Joy Ranch celebrating this holiday season

WATERTOWN, S.D.(KXLG} Joy Ranch just west of Watertown has plenty to celebrate this holiday season.

In just its second year operating as Joy Ranch South Dakota after taking ownership back from Lutheran Outdoors, the facility has seen steady growth aligned with its mission to create a barrier-free space for those with disabilities or challenging life circumstances to enjoy nature and participate in horse-related activities and other experiences. For the general public, Joy Ranch is a place to horseback ride, jump in a lake, take a riding lesson, visit an 1880s town, get married, stay in a themed hotel room, hold corporate events, camp out, eat delicious meals, and much more.

In 2022, Joy Ranch welcomed 5,200 guests, including over 800 youth campers. This year, the facility is on pace to serve nearly double that number of guests.

Joy Nelson of Watertown, who started Joy Ranch in 1989, credits an outstanding staff and strong community support for its success. She told KXLG News that the early progress of Joy Ranch South Dakota has been a surprise.

Most of the activity at Joy Ranch has been during the summer months, but even that is changing, Nelson said.

Joy Ranch has attracted plenty of local, regional, statewide, and national attention. Last summer’s visit by RFD-TV personality Machinery Pete spurred interest regionally. After a group of campers from the Minneapolis-area Shriners Hospital spent time at Joy Ranch, the national Shriners magazine featured a story on their experience. This summer, three times as many Shriners campers will visit Joy Ranch. Just last week, a Sioux Falls TV Station was in town to do a story on the Ranch.

Given the phenomenal growth over the past couple of years, Nelson has even bigger plans in store for the future.

To learn more about Joy Ranch, go online to