You may not see cowboys and gunslingers walking the streets of these small American towns, but they embody the true spirit of the Old West. And they’re not all in Texas, either. In no particular order:
1. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The Yampa Valley, including Steamboat Springs, has a long history of rodeo and working ranches that you can still experience today. For an extended ranch stay, try Elk River Guest Ranch or Vista Verde Guest Ranch. Or, if you only have a few hours, move those “little doggies” along on a morning cattle drive at Saddleback Ranch.
Steamboat Springs also hosts several Western-themed events. In June, more than 120 dogs compete here in the National Cattledog Association Finals; in July, the community celebrates the 4th with a hometown parade, rodeo, and parade. Every Friday and Saturday night throughout the summer, cowboys — and cowgirls — saddle up for Pro Rodeo Series events.
2. Bandera, Texas
The self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera has its fair share of rodeos and bull-riding events. Beyond that, it also boasts gunfight reenactments (Saturdays near the Visitors Center), monthly opry performances, chuck wagon dinners at the Flying L Guest Ranch, and an impressive collection of saloons and honkey tonks. Nearby, a dozen guest ranches offer experiences ranging from horseback riding and hunting to golf and tennis. If you have a chance, check out the early pioneer exhibits at the Frontier Times Museum.
3. Cody, Wyoming
How can a town founded by Buffalo Bill Cody be anything but quintessentially Western? Step back in time at Old Trail Town, a collection of historic buildings reassembled onsite to create an authentic Western town. And we can’t say enough, though, about the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a collection of five museum under one roof. Encompassing the Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Plains Indian Museum, and Whitney Western Art Museum, it’s a definite must-see!
4. Ruidoso, New Mexico
Steeped in history — the bloody Lincoln County War was fought in the nearby town of Lincoln and the surrounding countryside — this mountain community exudes a cool Western vibe that would make even John Wayne feel right at home. Here, you can horseback ride over terrain where Billy the Kid and the Regulators once rode, cheer for your favorite quarter horse at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack, or chow down on a hearty steak. If you’re feeling more sophisticated, you can check out the Dale Chihuly display at the Spencer Theater or visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West.
5. Prescott, Arizona
Arizona’s first state capitol was also home to several iconic Western figures, including the Earps, Doc Holliday, and Bucky O’Neill. Today, restaurants and shops line the courthouse square where, almost every weekend during the summer, Prescott holds art shows, vintage car shows, and other events. For a real taste of the Old West, though, duck into The Palace Restaurant and Saloon — part of what’s known as Whiskey Row — and order from a server in period dress. Or, explore the Sharlot Hall Museum, a 4-acre compound just off the square that includes the 1864 Governor’s Mansion.
6. Bozeman, Montana
Don’t be surprised to see ranchers sidling up next to professors from Montana State University in the local bars here. Bozeman is a quirky mix of past and present. You can tour the town’s nine historic districts in the morning, then visit the American Computer Museum in the afternoon. Or, start the day fishing the Yellowstone River or nearby lakes and end it by viewing the art of Bozeman’s esteemed galleries.
To further relive the Old West, there’s also Virginia City, about an hour southwest of Bozeman. The site of the richest placer gold strike in the Rock Mountains, it has hundreds of historic buildings, an extensive artifact collection, and living history interpreters.