Welcome to the Greatest Sport on Dirt! From the make-it-snappy timed-event runs to the high-flying buckers to the fast-running ladies, rodeo is the ultimate showcase of American bravery, skill, and pride.
by Chelsea Toy and Bob Welch
Add pageantry, fair food, and people watching, and you have a unique, world-class entertainment. Plus, regional rodeo seasons follow the sun. Summer rodeos gravitate to the Rockies. Come fall, rodeo cowboys head to the great Northwest. In the winter, the best rodeos are in Texas. And in the spring, it’s off to California. With this in mind, we’ve compiled 12 of the best rodeos from across the West, enlisting local rodeo legends for inside information on their hometowns and hometown rodeos.
Prescott Frontier Days, Inc.
Prescott, Ariz., July 1–7, worldsoldestrodeo.com
Our inside guide: J.C. Trujillo was born and raised in Prescott, Ariz., where he quickly took to bareback riding. He won the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association championship and in 1968 won the intercollegiate title for Arizona State University. As a professional, he qualified for the NFR 12 times and won the world title in 1981. Now, he serves as the general manager of the Prescott Frontier Days.
3 Days in... Prescott
Day 1: “Prescott Frontier Days is one of the most traditional rodeos you’ll go to,” says Trujillo. “It’s known as the world’s oldest rodeo. It was the first rodeo that had a set of rules and charged an entry fee and an admission in 1888, and we believe that was the seed that was planted for professional rodeo.” Come in to town mid-week and on July 4th, and after checking in at your reserved room at the Hassayampa Inn (seriously, call in advance), stop in for lunch at the Gurley Street Grill before heading over to the rodeo arena for the 1:30 p.m. performance. After the last bull bucks, find your way back to the courthouse square for the arts and crafts show followed by fireworks. “Without a doubt, the rodeo and Fourth of July is the biggest event in northern Arizona,” Trujillo says. For dinner, head to Murphy’s and order the amazing prime rib.
Day 2: The next morning, eat breakfast at Arturo’s before exploring the area. “From Prescott, Grand Canyon National Park is only two hours away,” says Trujillo. “But 30 minutes in any direction from Prescott, you’re going to be out in some beautiful country.” Back in town, the Sharlot Hall Museum features seven territorial-era buildings, historic exhibits, and beautiful gardens. And the Library and Archives, open to the public, hold a vast collection of rare books, original documents, historical photographs, maps, and oral histories about northern Arizona. If you’re up for it, the day’s second rodeo performance kicks off at 7:30 p.m. And you don’t want to leave town without eating dinner at the Office Restaurant and Bar.
Day 3: Saturday, July 6 is the big day in Prescott. After a late breakfast at the Waffle Shack, take in the parade, followed by the 1:30 p.m. rodeo perf. Escape the crowds and check out the Phippen Museum. “It’s probably one of the most well-known art museums for cowboy and Western art,” Trujillo says. “It was named after George Phippen, who was the first president of the Cowboy Artists of America. They also have an Arizona Ranch and Rodeo Hall of Fame. They’ve recognized a lot of the area’s ranch and rodeo cowboys who have helped the industry.” (Trujillo himself is among the honored.) Eat a late lunch at the Cattlemen’s Bar and Grill before a visit to the historic Elks Theatre in downtown Prescott, where great Western acts are booked during rodeo week.
California Rodeo, Salinas
Salinas, Calif., July 18–21, carodeo.com
Our inside guide: Kendra Santos, director of communications for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, has deep roots in Salinas. Her sons are the fourth generation never to miss the “Big Week.” In fact, three generations of the Santos family roped at the California Rodeo, Salinas last summer.
3 Days in... Salinas
Day 1: A lot of the cowboys bring their families to Salinas every summer, because of the cool weather—70-degree days are typical. And there are so many fun things to do in the Salinas area, like taking the kids to the beach in nearby Monterey and to the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, only a 30-minute drive. “Salinas has been called America’s Salad Bowl, and the Salinas Contestant Hospitality Tent serves up local fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Santos. “People from other parts of the world, who’ve only known green-picked produce that had to be trucked cross-country, are amazed.” If you’re looking for a great local breakfast, try First Awakenings on Main Street in old town Salinas, which serves all varieties of what they call “crepeggs.” Then there’s the Joaquin Yahoo, a fresh-vegetable frittata.
Day 2: Salinas native John Steinbeck wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath in Salinas. Visit the town’s National Steinbeck Center to learn more. Then stop for lunch at Taquito’s, a mom-and-pop Mexican food place, with good enchiladas and tacos. Bonus for the kids: There’s a pool table in a little room off to the side of the restaurant. Famous Dave’s is a good BBQ joint across Highway 101 in the Westridge Shopping Center. They have standards like ribs and brisket, but the twist is their variety of barbecue sauces that range from tangy and sweet to so hot they might make you cry. Try specials like the Southside Rib Tips or Dave’s Sweetwater Catfish. “If you’re in the mood for a burger, head for the Toro Place Café on Highway 68 toward Monterey,” says Santos. “It used to be an old filling station and is a local favorite.”
Day 3: The Black Bear Diner at the Laurel Inn (across North Main Street from the grounds on West Laurel Drive) is the place for people with a “bulldogger’s appetite.” The Hungry Man New York Steak and Eggs is one of the popular breakfast plates. “My personal favorite there is the hot blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream,” says Santos. The Growers Pub is in an old historic building on Monterey Street famous for its prime rib and skirt steak sandwiches made with fresh sourdough bread. Of course, in addition to the PRCA rodeo, Salinas boasts the rodeo’s Heritage Museum, featuring cowboy poetry readings, mutton bustin’, and cowboy church. Finally, visit Monterey Bay Stables, and go riding on the beach.
Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo
San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Aug. 24–25, rmvrodeo.com
Our inside guide: Blaine Linaweaver has qualified for four NFRs, and has lived in Orange County, Calif., since 2003. The header has roped at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo 10 times, and while he’s never won it, he’s earned a paycheck there every year.
3 Days in... Mission Viejo
Day 1: You’re in Orange County, so treat yourself to three nights in Laguna Beach at the Montage. “It’s pretty spendy, but it’s the nicest place you can stay,” Linaweaver says. “It’s high-end and has everything you could want. Enjoy the ocean and visit the boardwalk in San Clemente and Newport Beach.” Spend the first day of your trip taking in the beaches, since Rancho Mission Viejo is only a two-day rodeo. You’re only a few hours north of the border, so make sure you indulge in some real Mexican food. Carmelita’s in Laguna Beach is known for their authentic dishes and great margaritas. Eat dinner at the Montage’s Loft restaurant, overlooking the Pacific, for a comfortable but classy dinner.
Day 2: In San Juan Capistrano, spend the day walking the streets wearing your cowboy hat. “San Juan Capistrano is a cowboy town, as far as Southern California goes,” Linaweaver says. Have breakfast at the Ramos House—they’ve got great mimosas, Linaweaver says. Rancho Mission Viejo is an actual working cattle ranch, so the town is full of cowboy culture. Shop local along Antonio Parkway then head to Bad to the Bone BBQ for the best barbecue in the state. All the cowboys look forward to eating there during the two-day rodeo. After the first performance, there’s a dance and concert; this year features Chancey Williams and The Younger Brothers Band.
Day 3: The rodeo starts earlier on Sunday, so get breakfast at the hotel then get to the arena. “You won’t want to miss either performance of the rodeo,” Linaweaver says. “It’s got the top 30 cowboys in the world competing for so much money towards the end of the season, so you’ll see the best of the best.” The cowboys will all be in good spirits, too, because the rodeo committee at San Juan Capistrano takes good care of its cowboys, with buffets of food and an open bar. “If you want to go out after the rodeo, head to The Swallow,” Linaweaver says. It’s a great local watering hole where the cowboys congregate.
Greeley, Colo., June 27–July 7, greeleystampede.org
Our inside guide: Casey Colletti has qualified for the last two National Finals Rodeos in bareback riding. A Pueblo, Colo., native, he has made the trip north to the Greeley Stampede for the last seven years.
3 Days in... Greeley
Day 1: When you’re driving north from the Denver International Airport, stop at Johnson’s Corner directly off I-25 in Johnstown, Colo., for their famous cinnamon rolls. Then head straight to Greeley Hat Works, a Greeley staple where they’ve been making cowboy hats since 1909. “They’re the best hats you can get, and Greeley Hat Works supports so much that goes on in town,” says Colletti. “Stop and see Trent, the owner, and he’ll get you a great-fitting hat.” Then head to the rodeo grounds, where there are live bands and a full carnival going on at the fairgrounds. Take in the rows of fair concessions, and enjoy a roasted turkey leg while walking through the midway. After the rodeo, lay your head at the Currier Inn, a comfortable, country bed and breakfast.
Day 2: Head to Randy’s All-American Grill for a hearty breakfast in town. You’ll need it for the trek west up to Estes Park and a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park, less than an hour’s drive from Greeley. “Estes Park has all of the deer and elk,” says Colletti. “I’m a mountain guy—I’m in the mountains building fence right now, actually—so you’ll want to spend a day up there.” When you drive back down into Greeley, swing by the Cheba Hut for dinner, Colletti’s favorite place in town. “Where else in the country can you drink Kool-Aid with your sub?!” he raves. After the rodeo, catch a concert in the grandstands by top country and rock acts then dance to any of the live music played at the free stage behind the arena.
Day 3: Wake up and eat at the Currier Inn then drive north to Fort Collins and stroll up and down College Avenue. Shop at boutiques and eat lunch at Colorado’s famous pizza chain, Beau Jo’s, where they provide amazing honey for your crusts. Then spend some dough on the latest cowboy gear at Fort Collins’ Boot Barn. After you’re done shopping, cross I-25, and visit Bruce’s in Severence, Colo., just south of Greeley. It’s the place for Rocky Mountain Oysters. “Any day you go to the rodeo is great,” says Colletti. “Because all of the best are traveling up and down the road so much over the Fourth. I’ll be in at least eight states [over the Fourth of July weekend], I’m getting pumped up just thinking about it.”
Dodge City Roundup
Dodge City, Kans., July 31–Aug. 4, dodgecityroundup.org
Our inside guide: The 2009 World Champion header Nick Sartain has roped at the Dodge City Roundup for 13 years. As one of the biggest rodeos on the Prairie Circuit, Dodge City is a necessary stop in Sartain’s late-summer run; he’s won thousands in this arena.
3 Days in... Dodge City
Day 1: Check into the historic Dodge House Hotel, the rodeo’s host hotel. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Dodge City, and Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday have slept there. “Take your kids to the Boot Hill Museum so they can learn about the Old West,” Sartain says. You can easily spend a half-day at the museum, which features a dinner show, old-time photograph parlor, and general store, in addition to the museum’s 60,000-plus historical objects, photographs, and documents. Have a steak dinner at the Cowtown Club before heading over to the rodeo grounds for the night’s performance.
Day 2: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel then watch a gunfight reenactment at the Boot Hill. Learn about some legendary hands at the Kansas Cowboys Hall of Fame, and take a walking tour of the Dodge City Trail of Fame to take in historic downtown Dodge. “The people in Dodge City are great farm and ranch people, so everyone will be really friendly,” Sartain says. “You’ve got to eat at El Charro’s. It’s the best food in town.” Nine miles west of town are the Santa Fe Trail Tracks, wagon ruts left by pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail. Get out of the heat and enjoy a narrated tour of Dodge City’s historical sites and Kansas’ cattle industry with an air-conditioned trolley ride with Dodge City Trolley. For evening entertainment, try your luck at the Boot Hill Casino.
Day 3: Wake up and start your day with pancakes at the Golden Pancake House on Wyatt Earp Boulevard. Then take some time to check out the Cattle Feedlot Overlook, so you can compare the cattle industry history you saw at the museum with the industry today. Grab lunch at the Dodge House restaurant, then head over to the rodeo grounds early to see the hustle and bustle of the cowboys and stock contractors getting ready for the evening’s performance. “Dodge City is a tour rodeo, so it’s one of the bigger rodeos of the summer. All the best guys who are rodeoing hard and trying to make the Finals will be there,” Sartain says.
Home of Champions Rodeo
Red Lodge, Mont., July 2–4, redlodgerodeo.com
Our inside guide: Saddle bronc rider Dan Mortensen is no stranger to the NFR. He won the world title in his signature event a record-tying six times. He also won the all-around title in 1997. Upon his retirement in 2008, he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. He still hangs his hat in Billings, Mont., just 30 minutes from Red Lodge.
3 Days in... Red Lodge
Day 1: “Rodeo cowboys try to work Red Lodge, Livingston, and Cody, so those three rodeos work together on their performance times so cowboys can get to all three,” says Mortensen. At the base of the Beartooth Mountains, Red Lodge is arguably the most scenic, with Rock Creek running right through town—cold, crystal clear, and running fast—with great fishing. Rock Creek Resort, just outside of town, is the place to stay. For lunch, try Bogart’s. “They’ve got great pizza and Mexican food, especially for this part of the country, and they serve some great margaritas,” Mortensen says. After the rodeo, head 15 miles down Highway 308 to the Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse Pig Races. Enjoy a great steak, cold beer, and place your bets on the little porkers.
Day 2: Drive the Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212) into the mountains and Custer National Forest. “It’s got a whole bunch of switchbacks as it climbs up, then you drop over into Cooke City, and then you’re right at Yellowstone Park.” Once in Cooke City, grab a bite to eat at the Soda Butte Lodge. By then, you’ve gone about 60 miles from Red Lodge. Turn around and go back, or keep heading toward Yellowstone National Park. (The park’s Grand Loop Road is amazing.) If you veer north on Hwy 89, Livingston emerges in about an hour, then head back east along I-90 another 75 miles through Big Timber, and, at Columbus, head south on Highway 78 for another 25 miles to Roscoe and the Grizzly Bar Steakhouse. You’ve had a long day on the road, so a big steak and a fine Montana microbrew are your welcome reward.
Day 3: Start the Fourth of July off with breakfast at the Kiva Restaurant before enjoying the festivities in town. Take in the traditional Fourth of July Parade then grab some lunch at the Red Box Car. It’s Red Lodge’s most unique fast food restaurant, nestled within an actual 100-year-old boxcar. “I remember going there as a kid,” Mortensen says. “They’ve got burgers and ice cream.” You might also want to check out the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum, where the Greenough Rodeo Collection is on display. The rodeo starts early that day—at 3 p.m.—and you’ll want to be in the stands for the final performance. After it’s over, the crowds spill into the streets for a Fourth of July celebration. For a nice meal, try the Carbon County Steakhouse then the Bull and Bear Saloon for evening entertainment.
Reno, Nev., June 20–29, renorodeo.com
Our inside guide: A native of Winnemucca, Nev., Bob Tallman has announced the Reno Rodeo since 1976 and is one of the most decorated and well-traveled rodeo announcers in the business. He’s called the action at 14 National Finals Rodeos, been the PRCA’s “announcer of the year” eight times, and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2004. (His grandfather served as a Nevada state senator and governor in the 1940s.)
3 Days in... Reno
Day 1: The Reno Rodeo began in 1919 and won the PRCA’s award for Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year in 1997. “Reno Rodeo is one of the most progressive rodeos on the planet. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Tallman says. “If you buy a ticket, you’re going to watch a very impressive grand entry—there are 52 girls that ride in every performance—then you’ll see a great rodeo. Every world champion will be there at one point or another.” Down the interstate from the rodeo, John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel and Casino ( a long-time supporter of the rodeo) is the place to stay. After a lunch at the Little Nugget Diner downtown, head to the grounds early for the carnival. After the performance, head over to the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino for a chance to rub shoulders with the cowboys, pull the one-armed bandit, or roll some dice.
Day 2: The next morning, grab some grub at Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs before heading up the mountains for a day at North Lake Tahoe. There you’ll find golf, biking, hiking, water sports, beaches, and lake and river fishing. After a late lunch at Jason’s Landing and Beachside Grille in King’s Beach, hop in the car and head back to “The Biggest Little City in the World” via Carson City. “Drive down through Washoe Valley and Carson Valley for beautiful old pristine ranching valleys,” Tallman says. “But be careful, if the speed limit is 55 and you’re going 56 you’re getting a ticket.” Then dine at 4th Street Bistro in Reno, where much of the menu is locally grown.
Day 3: “It’s an old town with a new, modern, high-tech way of life,” Tallman says. “You want to watch the sunrise one day and watch the sunset the next. You can stay up way too late and have way too much fun in Reno.” After a long night, fuel up with a big breakfast at Midtown Eats; their Bloody Mary’s will cure what ails you. Catch a Reno Aces minor league baseball game. Or if it’s too hot, Reno has world-class bowling lanes at several of the casinos, and Reno’s National Bowling Stadium is shaped like a bowling ball. The Reno Air Races (Sept. 11–15) and Hot August Nights (Aug. 6–11) classic car shows are great fun and, of course, so is the skiing around Lake Tahoe come winter.
Pendleton, Ore., Sept. 11–14, pendletonroundup.com
Our inside guide: Butch Knowles grew up in nearby Hermiston, Ore., and has been entering the Pendleton Round-Up since 1974—first as a roughstock cowboy and now as a team roper. Knowles went to four NFRs and won the saddle bronc riding title in 1987. Today, he calls the NFR action for Great American Country and broadcasts other rodeos. And he still ranches with his family, including NFR steer wrestling son, Blake.
3 Days in... Pendleton
Day 1: About Pendleton’s huge grass arena, Knowles says: “As a contestant, nothing is like it anywhere else. It’s just like stepping back in time when you compete here; there’s no advertising in the arena and there’s a track around the infield. Not much has changed in 100 years at the Round-Up. The timed events are really unique, with big, long scores out on the grass. There’s no room for the faint of heart. You’ve got to cowboy up to win something here.” Stay at The Wildhorse Hotel and Casino, but make sure to book early. The rodeo grounds are within walking distance of downtown, and Main Street shuts down for rodeo week. There’s always fair fare, but the Rainbow Tavern is special, and don’t miss the infamous Let ’er Buck Room. Then visit Hamley & Co., a saddle shop full of rich history and tempting tack.
Day 2: After a breakfast at the Main Street Diner, make Friday a history day. At 10 a.m., the Westward Ho! Parade kicks off and features no mechanized entrants. “You’re either horseback, in a horse-drawn wagon, or afoot,” says Knowles. Follow many of the parade entrants over to the rodeo grounds and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Village. Check out authentic American Indian wares, and grab lunch while you’re there before the rodeo performance. Afterward, be sure to enjoy the Happy Canyon Night Show, a play that depicts the American Indian and white settler history of the area. Grab some dinner from one of the many vendors near the grounds, and end the evening at Goldie’s Bar.
Day 3: For breakfast, head back over toward the rodeo grounds for the Cowboy Breakfast. It’s held every morning just off the grounds and is open to anybody and everybody; order the big ham, egg, and pancake meal. The Round-Up Pow Wow Dance Competition is a must and so are the subterranean Pendleton Underground Tours. “In the 1800s there was a lot of Chinese labor in Pendleton working the railroads and mines,” says Knowles. “They weren’t allowed to be outside at night, so they built a complete town underneath Pendleton.” For lunch, try The Prodigal Son, a microbrewery in historic downtown. And don’t forget to swing by Roy Raley Park to check out the vendors and exhibits there before finishing the trip with more great steak at Stetson’s Steakhouse.
Days of ’76 Rodeo
Deadwood, S.D., July 23–27, daysof76.com
Our inside guide: Steve Sutton is a fourth-generation co-owner of Sutton Rodeo Co., based in Onida, S.D. He’s been an NFR pickup man for three decades and has been attending and bringing stock to the Days of ’76 Rodeo since he was 5.
3 Days in... Deadwood
Day 1: “When we’re in town for the rodeo, we always stay at Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort. They’re great supporters of the rodeo, and they’re right across the street from the rodeo grounds,” Sutton says. “The parking is tight in Deadwood, so if you stay there, you can walk everywhere all weekend.” The Days of ’76 Rodeo began in 1924 as a way to celebrate Deadwood’s pioneer history, and has since won 13 Medium Outdoor Rodeo of the Year awards, given by the PRCA at the NFR each year. “You’ll want to spend a day at the Days of ’76 Museum, which has everything from wagons and carriages used in the first rodeo parades to photos and artifacts from the rodeo’s history,” Sutton says. For dinner, don’t miss the rodeo’s concession-stand food underneath the grandstands, a summertime must in Deadwood.
Day 2: After breakfast, head south on Hwy 385 towards Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Drive through Custer State Park, where you can see American Bison roaming some of the West’s most iconic land. Loop back up through the Black Hills National Forest. “I told Trevor Brazile if he had time, Sutton Rodeo would send his family on a tour of the region so they could see everything we’ve got up here,” Sutton says. “Within an hour you can see some of the best the West has to offer.” Get back to the hotel in time to change into your pink apparel, though, because the second performance is always Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night in Deadwood. Afterwards, head to the Old #10 Saloon to have a drink with some of the best cowboys in the PRCA.
Day 3: Grab a quick breakfast in town while you wait for the Days of ’76 parade. Then spend your day in town, which is filled with boutiques that celebrate Deadwood’s cowboy heritage. And spend the cash you’ve got left at any one of the town’s casinos, like Mineral Palace or The Lodge. “It’s a mini Las Vegas,” Sutton says. “Before gambling was legal anywhere else in South Dakota, people would go to Deadwood five or six times a year.” Then head to the last performance of the rodeo. “I don’t think there’s a cowboy who’s been in the top 20 in the world who doesn’t enter Deadwood, and most of them stay in Deadwood and then go back and forth to Cheyenne with their families. It’s hot in Texas that time of year, and in Deadwood, you might even need a jacket at night.”
San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 6–23, 2014, sarodeo.com
Our inside guide: Mike Piland has spent the last 50 years of his life in south Texas. In 1991, he and several other men started Cactus Ropes, now the official rope of the PRCA. Piland’s rope shop is located in Pleasanton, just 30 minutes south of the hustle and bustle of San Antonio.
3 Days in... San Antonio
Day 1: “Houston is a concert with a rodeo, whereas San Antonio is a rodeo with a concert,” quips Piland. “We win the Large Indoor Rodeo award pretty much every year. It’s definitely the best one.” Make your reservations for the historic Gunter Hotel downtown, where many of the original trail drives got organized. “It’s very interesting to go see all those old pictures on the wall,” says Piland. Learn all about south Texas culture and history at the Alamo then stroll along Riverwalk and lunch at the Zuni Grill. Take the Mission Trail Tour and learn about San Antonio’s four other Spanish missions as well. On your way out to the AT&T Center and the rodeo performance, grab a burger at Sam’s Burger Joint.
Day 2: Take a day trip south to the historic King Ranch, only 150 miles away. You’ll pass through Piland’s hometown of Pleasanton on the way, the “birthplace of the cowboy.” Consider swinging over to the calm beaches of South Padre Island before heading back to San Antonio. If you decide to head north, a 100-mile loop through the Texas Hill Country is a relaxing way to spend the day. Check out the Natural Bridge Caverns and the Bracken Bat Flight. As night falls, head into the small burgh of Gruene for a chicken-fried steak and Shiner Bock at the Gristmill River Restaurant. Across the lawn, the historic Gruene Hall showcases a different Texas country music legend or rising star nearly every night. “George Strait got his start up there at Gruene Hall,” says Piland. “It still looks like it did at the turn of the century.”
Day 3: Head over to Mi Tierra for the huevos rancheros—the place never closes and features the most unique décor in the city. Take a quick stroll through El Mercado, just around the corner from Mi Tierra, for some fun shopping. And the Alamo Quarry Market features many high-end shops, including the Lucchese Boot Company. Depending on your schedule, there’s also Six Flags, Sea World, and the Witte Museum to satisfy your entire family. Enjoy an early steak dinner back on the river at the Little Rhein before catching one last performance of the rodeo.
Ellensburg, Wash., Aug. 30–Sept. 2, ellensburgrodeo.com
Our inside guide: Brady Minor has qualified for four NFRs and calls Ellensburg home. His grandfather, Buck Minor, sat on the Ellensburg Rodeo committee for 35 years and was inducted into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2007.
3 Days in... Ellensburg
Day 1: “The Ellensburg Rodeo is one of those historic rodeos that everyone looks forward to,” Minor says. “It’s over Labor Day Weekend, so fans come from everywhere in the country to see it. All of the cowboys need to be there, too, because it’s the Justin Boots Playoffs.” Get to Ellensburg a day before the rodeo starts so you can see the WestStar Roping, a team and calf roping that draws the country’s best. Kids will love the Frontier Village, a turn-of-the-century town where they can step back in time and pan for gold, eat penny-candy, and try sasparilla soda. Hit the Roadhouse Bar and Grill for happy hour and a steak dinner. Call it a night and check into the Holiday Inn Express, one of the rodeo’s sponsors.
Day 2: “You’ve got to eat breakfast at the Palace Café,” Minor says. “They’ve got the best eggs Benedict you’ll ever have.” Then hop in the car and spend part of the day on the Columbia River in Vantage, Wash., where lots of cowboys will be jet skiing. Make sure you bring your camera as the views are breathtaking! “When you get back to Ellensburg, go to the Starlight for a fancier dinner. My wife loves their martinis,” Minor says. Head to the rodeo grounds for the performance, where you’ll see chuckwagon races in addition to the regular rodeo events.
Day 3: Get up in time to eat a pancake breakfast downtown, then catch the timed-event slack at the rodeo grounds to get an up-close-and-personal look at events in a low-key setting. “Go to Campus U-Tote-Em, my favorite burger joint in town, for lunch,” Minor advises. “You can walk to it from the fairgrounds, and all the guys eat there.” The Saturday night of the rodeo is the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale, so watch the best compete. After the rodeo, head to Bleachers Sports Pub & Grill next to the fairgrounds. “If you’ve got your kids, you can bring them, because it’s a safe place and good for the family, but it’s got great specials, too,” Minor says.
Cheyenne Frontier Days
Cheyenne, Wyo., July 19–28, cfdrodeo.com
Our inside guide: Jhett Johnson is the 2011 World Champion Heeler and has lived in Wyoming all of his life. The Casper native has roped at the Cheyenne Frontier Days for years and always brings his whole family to the show.
3 Days in... Cheyenne
Day 1: On your way into Cheyenne from the south on I-25, stop at the Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center to kick-start your stay. “If you like the timed events, get to the rodeo grounds for slack so you can see 30 to 40 of the best contestants in each event compete without a crowd or fanfare, just pure rodeo,” Johnson says. From there, head into town and grab lunch with the locals at The Albany, open since 1924. If you have time, go on a scavenger hunt for the eight-foot-tall cowboy boots located around Cheyenne. Local artists painted them with images depicting Wyoming’s history. Take a cell phone audio tour of the big boots by calling, 307-316-0067. Back at the fairgrounds, take the family to the carnival at Frontier Park before catching the 116th “Daddy of ’Em All.”
Day 2: After spending the night at the historic Plains Hotel, make your way to the Free Pancake Breakfast at Cheyenne Depot Square. “You’ll want to spend a day shopping downtown then, too. There’s a ton of stores, and of course Boot Barn, to get everything you need,” Johnson says. For everything cowboy, try Wyoming Home. Get a history lesson at the Old West Museum, which has an extensive collection of artifacts, children’s programming, and a walking trail. “You’re going to want to have rodeo tickets for every night you’re in town, because the best in the world are always at Cheyenne,” says Johnson. Watch everything from the famous Wild Horse Races to rodeo clowns. Then at Cadillac Ranch, south of town, have a cold one with some top cowboys.
Day 3: Get to the rodeo grounds early to spend the day at Wild Horse Gulch, which highlights Western merchants and artisans in an Old West-style village. Eat some kettle corn and then make your way to the Indian Village to learn the history of the American Indians from the region. Book your concert tickets in advance, and be sure to catch a show. “You’ve got to see at least one concert while you’re in Cheyenne. There’s plenty of great music you won’t want to miss,” Johnson says. This year’s concert lineup includes Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam, Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Toby Keith.
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