There are hundreds, if not thousands, of summer camps available in Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties—on all themes—but only a few can claim the designation of “ranch.”
Even the term is romantic, harking back to the Spanish and Mexican land grants given to prominent families to encourage the settlement of Alta California. These lands were called ranchos and could be as large as 14 square miles. Many of our cities and regions still bear their names, such as Novato, Sausalito, Corte Madera, Napa, Petaluma, and Sonoma (see a list of land-grant ranchos in Marin, Napa, and Sonoma).
Today, three ranches in these counties offer both adults and children the chance to get back to the land while learning new life skills, such as teamwork and leadership.
Cloverleaf Ranch —a 160-acre horse ranch off of Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa—has been operating for 70 years and survived through the Tubbs Fire of October 2017 to see another season of summer camps. It offers both day and residence camps offering soccer, tennis, football, hiking, and swimming lessons, as well as horsemanship skills.
The Miwok once
fished and foraged for food at the site of SlideRanch on the Marin coast, and in the late 19th
century, Portuguese dairy farmers purchased the land and produced milk and
butter for residents of San Francisco. In 1969, the Nature Conservancy
purchased 134 acres, and Slide Ranch became one of the first Park Partners of
the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1970.
Campers in the age range of 5 – 13 can look forward to milking goats, caring for chickens, hiking the wild lands, exploring tide pools, and tending and harvesting the ranch’s organic garden. Older campers, ages 14 – 18, focus on leadership training.
A working ranch in Browns Valley, Napa’s Connolly Ranch has been in business since 1991. It offers farm-based educational programs for preschool to high school-aged children on farm animals, ecology, and sustainability. Its 13 acres were donated by owner Peggy Connolly to the Land Trust of Napa County, and today it serves 70% of the students in the Napa Valley Unified School District.
Note: Ranches and farms are distinguished by their use of the land. Typically, livestock would be raised on ranches and crops raised on farms. But nowadays, the distinctions are blurred, and the designation is usually made on the basis of historical usage.
Photo: Overview of Slide Ranch's spectacular location.