story and photos by Chrissy Alspaugh
Rawhide Ranch specializes in slow and savored moments. No televisions. No alarm clocks. Just 54 acres of fresh air, horseback riding, relaxed zip lining, and, of course, campfires.
Those looking for an adrenaline rush, limitless cable options, or accommodations free of an errant spiderweb best steer clear.
“We’re not about being in competition with others,” said Derek Clifford, ranch manager and operating partner. “We’re about the human connection—dropping the technology, getting outside, and sharing stories.”
Nestled near the northeast corner of Brown County State Park, Rawhide Ranch was started in 2001 by land developer Dan Cartwright and attorney David Stirsman. The longtime friends dreamed of bringing the Old West to the Midwest by creating an affordable horseman’s destination ranch. And recreating a taste of the West, they have.
Guests have lodging options galore: the 11-room hotel that sits atop a 16-stall horse barn, a 3-bedroom ranch-style vacation house, a private cabin escape for two, and primitive tipis. Open to overnight guests and the public, the ranch offers year-round guided horseback trail rides, 1,100 feet of seasonal zip lines, summer kids’ camps, as well as family, group, and corporate retreats. The ranch boasts two fishing ponds, horseshoe pits, a basketball court, hiking and biking trails, playground equipment, and corn hole.
Clifford said the ranch never was intended to be the most extreme in Indiana, as many attractions are. Instead, it aims to foster memories with activities that individuals of all ages can enjoy.
This summer, Indianapolis resident Frank Koller made his first trip to the ranch for a day of corporate team building. He quickly returned with his family. “It’s just so peaceful and relaxing here,” said Koller, surrounded by a string of children giggling about their zip lining experience. “It’s the perfect place to get away from the city.”
In spring 2013, the ranch transformed the inn’s main-level horse barn into The Banded Rooster restaurant. Clifford said having a commercial kitchen on site has lowered the ranch’s cost to provide catering for corporate events and makes planning easier for those hosting wedding receptions at the ranch.
Westfield resident Eleisia Van Mol said she and her husband, Scott, couldn’t have been more thrilled with their September wedding and reception at the ranch. The couple stumbled upon the venue online after discovering the astronomical costs of other locations. Van Mol said their wedding at Rawhide Ranch not only was elegant and unique, they pulled it off for less than a third of the cost compared to their other options.
“The food was phenomenal, and the staff was absolutely amazing and on-point from our planning right until the wedding day,” she said. “They were accommodating with whatever we were hoping to do.”
Indiana University assistant professor Ankur Dalia has taken his microbiology group to the ranch for two retreats and agreed that the staff’s above-and-beyond service, combined with the site’s exceptional cuisine, sets Rawhide Ranch apart. “It is an unconventional location for giving a research presentation and holding a retreat, but it totally works,” he said. “We certainly plan on returning next year.”
Like most cowboys, Clifford relies more on word-of-mouth recommendations than traditional advertising. And it’s working. Fifteen years after opening, the ranch stays busier than ever but remains a “blank canvas” as far as Clifford is concerned.
“We love delivering one heck of a product and being a place where guests know us by name,” he said. “The best part is watching folks have an incredible experience and knowing they’ll be back.”
Rawhide Ranch is located at 1292 State Road 135 South southeast of Nashville, Indiana. Visit <rawhideranchusa.com> or call (812) 988-0085 for more information.