Beyond museum tours and John Wayne movies, there are still a few Wild West towns to visit in the United States where the bygone era of the 19th century hasn’t vanished yet. Whether hoping to add a few history lessons during your vacation or simply craving a step back in time, Old West towns make for a fun adventure for all ages. Enjoy sightseeing by way of a stagecoach or horseback ride through town, beat the heat with a cool bottle of sarsaparilla at the saloon, and don’t pass up a photo op of friends and family donning cowboy boots and bolo ties.
As you travel out, you might be pleasantly surprised how fun a Wild West vacation might be, and that many ghost towns and attractions aren’t too far from major cities. If this is your first rodeo, don’t worry, we’ve gathered a list of states with the best Old West towns to visit in keeping the cowboy spirit alive. Grab your Stetson and giddy up on a trip out west.
If wide open skies and grazing buffalo aren’t enough of a view, turn your boots to Deadwood, South Dakota, a preserved Old West town just an hour outside the Black Hills National Forest. Deadwood was once famous for its heyday in the gold rush of 1876, as well as its gunslinging history, including the final resting place of outlaws Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The Wild West town lives on today, maintaining its roots with cowboy reenactments, saloons, trading posts, and rodeos. Here, you’ll find a fair mix of family-friendly activities like museums, chocolatiers, and gold mines, with a bit of Deadwood’s lawless charm for adults in casinos, concerts, and breweries.
Before ski resorts and brewery bar stools, Colorado was one of the wildest of the West. A view of the state’s southern plateaus or jagged mountains stirs the images of pioneer wagons and cowboys—fitting, considering Colorado is home to the world’s first rodeo. The state was also a focal point in the country’s gold rush era, a legacy that lives on in Old West towns like Silverton and Durango.
Silverton shines as one of the most uniquely preserved examples of a historic mining town, boasting the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour, stagecoach rides, and saloons alongside the area’s breathtaking mountain views. For more family fun, feast on fudge at the Old Arcade Trading Company or take an old-fashioned group photo at Old Tyme Portrait Parlor. In Durango, grab tickets to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, then revel in some ragtime music or dress up for Cowboy Tuesdays at the Diamond Belle Saloon.
Despite California’s modern reputation for glitz and glamour, there are still places you can steal a glimpse of its Wild West past. About an hour and sixteen minutes north of San Bernadino, you’ll find Calico, a ghost town architecturally restored to reflect its golden days of 1880. The city became a historical national landmark in 2005, featuring ghost town tours, historic buildings, a gift shop, and a Native American goods store. San Diego’s Old Town Mission is a favorite tourist spot and living-history museum. During your stay, step back in time on a walk along 19th-century architecture, open-air markets, and candy shops. Learn about the city’s rich history as you enjoy strolling mariachi bands and incredible traditional Mexican restaurants.
It’s no surprise the Lone Star State has its fair share of Wild West towns and historic sites. While you can find a rodeo or a cowboy bar around almost every corner, there are a few Old West towns that do it best. San Antonio’s Old Town honors its past with twenty-seven 19th-century historic buildings and a market square. Of course, The Alamo is a must-see for history buffs, and its ghost tour offers guests a chilling glimpse of its infamous battle.
Bandera, just an hour's drive from San Antonio, calls itself the Cowboy Capital of the World, and with one look at its downtown area, you’ll see why. This preserved Wild West town keeps history alive with old-fashioned storefronts on Main Street, gunfight reenactments, longhorn tours, and boot-scooting dance halls. Fort Worth also has several old-fashioned attractions, including the Forth Worth Stockyard’s rodeos and the National Cowgirl Museum. Pull on your boots and head out on a horseback ride into the sunset.
Start your morning with a cup of coffee while you wander through Sisters’ quaint, Western false-front style Main Street. This small central-Oregon town offers a chance to admire the mountains as they did in the Old West era. Whether by hiking trail or horseback ride, savor unbeatable mountain views, relax with a day of fishing, and explore the wild, wild wilderness. In town, grab a bite at the Sisters Saloon, indulge in a sweet treat at the Candy Corral, and catch the Annual Sisters Rodeo. Though Sisters is not as commercialized as many other Wild West towns on our list, it’s a prime vacation spot for those looking for a quiet western getaway or to connect a bit more with nature.
It wouldn’t be a proper list of the best of the Old West without mentioning Cody, Wyoming, the rodeo capital of the world, and what is also considered one of the last real cowboy towns of the U.S. Cody rests just an hour outside Yellowstone National Park, making it a perfect add-on to your sightseeing itinerary. During your visit, see the Wild West Spectacular, swing by a rodeo, and check out Buffalo Bill Center of the West's collection of museums, displaying old firearms, stagecoaches, and Native American artifacts. Old Trail Town is also a must-see, outfitted with authentic frontier-style storefronts, saloons, and other ghost town relics.
Further south, Jackson bridges modern and Old West attractions with horse carriage rides through historic Town Square, the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, the Jackson Hole Town Square Shootout, and an impressive shopping scene downtown. Take advantage of your trip out west with a hike through Grand Teton National Park or hit the slopes at Teton Village. For an unforgettable view of the Teton Mountains, stop by the Mormon Row historic site’s rustic wooden homesteads for a peek at the daily life of early settlers.
In Santa Fe, the past is never too far away. The country’s second-oldest city maintains its Spanish and Native American heritage through its pueblo architecture, artisan markets, and collection of museums, like the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. While the locations may be spread out, New Mexico has no shortage of historical sites to see. Head to Taos to check out the Taos Pueblos, tour through Bandelier National Monument, or admire the desert beauty on a horseback ride. Fort Sumner and Las Vegas, NM, make for excellent day trips from Santa Fe, boasting the Billy the Kid Museum (as well as his final resting place) and one of the best-preserved Wild West towns in New Mexico, lined with 19th-century historical buildings.
Just an hour and fifteen minutes from Tucson, you’ll pony into Tombstone, one of Arizona’s last Old West towns and properly nicknamed, “The Town Too Tough To Die.” Tombstone, Arizona, was founded in 1879 as a silver mining town and has preserved many of its historic buildings, transporting guests back in time. Along the downtown area of East Allen Street, you’ll find saloons, restaurants, museums, and characters like cowboys, sheriffs, and proper ladies in full-costumed get-ups.
While in town, catch the famous OK Corral shoot-out reenactment, tour the town by stagecoach, have your little ones pan for gold at the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park, or peruse antique stores and leatherworks for the right souvenir. If you’re feeling brave, book a ghost tour of the storied Bird Cage Theater, or take an evening stroll amongst the shadows of outlaws through the 1878 Boothill Cemetery. Though be warned, you might find more than tumbleweed crossing your path.