Who we are

Joy Ranch is both a non-profit organization and an actual 126 acre ranch located a few miles outside of Watertown, South Dakota. 

Founded in 1989 by Joy Nelson, the organization’s core mission is to help challenged individuals get a chance to meaningfully connect with horses. Typical recipients of this program include everyone from foster children to those with life-altering conditions, disabilities, or diseases. 

We fund these experiences by offering our stunning western getaway to church groups, corporate groups, clubs, and other members of the public. Come stay with us and enjoy a scenic, rustic, one of a kind destination. 

All about Joy Ranch 

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126 acres

Situated perfectly on Lake Lyle, in the sportsman’s paradise of Eastern South Dakota. 
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20+ horses

Available for both indoor and outdoor experiences.
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Barrier Free

The entire ranch is completely accessible and suitable for all ages and abilities.
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1880’s town

Featuring the Thirsty Boot Saloon, Wild Bill’s Game Room for kids and more!
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16 uniquely themed hotel rooms for you and your guests
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Lake Lyle

Enjoy the lake and its surrounding walking trails.
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Full service commercial kitchen and dining space for 250+ guests. 
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The Coyote Campground has 11 sites with electricity pedestals and water hookups

Joy's Story

Joy Nelson is the beating heart of Joy Ranch, both the non-profit organization and the acreage itself. It all started in 1989 when she purchased the land and started work on her vision: a place where folks of all ages and abilities could ride horses, follow trails, enjoy a lake, and explore a beautiful wilderness. 

Over time, Joy continued her vision with the addition of more buildings. In 1997, Joy purchased a vintage, fully-restored one room schoolhouse from a local farmer. To this day, public school groups visit the school every year.  In 2000, Joy purchased a beautiful old church and moved it from Erwin, SD. Restored in the years that followed, the church is still visited by some of the Erwin locals. A barn and granary were moved to the ranch. In 2012, work was finished on the sprawling 1880’s town addition, designed to be a unique historical attraction. 

Through it all, Joy made sure the ranch would be accessible to all ages and abilities, even working with an architect to ensure it. 

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Experience the Ranch

Board of directors

Joy Nelson portrait

Joy Nelson

Doug Tribble portrait

Doug Tribble

Michael Klatt portrait

Michael Klatt

Hugh Bartels portrait

Hugh Bartels

Jan DeBerg portrait

Jan Deberg

Robb Peterson portrait

Robb Peterson

Bryon Noem portait

Bryon Noem

Barbara Younger portrait

Barbara Younger

Michael Cartney portrait

Michael Cartney

 Chris Schilken portrait

Chris Schilken

What our guests are saying

Schedule your trip to joy Ranch today!

Contact us