How to Live Out All Your Cowboy Dreams in Colorado 

The adventure, the drama, the danger—who doesn’t love the Wild West (at least, the romanticized version of it we see on screens)? It’s as much a part of American identity as hot dogs and apple pie, and this is even more true in western states that embrace their Old West heritage. 

For those who want to explore stretches of untamed wilderness, Colorado is a great place to tap into your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Scenes from Westerns like How the West Was Won (1962), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Lone Ranger (2013), among many others, were filmed in the Centennial State, thanks to its rugged terrain and dramatic scenery. 

In modern-day Colorado, you can capture that Wild West feeling not only by exploring its wide-open spaces but also by seeking out western culture. 

In fact, you can find plenty of places where the lines between past and present blur—where history lives on in present-day culture. So, don your cowboy hats and boots, because after you read about all the ways you can uncover the magic of Colorado’s western heritage, you’ll want to go there pronto.

Presented by the Colorado Tourism Office

Stay at a Dude Ranch

dude ranch colorado
Image courtesy of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association

Dude ranches (also known as guest ranches) combine the best of both worlds—the gritty charm of the old along with the comfort of the new. There are over two dozen of these ranches in Colorado, and you can choose one that’s a little more luxurious or a little more authentic, depending on your preferences. 

Families can find dude ranches that offer riding programs, wine tasting, hiking, and more. Anyone who wants to get sweaty and dirty can find a working dude ranch, where you can experience and participate in things like calving and square dancing. 

For a dude-ranch experience in the lap of luxury, you might consider Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Clark or the C Lazy U Dude Ranch in Granby. Some fantastic options for a rustic retreat include the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Loveland or the Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch in Cortez.

Explore even more possibilities by checking out the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association.

Experience a Rodeo

Image courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office

If you’ve never been to a rodeo, get to one in Colorado for an exhilarating experience that’ll be like nothing you’ve seen before. Summer is the season for rodeos across Colorado, and excellent options include the High Country Stampede Rodeo in Fraser, the Snowmass Rodeo, and the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo, which has been running for more than a century.

Rodeos offer more than bull riding and barrel racing. You’ll often find extras like music and live entertainment, great barbeque, livestock shows, country home dances, and kids’ activities.

Every January, the National Western Stock Show draws visitors from all over the country to the Denver area. The event is chock-full of activities like pony rides, a youth art contest, and a petting farm, as well as shows, including a Wild West show. The approximately two-week event kicks off with the Stock Show Parade, in which dozens of longhorn cattle walk through the streets of downtown Denver. If you want to be part of this, start planning now for next year!

Explore a Ghost Town

St. Elmo Ghost Town
Image courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office

Ghost towns are fascinating, and Colorado has plenty of them that ooze with interesting history dating back to the Old West. In the 1800s, Colorado towns swelled thanks to a mining boom in the region. Some of those towns have faded into distant memory, but you can still see a handful of them.

Visit St. Elmo, near Buena Vista, to experience one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado. While you’re there, visit the nearby former town of Tin Cup to double the fun. There’s also Ashcroft outside of Aspen, where you can take a self-guided tour of the remaining buildings, and Ghost Town Hollow near Pikes Peak, which is the perfect choice if you want to combine your cultural exploration with a hike.

Go Horseback Riding

wild west Colorado
Image courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office

You can always explore Colorado how the early explorers did—on horseback—for a taste of that authentic Wild West. There are some spectacular opportunities for horseback riding not only in places like Rocky Mountain National Park and the Garden of the Gods but also in places like Brown’s Creek Falls near Salida. For more options off the beaten path, check out Weminuche Wilderness to trek over the Continental Divide and the Maroon Bells near Aspen.

Here are eight incredible horseback riding trips to take in Colorado.

Visit a Museum

For a more curated tribute to Colorado’s western heritage, head to a museum. The Gunnison Pioneer Museum gives you a peek at historic schoolhouses and rail yards. Many others, including the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum in Cripple Creek and the Limon Heritage Museum and Railroad Park also provide a glimpse into a way of life long past.

In downtown Denver, the History Colorado Center showcases artifacts and more from the Wild West, the Spanish American War, and Colorado’s gold mining days.

Discover the Magic of the Wild West

Colorado adventure
Image courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office

Colorado has a rich history as part of America’s Wild West. That past is part of what makes the state so unique, in addition to all the incredible opportunities for adventure. Enhance your visit and experience Colorado’s western heritage by staying at a dude ranch, going to a rodeo, horseback riding, or taking another tip from this list!