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Despite its metropolitan, 21st-century leanings, Denver still retains a good deal of its Old West legacy. Around every corner, you’ll find some remnant of the pioneer era, as the past blends seamlessly into the present. Take some time to explore the city's bygone days by visiting a few of the attractions below.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge supports more than 330 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, offering a peek into life on the plains. American bison were reintroduced to the Refuge, marking the return of an animal that was once a key component of prairie ecosystems and a staple of cowboy and Native American folklore. Visitors will also see mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, great horned owls and a nesting pair of bald eagles.
One of the most famous cowboys ever to put on a pair of spurs, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody epitomized the Old West. After leaving his boyhood home in Leavenworth, Kansas at age 11, Cody went on to become a cattle herder, worked on a wagon train, mined for gold, rode in the Pony Express, scouted for the Army, and traveled the world with his namesake Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows. Upon his request he was buried atop Lookout Mountain, just a short drive from Denver, in 1917. Lookout Mountain's name is well earned: it boasts one of the best views in all of Colorado – and that's saying something!
The Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum opened in 1921 and offers a look into life in the Old West, with exhibits on Buffalo Bill's life, the Wild West shows, Indian artifacts including Sitting Bull's bows and arrows, Western art, and firearms. Each February, the museum hosts a Buffalo Bill Birthday Celebration, featuring costumed volunteers discussing the Native Americans, buffalo and cowboys that were such a vital part of Buffalo Bill's life. While you're in the area, check out the City of Denver's Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve (20 miles west of Denver at I-70, Exit 250), with 40 buffalo in a natural setting – the only city-maintained herd in the country. Afterwards, enjoy downtown Golden, with shops, restaurants and plenty of Old West ambiance.
For decades, Hollywood westerns depicted a Wild West that was populated almost entirely by white people. The Black American West Museum puts this myth to rest permanently by highlighting the prominent role Blacks played in the settlement of Colorado as miners, soldiers, homesteaders, schoolteachers, ranchers, blacksmiths, cowboys and lawmen. This fascinating museum, located in the former home of Colorado's first black woman doctor, hosts countless photographs, artifacts and interactive exhibits that tell the story of the Wild West through a different lens.
On the banks of Cherry Creek, just four miles from Downtown Denver, the true-to-its-name Four Mile Historic Park's pastoral 12 acres feature Denver's oldest standing structure, pioneer exhibits, special events for all ages, and guided tours that transport visitors to Colorado's frontier past. Once a wayside inn and stage stop, the Four Mile House and grounds offer a unique Old West experience. In addition to museum and grounds tours, family activities include annual special events, such as an Old-Fashioned July 4th Celebration; the Great Pumpkin Harvest Festival in October; and traditional holiday festivities during A Colorado Christmas.
A full-size replica of an adobe fur-trade fort with scenic views of downtown Denver, The Fort is an award-winning restaurant that has been featured in the New York Times, Sunset, and Bon Appetit as one of the nation's most recognized establishments. Fare features fine beef, buffalo, game and seafood.
The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver's oldest restaurant, is rich in Colorado history and serves up a unique menu of wild game and steak in a rustic, elegant atmosphere. The menu features steak, buffalo and elk. This historic steakhouse is a must-see for everyone.
Called the "Super Bowl of Cattle Shows," the National Western Stock Show is a Denver tradition, honoring the country's rich Old West heritage. Held every January at the National Western Complex, it is the world's largest stock show – and each year is bigger and better than the last, with more than 15,000 animals, plus rodeo performances, Mexican rodeos, bull riders, horse shows, livestock competitions, auctions and booths selling everything from cowboy boots to Native American jewelry. Don't miss out on this only-in-Denver event.
Since 1974, the heritage of American Indians has been celebrated in Denver every year at the Denver March Powwow, one of the largest events of its kind in the country. The Powwow, taking place every March, features more than 1,600 dancers from close to 100 tribes from 38 states and three Canadian provinces. The three-day event in the Denver Coliseum is packed with singing, dancing, storytelling, food, art and more, ensuring a wonderful experience for everyone.