Just 35 minutes west of downtown Las Vegas, nestled in the majestic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, is a must-visit destination for equestrians. Bonnie Springs Ranch is an all-in-one operation, offering lodging, a restaurant and saloon, old west town, petting zoo, shows, miniature train rides, helicopter tours, and a riding stable. With so much to see and do, Bonnie Springs is the perfect place for a friends getaway, a couples retreat, or a family vacation.
This spot in the Mojave Desert was originally a stopover for wagon trains on the Old Spanish Trail. In the early 1950s Bonnie Springs Ranch was just a bar, but over the next few decades became the tourist attraction it is today. The 100+ acre ranch is open year-round and welcomes over 500,000 visitors a year! I took a trip down to Bonnie Springs Ranch to learn why it’s called the “best-kept secret in Red Rock.”
The thing that makes Bonnie Springs an equestrian’s destination is its Red Rock Stables. Bring your own horse and board in their mare motel for only $20 a night. You can ride right off the property onto almost endless trails that wind along the foothills of the Spring Mountain Range. The stable also features round pens and an arena for use as well. You’ll want to bring proof of Coggins test and a health certificate if you bring your own horse.
If you don’t want to bring your horse, Red Rock Stables also offers guided rides with their own herd. The wranglers lead 6-8 rides a day, depending on the season. Most rides are an hour, but they do offer a few hour and a half rides too. There are also specialty rides that include breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Since I visited sans-horse, I opted for a guided hour-long trail ride.
My wrangler – Cowboy Steve – was extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the area’s flora and fauna. He led me along a nice well-worn sandy trail that provided good views of the mountains and the surprisingly lush plant-life of the region. The guided ride is perfect for beginners or those visitors who just want to get a little time in the saddle.
Red Rock is a pretty spectacular place to ride with its dramatic peaks and sandstone cliffs in vivid shades of red, orange, and brown. The Mojave Desert terrain is filled with yucca, Joshua trees, cholla, and barrel cactus. Wild horses and burros roam the area, along with the usual Nevada wildlife – mule deer, bighorn sheep, and coyotes. And keep your eye open for Gila monsters, the only venomous lizard in the United States!
Old Town Nevada
This recreated town is a homage to the Nevada of old. The staff told me that when the owners were building the town in the 1970s they scavenged building materials from other Nevada ghost towns and sites. What they built is a fun imaging of a late 1800s mining town. There are no false fronts here – all the buildings are complete. The main street is lined with a stamp mill, marshal’s office, a walk-through mine, opera house, saloon, blacksmith’s shop, a wax museum with figures from frontier history, several gift shops, a photo shop (where you can take souvenir photos in costumes) exhibits of old west artifacts, and much more. There’s even a Boot Hill Cemetery complete with funny epitaphs on the graves. (My personal favorite: “Berry M. Deep – Victim of Fast Women and Slow Horses)
Actors in dusters, sheriff badges, and fake guns roam the town interacting with visitors. They also perform simulated gunfights, hangings, and skits throughout the day. There’s some sly adult humor thrown into the skits, but they’re all perfectly family friendly. It’s hard not have a smile on your face watching the actors, who seem to be genuinely having fun in character – even when they think no one is watching.
With boarded sidewalks that creak under your feet, wagon wheels leaning up against buildings, and wanted posters on the walls, Old Town Nevada is a delightful journey back in time. Admittedly, some of the dioramas and exhibits in town are showing their age – but the vintage feel is part of the charm of Bonnie Springs. It’s obvious that Old Town Nevada was – and continues to be – a labor of love.
Visitors of all ages will get a kick out of the petting zoo at Bonnie Springs. There are a variety of barnyard animals roaming around, including goats, sheep, burros, chickens, and peacocks. There are also several very sweet deer who will come up and nibble on your coat or camera strap or whatever else they think looks edible. (There are coin operated treat dispensers throughout the zoo because who can resist deer begging.) The zoo also includes pens with more exotic non-pettable animals like emus, pigs, bunnies, prairie dogs, a serval, and even a wolf!
Stay onsite at Bonnie Springs in their motel, which fits right into the scene with its old west inspired architecture. There are 50 rooms of various size, including western themed rooms with fireplaces, a hot tub room, and rooms with kitchenettes. All the motel rooms feature a private patio with views into the inner courtyard, where guests can also access the pool (weather permitting). Room rates start at $85 per night.
If you come with a rig there’s dry camping available for $20 per night.
Restaurant & Bar
The restaurant in Bonnie Springs has a rustic ambiance – big exposed timber frames, a bison head mounted on the wall, miners’ lanterns hanging from the rafters, and cow print curtains on the windows, which overlook a pond filled with ducks and turtles. There’s a robust menu with a plethora of hearty options, and prices are reasonable. I’m told their half-pound bison burger is a visitor favorite, along with their chuckwagon steaks. I tried a variety of dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and everything was delicious!
In the evening, visitors can enjoy an after-dinner drink at the bar or alongside their indoor fire pit. The bar has a sizeable menu of its own, including their own signature cocktails and hot drinks. I recommend the Calamity Jane – cinnamon sugar vodka in hot apple cider.
Bonnie Springs is a popular destination for movie filming, corporate parties, and other specialty events. You can even get married at Bonnie Springs! But, perhaps the biggest event here is Bonnie Screams which runs the whole month of October. All of Old Town Nevada is transformed into a haunted ghost town with creepy Halloween decorations. The town stays open late into the evening when the costumed actors aim for screams instead of laughs. Bonnie Springs most unique Halloween event has visitors board a bus and shoot zombies (real actors!) with paintball guns out in the desert!
Learn More: www.bonniesprings.com
Story and Photos by Samantha Szesciorka