Cheyenne has close ties to The Wild West, so much that every summer since 1897 the city has roped in “The Daddy of ‘Em All." Translation: every July, the city hosts Cheyenne Frontier Days, a two-week extravaganza featuring the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration.
Held at Frontier Park, the main attraction of this bonanza is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo where nearly 1,500 contestants from different parts of the country come to Cheyenne to participate in various rodeo competitions for cash awards and other prizes. Category events extend from roping, barrel racing, and steer wrestling, to bull, bareback and saddle bronc riding. It's never too early to plan for the next event on July 22-31, 2016, or July 21-30 in 2017.
Visitors can tell when the Cheyenne Frontier Days is in full swing. Along with the rodeo, there are many ongoing celebrations recognizing Cheyenne’s history and honoring its community. Head downtown to watch an ongoing set of four Grand Parades, featuring a procession of marching bands, state officials on horseback, military personnel, and floats replicating symbols of Cheyenne’s past. Additional festivities include a carnival, massive pancake breakfasts, and an air show by the USAF Thunderbirds.
Now, back to the rodeo. If you’ve never been to one before, a free daily “Behind the Chutes” tour gives you an insiders’ look, bringing you all around the arena and down to the chutes where riders, bulls, and broncs emerge from, as well as near the place where the contestants get ready. You can also explore Old Frontier Town, a replica of a village complete with storefronts, and watch a demonstration of dances and storytelling by American Indian performers inside the Indian Village. If you’re looking for a the perfect souvenir or accessory to complete your Western look, you’ll find many well-stocked vendor tents in Frontier Park.
Nights at Cheyenne Frontier Days are buzzing with entertainment as well. The Frontier Nights series features concerts by major headliners, where advanced ticket purchases are a must. The 2015 lineup says it all: Aerosmith, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, and Big and Rich.
While the Cheyenne Frontier Days are a great time to visit, here are some ways to get a good sense of Cheyenne’s western legacy any time of year.
Ride a historic trolley tour
Walking about downtown Cheyenne is pretty easy, but the best way to get your sense of direction—and learn some history—is by going on a trolley tour. Departing from the Cheyenne Depot, the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley takes you on a ride through the city’s various districts. Your driver/guide excitedly shares tidbits and tales about Cheyenne’s beginnings as a base on the western expansion route for the Union Pacific Railroad and its early days as a bit of a rough and rumble place. The city's past also includes time as a boomtown for the cattle industry, as barons built their mansions along a section of downtown Cheyenne called Millionaire’s Row that sadly became a municipal lot. You might also hear about Wyoming being unique in giving ladies a lot of firsts: It’s the first state to permit women to vote, own property, and even hold public office—and home to the first female governor, too. On my tour, we stopped at venues like the Capitol Building, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, and Frontier Park.
Shop for western gear
When in search of the perfect cowboy hat or a neat Western souvenir, downtown Cheyenne offers a number of options. Visit The Wrangler, home to a heavy selection of cowboy hats plus a ton of boots, belts, bejeweled jeans, and other frontier attire. Customer service is great, too, as the store employees will work with you to make sure your hat or boots fit just right, and hat brims can be adjusted by going through a steaming process. If décor is more your thing, Wyoming Home has furnishings that fit a frontier taste, from bedding and house fixtures to jewelry and knickknacks plus edible treats. For the ladies, Just Dandy carries women’s fashions and accessories.
Get out into nature
Wyoming may be known for its views of the prairie, but there’s a lot more to the scenery. Head west from Cheyenne to see Vedauwoo, a recreation area that is a 30-minute drive from the city. Vedauwoo has impressive rock formations that cautious climbers and experienced ramblers can walk around or step up or pull themselves up on. The formations consist of Sherman Granite dating back to 1.4 billion years ago. Another great outdoor option is Curt Gowdy State Park located about 25 miles from Cheyenne. Named for the late sportscaster and Wyoming native, this state park has 35 miles of hiking and biking trails at various rated levels, plus sections for horseback riding and even archery. It’s pretty rich in flora and fauna too with various plants and flowers along your route. Start off your day with a stop at the park’s visitor center to pick up a map or learn more about the area.
When en route back to Cheyenne from Curt Gowdy State Park, fulfill the appetite you’ve built up at a family-friendly institution, The Bunkhouse Bar. Complimented by a saloon décor, the menu here is all about comfort food specialties: chicken fried steak, various sandwiches, and burgers. And of course while in Wyoming, horseback riding is a must. Terry Bison Ranch is a good place to do so. The ranch offers one-hour or full-day trail rides with slight hill climbs. Before or after your ride, get some grub at the ranch’s Senator’s Restaurant. I had the Bison burger, which comes just about any topping to choose from and tasted quite nice.
Grab some local grub
In Cheyenne, finding a good steakhouse or laidback barbecue joint is pretty easy. Yet if you’re seeking a bit more formal atmosphere, you have options, too. At the Rib and Chop House, a local restaurant chain with a location in downtown Cheyenne, you can order falling-off-the-bone tender baby back ribs or premium cuts. If you’re seeking a different flavor, Morris House Bistro is all about lowcountry cooking. Based in the former home of Wyoming’s first female Justice of the Peace, this bistro serves up Southern dishes inspired by the head chef’s family recipes with added Wyoming ingredients.
Inside the Historic Plains Hotel, the Capitol Grille is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serves fine Wyoming local ingredients and beef in all their dishes. After eating, take a peek inside the hotel lobby and look straight up at its celestial ceiling. Its design shows the order of the planets around the time of the hotel’s opening in 1911 as Wyoming’s first luxury property.
Craft beer in Cheyenne has been booming lately. One of the best places to go is Freedom’s Edge Tap House Brewing Co., which produces inventive, small-batch suds at its location inside The Tivoli Building, which operated as a saloon back in its heyday. There, you can order a glass or flight of on-tap creations such as Java Jolt Coffee Amber ale or the spicy High Noon Chili ale. At the Depot, Cheyenne Brewing Company is part bar, part restaurant with about five original company beers alongside other tap and bottled ones, cocktails, and wines.
Looking for crafty cocktails? Head to The Suite Bistro for flavored martinis like the WY Campfire, a marshmallow vodka and Kahlua mixture, to go with their fine dining menu. And to close out the night in Cheyenne, head to The Outlaw Saloon. With a main dance floor, pool tables and dartboards plus an outdoor backyard setting with a stage, and even a mechanical bull, you’ll be quite entertained.
This article was written by Michele Herrmann, a travel and lifestyle writer/editor who contributes destination features and travel advice pieces to various media outlets. To date, the farthest she's ventured to is Fiji, along with much of Europe and a good deal within the U.S. For more travel stories, check out her blog, She Is Going Places.