True West’s Best of the West 2017: Heritage Travel Grand Adventures Await the Western Traveler

LEAD-BOW-HT_Clarence-King's-Geological-Exploration-of-the-Fortieth-Parallel_Expedition-exploring-boat_Truckee-River-four-men-sailing-the-boat-along-the-river-by-Timothy-H.-O-Sullivan_1867
In 1867, photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan accompanied the Clarence King Survey of the 40th Parallel, which set up its base camp near the Truckee River and Reno, Nevada. Sullivan’s adventuresome spirit as a photographer put him in position to capture many unique images with his large-format glass-plate camera, including the survey team sailing on the Truckee River. – Courtesy Library of Congress –

Millions of miles of interstates, highways, roads and dirt tracks crisscross the mountains, valleys, deserts and plains of the Western United States. Amtrak still delivers passengers across the West, and dozens of heritage railroads have preserved and restored historic lines for modern rail enthusiasts. On the major waterways and lakes, travelers can cruise on modern paddle-wheelers, schooners, ships, ferries and houseboats.

High adventure awaits across the West at guest ranches, where wranglers will lead you on horseback into the mountains or on a real cattle drive; on rivers, where rafting companies will take you deep into red walled river canyons or canoe- and kayak- outfitters will take you deep into the woods to experience life like a French voyageur.

After after sleeping under the stars, head into town and you will discover that historic hotels, inns and restaurants are the staple of Western towns. Equally, the traveler who loves big Western cities will discover hotels with history, and the fine meals  and accommodations that make them even more enjoyable than they were when they hosted the rich and famous 150 years ago. So whether you are bedding down in a bedroll after a chuck-wagon dinner and a chorus around the campfire, or enjoying the lights of a city from a restaurant atop a turn-of-the-last-century heritage hotel, Western proprietors await your visit—ready to help you plan your adventure and make memories of a lifetime.

—Stuart Rosebrook

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Edward S. Curtis, known best for his comprehensive portrait series of North American Indians, also was an accomplished landscape photographer. On a trip to Alaska in 1899 to photograph Native tribes, he recorded the eastern section of Muir Glacier, which is now part of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. – Courtesy Library of Congress –

Best Place to Live Like an Old West Cowboy (Winter)

Prescott, AZ

The original territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott has history and heritage honored and celebrated throughout the year at numerous local museums, hotels and restaurants. Don’t miss Frontier Days and the World’s Oldest Rodeo every Fourth of July.

Visit-Prescott.com

Readers’ Choice:
Bandera, TX


Best Place to Live Like an Old West Cowboy (Summer)

Deadwood, SD

Founded in 1876 at the northern edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills, Deadwood welcomes visitors all year long, but summertime in the historic town is a prime time to enjoy the heritage of one of the West’s most famous destinations. The annual Days of 76 Parade and Rodeo in late July is one of the best events of the year.

Deadwood.com

Readers’ Choice:

Sheridan, WY


Best Old West Gunfighter Town

Dodge City, KS

Take a trolley ride tour of Dodge City to discover the thrill of the Old West in the “Queen of the Cowtowns” at the Boot Hill Museum, Gunfighters Wax Museum, Trail of Fame, Home of Stone and Kansas Heritage Center. Every summer gunfighter re-enactors hold thrilling events along “Front Street” at the Boot Hill Museum.

VisitDodgeCity.org

Readers’ Choice:

Tombstone, AZ


Best Preserved Pioneer Town Re-Created

High Desert Museum, Bend, OR

Where can you find Old West living history events and a zoo all in the same fun place? At the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, that’s where, all on 135 acres, with indoor and outdoor exhibits.

HighDesertMuseum.org

Readers’ Choice:

Dodge City, KS


Best Old West Art Town

Cody, WY

From galleries to museums, Cody, Wyoming, is a Western art lovers dream come true. Start at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Whitney Western Art Museum, then head downtown to tour and shop at the art galleries, saddle shops and Western artisan stores. Don’t miss the month-long Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale every August and September, and the Rendezvous Royale Western art celebration the fourth week of every September.

CodyChamber.org

Readers’ Choice:

Scottsdale, AZ


Best Town for Historic Entertainment

Deadwood, SD

Put on your boots and hat and walk on down Deadwood’s Main Street and enjoy famous restaurants, museums, saloons, shops and haunted hotel tours at the Historic Bullock Hotel and the Historic Fairmont Hotel and Oyster Bay Bar. In the summer, don’t miss the Trial of Jack McCall drama six nights a week, the Deadwood Alive’s Main Street Shows and Shootouts.

Deadwood.com

Readers’ Choice:

Tombstone, AZ


Best Architecturally Preserved Western Town

Virginia City, MT

In 1863, gold was discovered along Alder Creek. The rush into the hills led to numerous claims and the founding of Virginia City, Montana. Once the territorial capital of Montana, the historic, living-history village invites visitors to stay and immerse themselves in the heritage community with its Old West entertainment, lodging, restaurants and activities, including stagecoach and train rides.

VirginiaCity.com

Readers’ Choice:

Deadwood, SD


Best Historic Town Tour

Laramie, WY

Best known today as the home of the University of Wyoming, Laramie’s heritage as an Old West city begins in the 1860s along the overland route of the Union Pacific rail line. Like many railroad camps, Laramie quickly gained a wild reputation for lawlessness. Today’s visitors can tour 15 historic sites from Laramie’s early years on the Legends of Laramie Tour, sponsored by the Laramie Area Visitor Center. The tour includes the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, Historic Ivinson Mansion, the historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Station and the ghost town of Sherman at the Ames Monument.

VisitLaramie.org

Readers’ Choice:

Dodge City, KS


Best Promotion of a Historic Place

Sheridan, WY

The town of Sheridan, Wyoming, was founded in 1884 and named after General Philip Sheridan. The historic city is a gateway to the Big Horn Mountains and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. When in Sheridan take a Koltiska Horse & Carriage Company tour of historic Main Street and spend a relaxing weekend in the recently restored and reopened Historic Sheridan Inn, with its superb Open Range Restaurant.

SheridanWyoming.org

Readers’ Choice:

Dodge City, KS


Best Old West Town to Live In

Prescott, AZ

Prescott’s Courthouse Square and historic downtown welcomes visitors to enjoy the mile-high city with its heritage hotels, Whiskey Row shops and saloons, and numerous art galleries, restaurants, museums and antique shops. The city, adjacent to Prescott National Forest, is also home to Yavapai College, Embry-Riddle University and an extension of Northern Arizona University.

Visit-Prescott.com

Readers’ Choice:

Tombstone, AZ


Best Historic Cemetery of the West

Concordia Cemetery, TX

El Paso’s historic Concordia Cemetery is home to 60,000 beloved—and not so beloved—souls, including the notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. Walk the grounds and remember the heroes, heroines and common folk who rest eternally in Concordia—Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Civil War veterans, early Mormon pioneers and numerous local legends.

ConcordiaCemetery.org

Readers’ Choice:

Boot Hill Cemetery, Dodge City, KS


Best Preserved Historic Fort of the West

Fort Davis National Historic Site, TX

Deep in the heart of Trans-Pecos Texas, Fort Davis National Historic Site is one of the finest examples of Texas frontier forts built in the 1850s to protect travelers between San Antonio and El Paso. In active service to 1891, Fort Davis has been restored and is managed by the National Park Service as a frontier military living history center.

NPS.gov

Readers’ Choice:

Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Fort Laramie, WY


Best Historic Railroad of the West

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Chama, NM/Antonito, CO

Built originally as part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1880, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is one of the most celebrated historic rail lines in the West, and the only one between two states. The Cumbres & Toltec operates from late May to late October, and includes numerous special trains and excursions on the 64-mile line between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. The National Historic Landmark steam-driven train is a thrill ride of spectacular views across the San Juan Mountains and Conejos Valley.

CumbresToltec.com

Readers’ Choice:

Georgetown Loop Railroad Georgetown, CO and
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, CO


Best Preservation of a Historic Western Building

Strater Hotel, Durango, CO

The Strater Hotel in the historic district of Durango, Colorado, is the perfect place to stay when vacationing in the Animas River Valley city made internationally famous by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Opened in 1887, the Strater is a landmark hotel, luxuriously maintained and preserved with antiques throughout the historic inn and its well-appointed rooms. Don’t miss an evening in the Diamond Belle Saloon and dinner in the Mahogany Grill.

Strater.com

Readers’ Choice:

Sheridan Inn, Sheridan, WY


Best Preserved Historic Trail

Chisholm Trail in Texas
Oklahoma and Kansas

The Chisholm Trail was established in 1867 with the first cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas. During the next 18 years, 5 million head of cattle were driven along it from Texas to Kansas. The trail had a great economic impact on the country, and served as backdrop to many Old West legends. In 2017, communities along the route from Southern Texas to Abilene, Kansas, will celebrate the sesquicentennial of the cattle trail that changed the West. Abilene, Kansas, is planning a major event Labor Day Weekend in September 2017.

ChisholmTrail150.org

Readers’ Choice:

Santa Fe Trail


Best Preservation Effort of the West

Dodge City, KS

Known as the “Queen of the Cowtowns,” Dodge City is dedicated to celebrating and preserving its 19th-century history. Start at Dodge City’s Visitor Center and take the historic walking tour of the city. While in Dodge City, don’t miss visiting the Santa Fe Trail Rut Site National Park, the Mueller-Schmidt House and Fort Dodge (Kansas Soldiers Home).

VisitDodgeCity.org

Readers’ Choice:

National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, TX


Best “Who Slept Here” Hotel

Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Springs, CO

Since 1893, the luxurious Hotel Colorado, a “Grande Dame of the Rockies,” has hosted presidents, celebrities and the rich and famous. Today, the Glenwood Springs landmark welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy its famous hospitality, fine dining and relaxing Rocky Mountain atmosphere. A favorite of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the hotel was also frequented by numerous famous and infamous people, including “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Visitors wanting a special treat should request a stay in the Molly Brown Suite.

HotelColorado.com

Readers’ Choice:

The Occidental, Buffalo, WY


Best Heritage Hotel

The Irma Hotel, WY

Built by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1902 and named after his daughter, the Irma Hotel is still “a gem” just outside the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Relax in modern accommodations or choose to stay in historic rooms enjoyed by Frederic Remington, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or Bill Cody, himself. Don’t miss the restaurant and historic saloon with the cherrywood bar, a gift to Cody from Britain’s Queen Victoria.

IrmaHotel.com

Readers’ Choice:

The Strater Hotel, Durango, CO


Best Heritage Bed & Breakfast

Boot Hill Bed & Breakfast, Dodge City, KS

Built in 1927, the Boot Hill Bed & Breakfast is located in the Burr House, a Dutch Colonial Revival brick home on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Located at the top of Boot Hill, it is a wonderful and relaxing place to call home for a few days within easy walking and driving distance of Dodge City’s historic sites and museums.

BootHillDodgeCity.com

Readers’ Choice:

Gandy Dancer Inn, Chama, NM


Best Historic Saloon of the West

Big Nose Kates, Tombstone, AZ

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon stands in the same location as the Grand Hotel built in 1880. The night before the “Gunfight Behind the OK Corral,” on October 26, 1881, Ike Clanton and the two McLaury brothers were guests in the Grand. While the original hotel burned in the great fire of May 25, 1882, the saloon has restored the building, moving  from the basement to the main floor the only bar to survive the fire. So don’t miss a chance to enjoy a cold beverage and meal on the same long bar that hosted the infamous lawmen and outlaws that made Tombstone “the town too tough to die.”

BigNoseKate.com

Readers’ Choice:

Saloon #10, Deadwood, SD


Best Historic Restaurant

Buckhorn Exchange, Denver, CO

Opened in 1893, the Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado’s first liquor license. Back then, Denver railroad workers scrambled every Friday to exchange their paychecks for gold and a token for a free lunch and a beer, which filled the restaurant’s register. Today, the National Historic Landmark welcomes guests to dine at lunch or dinner and enjoy the menu known for its gourmet wild game, buffalo prime rib and classic desserts.

Buckhorn.com

Readers’ Choice:

The Palace Saloon, Prescott, AZ


Best Chuckwagon Cook-off

Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cheyenne, WY

An annual highlight of the world-famous annual Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Chuckwagon Cook-Off celebrates the heritage of chuckwagon cooking on the open range and cattle drives that brought cattle from Texas to Wyoming. The chuckwagon cooks hold demonstrations and tastings for four days leading up to the championship event as part of Cheyenne Frontier Days, two weeks of events held every July.

CFRodeo.com

Readers’ Choice:

Big Horn Heritage Days, Sheridan, WY


Best Chuckwagon Show & Supper

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, Ruidoso, NM

Founded by legendary New Mexico cowboy singer Ray Reed in 1990, the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium has grown from its humble roots in Glencoe, New Mexico, to one of the biggest annual festivals celebrating the cowboy way of life. Held at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino every October, the three days offer visitors world-class cowboy music, a championship chuckwagon cook-off, numerous events for the whole family and a Western Expo with over 110 vendors.

CowboySyposium.com

Readers’ Choice:

National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration, Lubbock, TX


Best Heritage Guest Ranch

White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, AZ

Tucson’s famous White Stallion Guest Ranch welcomes guests with Old West hospitality, hearty Western food, individual casitas and an old-style lodge. Western trail riding still is the best way to enjoy the saguaro-studded desert that surrounds the ranch headquarters, where several Western movies were filmed.

WhiteStallion.com

Readers’ Choice:

Tanque Verde Ranch, Wickenburg, AZ


Best Cowboy Poetry Gathering

National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration, Lubbock, TX

The National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration is held every September in Lubbock, Texas, and is one of the biggest annual events in the West Texas city. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering, with dozens of performers, is one of the centerpieces of the three-day festival, which includes a chuckwagon cook-off, numerous Western, equestrian, cowboy and Native heritage demonstrations, family events, and the ever-popular famous Parade of the Horse.

Cowboy.org

Readers’ Choice:

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, NV


Best Cowboy Music Gathering

Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Gathering, Heber City, UT

In 2017, the Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Gathering will be celebrating its 23rd year at the annual festival in Heber Valley, Utah, in late October. From regional favorite to international stars of Western music and cowboy poetry, the Heber Valley festival has entertainment for all ages, including the Mountain Man Traders Camp, Buckaroo Fair and mounted Shooters events.

HeberValleyCowboyPoetry.com

Readers’ Choice:

Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering & Western Swing Festival
Fort Worth, TX


Best Old West Mounted Re-enactment

Defeat of Jesse James Days
Northfield, MN

Held the first weekend after Labor Day every September in Northfield, Minnesota, the Defeat of Jesse James Days offer a thrill-a-minute mounted re-enactment of the failed James-Younger Gang robbery of Northfield’s First National Bank on September 7, 1876. The three-day event includes programming for all ages, but the highlight every day is the Raid Re-enactment—two on Friday, four on Saturday and two on Sunday—with enough action in every 30-minute show to ensure you leave believing you were there on that fateful day in 1876.

DJJD.org

Readers’ Choice:

Buffalo Soldier Society of New Mexico,
Albuquerque, NM


Best Old West Re-enactment Group

Six Guns & Shady Ladies, El Paso, TX

The El Paso-based troupe Six Guns & Shady Ladies has entertained audiences all across the country since Bernie and Melissa Sargent founded it in 1998. With nearly 50 skits, the Wild West re-enactment group brings humor and history to every show, with thrilling gunfights, including the famous “Four Dead in Five Seconds.”

SixGunsAndShadyLadies.Homestead.com

Readers’ Choice:

Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies, Prescott, AZ


Best Wild West Show

Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, Cody, WY

The Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre’s Buffalo Bill Wild West Show premiered in 2016 in the theatre and has already scheduled its second exciting year for June 21-July 29, 2017, Wednesday to Saturday evenings with a matinee every Saturday. Held in the Historic Cody Theatre in downtown Cody, the musical celebrates Buffalo Bill Cody’s dream of becoming the world’s most famous entertainer, and includes cast members portraying many of the showman’s famous friends, including Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull and Wild Bill Hickok.

CodyWildWestShow.com

Readers’ Choice:

Whiskey Row Shootout, Prescott, AZ


Best Historic Western Rodeo

Pendleton Round-Up, Pendleton, OR

Since 1910, the Pendleton Round-Up has been held in the same location with no in-arena advertising. The Oregon Heritage Culture Event continues as the “epic drama of the West” with its wooden chutes and unique, timed run-down alley.

PendletonRoundUp.com

Readers’ Choice:

The World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, AZ


BOW-HT_William-Henry-Jackson-and-another-man-with-photographic-equipment-on-mountain-near-Yellowstone-Park-WY-1871-1878
William Henry Jackson courageously packed his equipment as high as his horses and mules would take him to record the geology of the region high above Yellowstone Valley for the Hayden Survey. – Courtesy Library of Congress –
BOW-HT_Yosemite-Falls-from-the-south-bank-of-the-Merced-River-by-Charles-L-Weed
Charles Leander Weed was an early Sacramento, California, photographer. Entrepreneur James Hutching brought Weed to Yosemite to be the first photographer to take images of the spectacular valley in June 1859, including Yosemite Falls from the south bank of the Merced River. – Courtesy UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library –

What do you think?

Stuart Rosebrook

As senior editor of True West Magazine, Stuart Rosebrook oversees all editorial covering Old West travel, firearms and books. He has a Ph.D in U.S. History from Arizona State University, and he owns a multimedia communications business, Quo Vadis Communications, based in Iowa City, Iowa.