, from woods and pasture to creek and river bottomland. Guests can hunt quail, pheasant, chukar and Hungarian partridge, as well as deer and turkey.
“We’ve been tested and have become the best at what we do over the past 25 years,” says Kevin Welborn, director of sales and marketing for Joshua Creek. “The No. 1 thing is our location—we’re in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.”
The ranch’s Branch Haus Lodge and Conference Facility opened in spring 2015. The 10,000-square-foot conference and event center includes 13 luxury guest rooms, a full commercial kitchen, and a 2,400-square-foot conference and event center overlooking the landscape. A bar area and commercial kitchen are located off the center space, as well as a lounge area around a fireplace. The facility can also open up to a patio terrace that overlooks Joshua Creek.
The ranch offers a private setting that best accommodates 30 to 40 people.
“If you have a group of 30 people, you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself,” Welborn says. “Our sweet spot is corporate groups, whether it’s a team-building event for staff, client entertainment or an executive retreat.”
Joshua Creek Ranch offers clay target shooting, and fly-fishing for rainbow trout is available from November to March. During the hunting off-season from April through August, guests can enjoy kayaking, tubing and swimming on the Guadalupe River.
Gourmet dining is offered on-site at Joshua Creek Ranch. During hunting season, a fourcourse game dinner is served, including venison, pheasant, chukar and trout. Fried quail is served around the fire pit as an evening appetizer. Lighter fare is served in the summer.
Joshua Creek offers three types of lodging: standard lodge rooms similar to a typical hotel room, premium lodge rooms in its new facility with wood floors and creek views, and full ranch houses, which can be rented out to families or groups looking for more space.
The iconic 300-acre Southfork Ranch is famous to fans of the TV series Dallas. Southfork served as the home of the Ewing family for 13 years, and the show’s popularity has made the ranch one of the area’s top attractions.
Currently, about 1,400 events take place at the ranch each year, catering to groups of 10 to 2,000.
“It’s an iconic feather in the hat for the meeting planners, and it usually creates a lot of interest,” says Janna Timm, regional director of sales and marketing for Southfork.
The popular Southfork Ranch tour is a part of the meeting package; the tour, gift shop and museum are huge hits with Dallas fans.
Small groups can take trail rides around the property on horseback, and enjoy volleyball, horseshoe, washers, a soccer field and a baseball diamond.
The ranch features a 63,000-square-foot conference and event center, including the 26,500-square-foot Oil Baron’s Ballroom, the 6,300-square-foot ballroom and 16,500-squarefoot Lone Star Atrium. Events can take place in the Ewing Mansion, in the visitor center or on the grounds of the ranch.
Groups can stay at the Southfork Hotel, which offers 230 guest rooms. A shuttle runs between the Southfork Hotel and Ranch.
Five full-time event professionals will assist you in coordinating your event at Southfork, including catering, linens, décor and A/V.
“We’re a one-stop shop,” Timm says. “We’ll make it very easy. We work with certain vendors and handle a lot of it ourselves.”
Many Southfork employees have spent decades at the location, and that loyalty converts to good customer services, she says.
“It shows that we have a nurturing family company atmosphere," Timm says, "and that makes us put out very good customer service."