The Empire Ranch Cowboy Festival held this Saturday and Sunday, November 6 and 7, 2021, in Santa Cruz County, is the Empire Ranch Foundation’s annual public event celebrating Arizona’s Western history and culture. The Cowboy Festival also showcases the BLM and the Foundation’s efforts to preserve the Empire Ranch for future generations. Each year more than 2,000 visitors come to the ranch to enjoy Western heritage demonstrations, arena and livestock exhibits, cowboy cooking and Western entertainment. 

Empire Ranch Foundation Cowboy Festival 2021 flyer
Empire Ranch Foundation Cowboy Festival 2021 flyer

This family event features Western music and entertainment, history and culture demonstrations, ranch life exhibits, activities for children, along with numerous skilled artisans and speakers. A $20 parking donation per vehicle is requested.

Be cowboy/cowgirl ready
Horse-loving visitors may choose to book a 45-minute trail ride for $30. Riders must be age 8 or older. The first ride on both Saturday and Sunday begins at 10:30 am, with the last ride starting at 2:30 pm.

Think about dressing for success as you get ready to visit the vast Arizona outdoors of the Empire Ranch. It’s a good time to choose cowboy or riding boots over sandals, or at least close-toed shoes over flip-flops. Exposed human tootsies are no match for the rock-hard hooves of a horse that does not mean to (but could) step on you. 

The weekend weather forecast is beautiful for early November. Add sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat to your ranch-visiting gear too - that way you only return home with horse kisses, myriad cellphone pics, and happy memories, versus a sunburn, dry eyeballs, and a wind-chapped face. 

Trail ride spaces are limited and may not be available the day of the event. Visit this link to reserve your space now.

For information on the many activities such as arena demonstrations, the music stage and cowboy conversations schedules, and western skills demonstrations, and vendors please visit


Las Vigas Steak Ranch (BBQ, hamburgers, hot dogs)

Montaño’s Chili and More (tacos, rice & beans)

Wrapido (Grilled chicken wraps, sweet potato fries, and chips)

EZ Cattle Company Cow Camp Café & Chuckwagon PHOTO CREDIT: Empire Ranch Foundation
EZ Cattle Company Cow Camp Café & Chuckwagon PHOTO CREDIT: Empire Ranch Foundation

STEAK FRY (Saturday, 4:30 to 7 pm)

EZ Cattle Company Cow Camp Café & Chuckwagon is serving up an 8 oz. Strip Steak OR Portobello Mushroom with small potatoes, beans & coleslaw. $20/plate. Live music will accompany your meal. TICKETS ARE LIMITED. Follow this LINK for more information.

COWBOY CHURCH (Sunday, 8:15 am to 9:30 am)

Pastor Larry Whitney, Mustang Mountain Cowboy Church, will lead the service.  Music provided by the Broken Chair Band.

Directions from Tucson
Go east on I-10 and exit at Route 83 (scenic highway)

Proceed south on Route 83 approximately 18 miles to the paved road on your left between mile post 40 and 39. Watch for the brown Historic Empire Ranch sign on the right side of the highway.

Turn east (left) onto paved road and follow for 3 miles to the Empire Ranch House on your left.

Directions from Sonoita
Go north on Route 83 for 6.6 miles, to the paved road on your right between milepost 39 and 40. Watch for the brown Historic Empire Ranch sign on the right side of the highway.

Turn east (right) onto the paved road and follow for 3 miles to the Empire Ranch House on your left.

Its history
The historic Empire Ranch has been a working cattle ranch for 140 years. Its rich history includes successive ownership by two prominent ranching families, two corporations, and finally by the federal government on behalf of the general public. Its history is briefly summarized in this 18-minute video:  Arizona’s Empire Ranch: A Prominent Past and Promising Future on the history of the Empire Ranch from its founding in 1876 to present day efforts by the Empire Ranch Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management to protect and preserve the historic buildings. 

Its mission
In 1988 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquired for public use and preservation the lands that now form Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, including the intact buildings and much of the land holdings of the historic Empire Ranch whose founding dates to the 1870s.

In 1997, a group of private citizens formed the Empire Ranch Foundation as a volunteer 501(c)(3) charitable organization. 

Working in partnership with the BLM, the mission of the Foundation is “To protect, restore and sustain the Empire Ranch historical buildings and landscape as an outstanding western heritage education center.”

The Foundation, in partnership with the BLM, provides funds and organizes volunteers to support and complete numerous preservation projects and educational activities at Empire Ranch.

The Empire Ranch Foundation is managed by a 15-member volunteer Board of Directors. Its 2020-2021 leadership include: Faith Boice, president, Raymond Patrone, vice president, Marti Conroy, secretary, and Christine Haaksma, treasurer

Get social
The Empire Ranch Foundation has many events and volunteer opportunities during the year. Be sure to follow its activities on Facebook and sign up for its informative newsletter at the website.