Trips on a Tank - Circle F Dude Ranch Camp

Highway 60E & Dude Ranch Rd.
Lake Wales, FL 33853

It’s a Monday afternoon, and the sun is setting warmly over the lake. Voices can be heard scattered across the grassy field as campers make their way to choose a game of flag football, free time on the basketball court, or an hour in the Roundup for classic, guaranteed-to-make-you-giggle camp games. It’s the end of their first full day and they’ve already begun to form friendships that may last through years of returning to spring break or summer camp at the Circle F Ranch.

Our family arrives a little road-weary from travel, but we’re excited to “unplug” from our techno-driven world for a few days. Since we’re not able to attend one of the weekend family camps, we’ve been invited to join the campers, ages 5-19, and their counselors for Spring Break Camp. We roll up our sleeves and dive in to the camp atmosphere, already beginning to collect dirt between our toes. From the field, we can hear the horses snort their evening greetings, and we can see all the crazy inflatables floating on the lake, calling us to come play as soon as tomorrow’s sun rises and the fun begins!

Circle F Dude Ranch has been around over fifty years, and its loyal following is evidenced by counselors who have returned year after year, many of whom have been “promoted” from campers themselves. Jarred, one of our favorite counselors, has been camping at Circle F since he was a little boy! Located in Lake Wales just south of Orlando, it was a nice “trip on a tank” drive. The property is a beautiful 500 acres, much of which is shaded by gorgeous, moss-covered ancient oaks, among which the cabins are nestled, shaded from the hot day’s sun. Circle F also boasts over 65 horses, a skate park, tennis courts, and much more.

During our time at Circle F, our days began with a home-cooked meal served family-style in the dining lodge. We enjoyed everything from biscuits to breakfast burritos on our stay, and loved the morning chants and still-jammie-clad campers, sleepily rolling in to eat a relaxed and raucous breakfast before enjoying the first activity period of the day.

Morning one for us (after we’d slept like logs on our bunk beds, with the night air whispering through our screen windows) found us divided, in a good way. Dad and the “big boys” headed to the range for some man-time playing paintball. I took the “littles” to the horse barns! “After all, Mom, that’s why I really came,” announced my girl. I was glad they wanted to go there first, because I could’ve spent all day nose to nose with the horses, especially my favorite, Flicka. The counselors and wranglers did a great job with safety lessons and horse guidance, and soon all the campers were atop a horse and headed out on the trail. Each day offers both a lesson time in the ring and at least one trail ride, and campers can choose which they’ll take. For summer camps, I’m told the campers actually learn ring techniques and put on a show at the end of the week. We were excited to learn that even our three-year-old would be able to ride. A wrangler stayed back and helped him mount a horse, and then led him safely on a walk around the property.

As a mom, I really appreciated the encouragement the campers received in riding. Each was allowed to choose the same horse from session to session and taught how to guide that horse, but also given the opportunity to change at the next session if they didn’t “click” with their horse. Of particular excitement this week at camp were the ponies bonding in a separate ring, and the mama horse expected to give birth any day—although, to our disappointment, it wasn’t while we were there! Dad and the big boys enjoyed the horse trail on another day, so everybody (even the brother who didn’t think he wanted to) got to experience, in our opinion, the sweetest part of the camp.

Each day there were a variety of activities to choose from over the four activity periods. We loved diving in, and I think for our family, we would really enjoy the family weekends. Our kiddos met and played with kids from around the state, and it was a privelege, as parents, both to watch from a distance and to live the experiences with them. One activity that is carried into family weekends was the “Build-A-Boat,” where campers are given a limited supply of cardboard, duct tape, and time, and must use their resources as a team to build a sea-worthy (or in this case, lake-worthy!) vessel, which will later be raced in the shallows of the lake. Our family formed a team, and we’re proud to say we almost won the competition. We’re quite sure our boat would’ve won for best design! For sure, we created family memories, and as a mom, I won’t ever quite forget the thrill of watching a couple of our kiddos race together in a cardboard boat we’d all built together, while the others cheered them on. Perhaps my sweetest memory will be watching them trade places for the second “heat” of the race. Our oldest really wanted to try his hand at rowing the boat, and even though he wanted to go again, our second son knew his sister really wanted a second go-round, so he gave up his spot. Between us, I’m pretty sure the extra weight of a fourteen-year-old did us in, but the memory of watching them work as a team will last forever, and that they didn’t care about the win was even more important.

A favorite end-of-the week activity was the late-night bonfire, where the counselors treated campers to campfire fondue—melted chocolate the kids could dip pretzels in. We think this is a camp tradition—or if it isn’t, it should be! Kids and counselors sang rowdy campfire songs and celebrated a week of sun and sand and games and exploration in the great outdoors.

Circle F is a camp with a long-standing tradition of bringing wholesome entertainment and out-of-the-ordinary life experiences to kids. We were fortunate to join them for Spring Break Camp!

Just when you thought Summer Camp at Circle F Dude Ranch couldn’t get any better. Guess what? It did! Renovated cabins, new colors, new lights.... And best of all, to top it off after a long, long search for the right way to cool us down in the summer; an eco-friendly cooling system has been installed in all the cabins the Roundup and Lasso Lodge.

Each camper has an individual daily schedule based on his or her choice of activities. Evening activities include horseback riding, cookout trips, bonfire and hayride, dances and much more.

The paintball range is available to campers 10 years old and up. Play in one or more of the paintball ranges – the Jungle and the Desert.

At Circle F we want to share our love for the great outdoors and personal growth in an unspoiled environment surrounded by the beauty of nature. We also want to help our campers reconnect themselves with their own physical and emotional awareness. Our promise is to offer an adventure with a philosophy that celebrates life and generates joy and excitement. We invite our campers to become part of the “Circle F Family” and leave with memories of a great experience that will last a lifetime.

The 42-acre, spring-fed lake is one of the most popular spots for campers.

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