The Best-Kept Secret on Vashon
Island Businesses

The Best-Kept Secret on Vashon

By Judy Mulhair

Welcome to the AYH Ranch. I bought the land in 1970 and raised two boys, many sheep, goats, horses, and one cow named Hamburger. The orchard, gardens and livestock fed us well.

As a United Airlines Flight Attendant, my first goal was to see the world, but this goal was put on hold while I married and raised my family. Then in 1979, divorce dissolved my family and I needed to re-examine my goals. I looked at the idea of showing my boys the world. I called the American Youth Hostel Association to see if an old lady qualified to use their hostel system if she had young children. When I discovered that hostels were for people of all ages, the boys and I headed for Holland to bicycle in search of tulips and windmills.

What a healing experience! We never met a hosteler we didn’t like or that wasn’t friendly, caring, or sharing. The wooden shoes on the hostel wall were worn by my boys throughout our journey. I have hung them in the cabin as a symbol of our beginning. For when we returned home, I had a vision of what I would do with my land.

In 1980, I was chartered with AYH, now known as Hostelling International. I chose a theme from my youth for the hostel. As a child growing up in Waitsburg. Washington, we loved the stories of the Old West with Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, and Geronimo. We loved playing them all, and spent many lazy summer days having fun being Cowboys and Indians.

I dedicated my hostel to those who dare to dream of times when life was simpler and more fun, and who have the guts and perseverance to make their dreams a reality.

In 2003, my dreams turned into my nightmare when a neighbor challenged the legality of my hostel. I had created the ordinance in 1982 for hostels in unincorporated King County. To my surprise, the county never voted it into law, but just hoped I would get tired of the concept and move on. I offered to re-establish the ordinance, but they decided they did not want hostels in their jurisdiction. Consequently, my worldwide free advertising ended. The county would not grandfather me, but offered a non-conforming campground status (use it or lose it). The community was very supportive of my efforts to keep the hostel, but to avail. 

As a world-famous hostel for 35 years, our title stuck in the minds of Vashonites, who enjoyed the presence of worldwide travelers. To this day, AYH Ranch is still referred to as the “Hostel,” and will be long after I leave the planet.

One of the best images linked to the “hostel” is that of backpackers walking down Cove Road and being picked up more often than not by Islanders who knew exactly where they were headed. In addition to TeePees and campsites, many Islanders have recommended us to others seeking higher-end options. We have a handhewn log cabin with 3 private rooms and private baths, built from our own trees, and available year round. In the summer, we are pleased to offer two cute 4-person glamping cabins.

Throughout the year, we also offer the Lavender Duck Suite on AirBnB. We have hosted many weddings, and have a beautiful setting for such celebrations. We are the only venue in King County that can rent an entire ranch that sleeps 50 in lodgings and teepees at $5,000 for 24 hours. Our large barn has hosted parties, memorials, and retreats year-round.

In the future, when someone asks about lodgings on Vashon, don’t forget the AYH Ranch, the best-kept secret on Vashon and recently nominated for the Northwest Best Places contest.

July 10, 2023

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