If we had a dollar for every time we have heard people remark that there is nothing to see in the middle of the country, we would be rich. While we will usually rebuke their claim, there are times we almost want to keep all of these special places to ourselves. What many don’t realize is that there are some amazing things to see and do all over the Central U.S. Our visit to Dodge City, Kansas is a prime example of this. Many people would never think about putting this Wild West town on their vacation list, but they would be missing out on some unique sights. Let’s take a peek at the Top 13 things we discovered during Dodge City Days 2018.
We want to thank the Dodge City CVB and the local Dodge City businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
1) Step Back In Time
Dodge City is filled with names that most of us will recognize immediately. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and even Marshall Dillon evoke images of gun-toting cowboys strolling down the wooden boardwalks. While the city has grown up, it still maintains some of its western aura that made it so memorable. Throughout the city we found nods to its cow-town past. Being a destination on the Chisholm Trail helped create Dodge City’s rough and rowdy atmosphere in the 1800’s. Some of the unsavory visitors wound up in Boot Hill Cemetery. Be sure to stop in the Visitors Center to pick up a copy of the walking tour guide and then go check out some of the sights.
2) Getting The Inside Scoop
Of course, some may want to see the highlights from the comfort of the Dodge City Trolley. This mode of transport is more comfortable and comes with a built-in tour guide. Our guide, Steve, not only chauffeured us between sights, but also filled the time with informational factoids. He even imparted some colorful tales to his presentation. By the end of our journey, we came away with a better understanding of the background of Dodge City. It certainly made it easier to associate all of the other places we visited in the city’s historical timeline. (You can read more about the trolley here.)
3) The Early Years At Boot Hill Museum
One of the most notable, and easily recognizable, places in Dodge City is Boot Hill. Most of us have grown up seeing movies or television shows that refer to this ominous destination. As children we would play cowboys with the underlying intent of not ending up in the Boot Hill Cemetery. A chance to visit this actual site was truly memorable. The Boot Hill Museum holds a large collection of memorabilia and artifacts from the city’s early years. During your visit, be sure to climb Boot Hill to check out the additional historical displays, as well as the original cemetery site. (You can read more about the Boot Hill Museum here.)
4) Rowdy Visitors
Picture the sun sinking into the horizon and casting long shadows across Front Street in old Dodge City. A small group of deputies gather along the boardwalk in front of the Longbranch Saloon. Down the street a group of rowdy cowboys strut toward the saloon. Fresh from the trail, these men are looking for a chance to spend some of their money on drinks, gambling, and a good time. With sidearms strapped to their legs, there is sure to be a ruckus in town tonight. During the summer months, this scenario is played out for action hungry guests. The engaging drama culminates with a fast action shootout in the streets of Dodge City. This family friendly activity can be found on the grounds of the Boot Hill Museum.
5) They Can-Can Dance
Once the smoke clears, it was time for us to mosey into the Longbranch Saloon to get a peek at why the cowboys were so eager to come to town. The seats must be purchased in advance, which means that if you have a ticket, you will see the show. We joined our table guests as the evening’s frivolity began. Soon everyone was laughing and toe-tapping to the entertainment being brought by this merry band of characters. Be prepared that they engage with the audience and will even invite some members up on stage. (Read more about the gunfight and saloon show here.)
6) Teaching Opportunities
Dodge City’s western roots means that visitors will find some unusual sites during their stay. One that we had to check out was the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame. Now it wouldn’t be odd to visit a site that honored teachers, but it’s the fact that they have combined it with the Gunfighters Wax Museum that adds a touch of the unusual to this place. Our visit started with touring the second floor, which is filled with dioramas detailing some of the famous lawmen, as well as quite a few unsavory characters from the Wild West days. Afterwards, we returned to the main floor to educate ourselves on the history of some of the states most outstanding educators. (You can read more about this dual subject site here.)
7) Spirits Of The Wild West
As we ventured around Dodge City, it seemed like every place we visited had some historical significance. A stop just up the hill from the Boot Hill Museum landed us at Boot Hill Distillery. Housed in the old city hall, the building sits on part of the grounds of the original Boot Hill Cemetery. While there was no discussion of ghosts, we did find some spirits inside. This is the oldest craft distillery in western Kansas, and their small batch approach allows them to have better control over the consistency of their products. A stop in their tasting room gave us a chance to sample some of their wares and we were floored by the smoothness of their products. This is a “must see” for those that appreciate the finer things in life. (You can read more about the distillery here.)
8) Kansas Suds
Speaking of firsts, Dodge City is also home to the first craft brewery in Southwest Kansas. Dodge City Brewing Company is the creation of an award winning home-brewer who wanted to spread the goodness on a larger scale. We dropped in for a lunch break and found they serve up a good selection of brews that even include some from other Kansas breweries. Add in one of their specialty pizza pies and you have the makings of a delicious meal. They also offer tasting size draws for those looking to sample a new brew variety. (You can read more about the brewery here.)
9) Memorable Meals
You knew that eventually the topic of food would come up. Fortunately, Dodge City has plenty of dining options. Being the home to some major stockyards means that beef is quite often the highlight of the menu. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options, as well. We wouldn’t expect to eat a steak or burger at breakfast. (Although some do.) There are plenty of other choices. like the meal we had at Casey’s Cowtown Club. This meal came with a history lesson of the city, as well as a tour of the restaurant. (You can read more about Casey’s here.) While we didn’t feature as many restaurants as usual, we still found lots of variety. Tacos Jalisco is a great Mexican food option. If you are looking for a no-frills burger just drop by Kate’s for lunch or dinner. If you visiting the Boot Hill Museum, you may want to consider experiencing one of their Bull Fry meals. For those a little less brave, it comes with brisket, as well.
10) Morning Starters
Some mornings we find that we need an extra jolt of caffeine. Being Kansas City natives, we were floored to find that Red Beard Coffee serves up Blip coffee. The coffee from this KC roaster is one of our favorites, so you can imagine how happy this made us. (If you want to learn more about Blip Coffee in Kansas City, check out this article.) Besides delectable coffee drinks, we also discovered there are some other imaginative specialty items being served in Dodge City. Choco Fruit serves up rolled ice cream, which is becoming quite a popular version of this frozen dessert. If you prefer the old style ice cream treats, you may want to drop in Paleteria Juaritos for a banana split.
11) Supporting The Locals
Timing our visit during Dodge City Days opened up some unique activities. The annual celebration runs toward the end of July and makes a trip to the city extra special. This ten day festival began in 1960 and celebrates the rich western heritage that sets Dodge City apart. That makes this annual celebration the second largest in the state of Kansas. The highly anticipated Dodge City Parade allows locals and visitors alike an opportunity to mingle in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. We grabbed some coffee at Red Beard and made our way over to the parade route to join the growing crowds. Soon the flashing lights and sirens told us it was approaching. By the time it finished, we were sure that all of the residents of Dodge City had either participated in or watched the parade. There is that much community pride there.
12) Kansas BBQ
Another key event during the Dodge City Days is the Smokin’ Saddles BBQ Contest. This KCBS sanctioned event draws teams from all over the country. With big prize money on the line, everyone is cautiously optimistic. The event is held in Wright Park, which fills with contestants. The day before the main event is filled with a special bbq contest designed to engage the younger crowd.
The Kid’s BBQ Contest has teams of children competing in the same style, but on a slightly smaller scale. Each team chooses a meat to prepare for the judges. While this event is not KCBS sanctioned, the kids still take it seriously. With adult supervision, the kids prep their steak or burger with their own special concoctions, rubs, and spice mixes. Soon the delicious aromas are wafting from the miniature grills, while team members carefully watch over the cooking. There were some amazing looking dishes at the end, so in the future we may have to volunteer to be judges, so we can get a taste. It was obvious that they are grooming the next generation of BBQ champions.
13) Big Name Entertainment
Like most celebrations, there is usually some sort of special entertainment. During Dodge City Days, they draw big name stars that wow the crowds. We had the opportunity to attend the Justin Moore concert at the United Wireless Arena. The show drew in thousands of guests who joined us in the evening of country music. Justin entertained for a couple of hours with the crowd singing along to many familiar hits.
Our trip to Dodge City opened our eyes and minds to some unique sights. As our time there ran out, we realized there was still more that we missed. The list we have compiled here does a good job at scratching the surface of the city, but we are sure there are plenty of other things you will find during your visit. Visiting during Dodge City Days will offer some special events, but there are still plenty of things to do other times of the year. We are betting you will enjoy your Wild West filled adventure to Dodge City. Which of these 13 things look the most appealing to you? Let us know your choices in the comments section below.