By Megan Wadding
Rainbow Ranch Campground is a perfect getaway for LGBT Houstonians looking for a fun, laid-back Halloween weekend amongst friends—and away from trick-or-treaters.
Located near the town of Groesbeck, about two-and-a-half hours north of Houston, the Ranch is hidden just off of a county road lined with extensive ranches and round bales of hay dotting the fields. When the paved road ends, and after a winding drive through sparse woods, a sign welcomes visitors to Rainbow Ranch.
Upon entering the secluded property, a pavilion and small amphitheater come into view. The pavilion, which serves as the hub of Ranch activities, has a pool table, flat-screen televisions, a DJ booth, and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system complete with a disco ball. A deck wrapping around two sides of the pavilion gives a view of both the swimming pool and a large fire-pit, as well as a panoramic view of Lake Limestone, whose serene waters are known for some of the very best fishing in central Texas.
Atop the amphitheater’s outdoor stage that hosts the Ranch’s many drag shows and musical performances, the American flag, the rainbow flag, and the Texas state flag wave together above the campground.
Brad Camp, the owner of the Ranch for the past 12 years, purchased the property from a woman who originally founded Rainbow Ranch back in 1997 as a lesbian tent camp.
In 2001, Camp officially became a “perm” (or permanent/renting resident) at the Ranch immediately after visiting a friend who was staying on the property.
“There were men and women [at the Ranch] by the time I showed up,” says Camp. “After being there one weekend and meeting all the friendly ‘perms’ who bent over backwards to make the stay great, I bought a trailer and went back every other weekend.”
Three short years later, Camp bought the property himself.
The Ranch, which sits on 150 acres, now boasts 150 sites, which include RV spots, RV rentals, tent sites, eight cabins, and a four-bedroom house that can sleep 15. All of the cabins face Lake Limestone, offering those who stay in them spectacular views of the sunset over the water each evening.
Diane Rodriguez, a perm who lives in Dallas, started coming to Rainbow Ranch about nine years ago with her wife, Tracie.
“The Ranch is a wonderful weekend getaway,” says Rodriguez. “You can do just about anything: hike, bike, fish, swim, build campfires, play pool, dance, and just let loose. [Everyone] cooks and shares and has gatherings at their sites. The place is really wonderful.”
Eighty of Rainbow Ranch’s sites are occupied by the perms, most of whom visit the Ranch one or two weekends every month.
Many of the perms volunteer to help organize and run the Ranch’s bi-monthly events, many of which coincide with holidays and other special weekends.
Rodriguez is in charge of planning Rainbow Ranch’s Halloween weekend, which is held October 28–30. She volunteered to run the event five years ago after she and her friends came up with the idea while running around in the woods at the Ranch, hiding decorations in the trees to scare people.
“We asked management if we could try it for real,” Rodriguez says. “It worked!”
The entire Ranch gets into the Halloween spirit, according to Rodriguez. The office and pavilion, as well as many sites on the property, will all be decorated for the Halloween-weekend events.
On Friday night, a low-key “Meet and Greet” social will be held in the pavilion. Attendees are welcome to bring their own drinks.
On Saturday, the Halloween events begin. “There will also be a site-decoration contest, a costume contest, lots of music, lots of food and flair,” says Rodriguez, “and trail rides.”
And by trail rides, Rodriguez means golf-cart rides through the woods—a Rainbow Ranch tradition.
Many perms at the Ranch keep golf carts at their sites, and on big event weekends like Halloween, are known to take newbies for nighttime rides through the trails in the woods. “We hit the trails for fun and adventure quite a bit,” says Rodriguez. “[It’s] fun to take new people out in the dark and scare them with ‘What’s that sound?’ or ‘Oh no, the cart died!’”
The Haunted Trail walk-through, which opens at dusk, will be held on those very same trails. According to Rodriguez, people will jump out and scare the walkers as they make their way through the spookily decorated woods. “I love how the Ranch people come together to bring their imaginations and energy to build the Haunted Trail,” says Rodriguez. “It is an amazing combined effort that shocks me every year.”
After being spooked on the Haunted Trail, attendees are encouraged to join the festivities at the pavilion, where DJ Brian Voelker will be getting the party going.
Make Lifelong Friends
Visitors to Rainbow Ranch are always struck by how warm and down-to-earth everyone is.
Nikki Thompson, who lives near The Woodlands, first visited the Ranch this past summer during the Big Bear Roundup Weekend, and she plans to attend for Halloween.
“The people were amazing and super-welcoming, even though we were strangers to them. [They are] great, genuine people who aren’t afraid to be themselves and have a good time,” says Thompson. “The crowd is so much better than what you would find going out for drinks or to the bar.”
Thompson’s wife, Cathrine Henson, is also looking forward to attending Halloween at the Ranch. “My favorite thing about the Ranch is the people. They have created a close-knit community. Growing up in that part of the country, I would have never dreamed that such a place could exist,” says Henson. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s Halloween costumes.”
Camp realizes that people feel fortunate to have found such a welcoming gay mecca in the middle of Texas. “So many friendships have been made here and have lasted many years,” says Camp. “It feels like a large family that you’re coming home to on the weekends.”
Both Camp and Rodriguez say Halloween weekend usually sells out, so anyone interested in attending should reserve early. “Be ready to have the best Halloween ever,” says Rodriguez.
What: Halloween Weekend at Rainbow Ranch
When: October 28–30
Where: Rainbow Ranch, LCR 800, Groesbeck, Texas
Megan Wadding is a freelance writer and travel addict with a B.A. in journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganWadding.