Explore Ranches offers growing stable of vacation rentals

|
T0422ExploreRanches3_HR
The Rocker B Ranch in Palo Pinto County, Texas.

As travelers increasingly seek off-the-beaten-path experiences, one company is looking to appeal to adventure and outdoor enthusiasts with a curated inventory of expansive, upscale, privately-owned ranches.

Launched last December, Explore Ranches promises much more than the average vacation rental. The platform's eight Texas and Colorado properties range in size from 320 acres to 35,000 acres and offer an array of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming and fishing. 

All but one of the ranches come complete with on-site staff, including guides and chefs. If a property has no staffing in place, Explore Ranches can provide a guide or chef upon request.

"Booking with Explore Ranches is really more like booking an all-inclusive vacation," said Allison Ryan, who co-founded the company alongside Jay Kleberg, an associate director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and fifth-generation rancher Jesse Womack.

T0422ExploreRanches5_HR
A living area at the Middle Creek Ranch in Routt County, Colorado.

Ryan's own family ranch, the 1,600-acre Withers Ranch in Jeff Davis County, Texas, was among the inaugural listings on the Explore Ranches site. Ryan, who has a background as a personal trainer, previously hosted women's wellness and fitness retreats at the property while also incorporating nature-inspired programming.

"For the last three years, I had taken a group of women out there, and we'd use the land to exercise," she said. "But I'd also use the opportunity to let them experience nature and learn about conservation. Jay saw what I was doing and had this idea to expand on it. He's worked on a lot of conservation efforts across the state, and he really wanted to find a way to do something with private land in Texas."

Ryan said that around 95% of the state is privately held, "and of that remaining 5%, only about 2.5% is actually accessible to the public, so there are a lot of special, wild places that most people never get to see."

She said the prospect of listing a property on Explore Ranches has also proven appealing to landowners, who welcome the additional revenue stream and the chance to defray upkeep costs.

To join the Explore Ranches platform, a landowner need only commit to a minimum of 18 nights per year. Most properties, however, have opened their booking windows to four or five months of the year or even year-round. Owners who list with Explore Ranches are charged an annual marketing fee, and the platform also takes 20% of each booking.

"For a lot of these owners, this is still very much their family ranch," she said. "And the opportunity to book one of these places becomes pretty exclusive. It's not like going on some other type of vacation where you can have the opportunity to visit 365 days a year."

While sites like Airbnb and Vrbo also list ranch-type rentals, Explore Ranches seeks to differentiate itself by offering a hosted and more activity-driven experience. Meals are typically included, with guests able to coordinate with a property's chef ahead of arrival. 

Prices start at around $1,250 per night at the Llano Springs Ranch, billed as a Texas Hill Country retreat at the headwaters of the South Llano River, and go as high as roughly $18,000 per night at Colorado-based Middle Creek Ranch, which spans 10,000 acres and offers guests the chance to participate in everything from ATV tours to fly-fishing and horseback riding. 

Despite still being relatively new to market, Explore Ranches has already gained a foothold among tour operators, with companies like Explorer X and All Roads North partnering with the platform to create itineraries. Explore Ranches also works with travel advisors, offering commissions on a case-by-case basis. 

T0422ExploreRanches5_HR
A living area at the Middle Creek Ranch in Routt County, Colorado.

Explore Ranches is looking to expand its inventory beyond the Texas and Colorado markets. The company said it is in talks with ranches in California and Montana and has also started fielding queries from properties as far-flung as Hawaii, Scotland and Panama. 

"Ranch landowners have typically only been able to generate revenue through hunting or grazing leases, and oftentimes, in today's world, that's not enough to maintain your property," Ryan said. "So there's been a lot of interest on the landowner side. We're really excited to get to introduce more people to the most beautiful wild spaces in Texas and beyond, and the opportunity to help them access places that, for the most part, have never been available before to anyone else."

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI