The American Wild West is featured so often in Hollywood films and on TV that many of us feel like we know it very well – the cowboys, the gun fights, the drinking establishments, the horses and wagons…
The Wild West was so named for the lawlessness of the untamed territories west of the Mississippi River in the late 19th century. The ‘Old West’ was famous for cowboys, native Indians, pioneers, gamblers, outlaws, gangs and gunfighters. Famous people of the Wild West include Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Frank and Jesse James and the Clanton gang.
And until this day the obsession with the Wild West remains strong. For many people it is an important reason for wanting to travel to the USA. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah receive countless tourists each year looking for that Wild West travel experience.
So, if you thought your childhood dreams of being a cowboy were now impossible, then think again! These are five places you need to add to your bucket list if you love the idea of experiencing the Wild, Wild West:
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Exploring the Grand Canyon in Arizona will make you feel like you’re an actual cowboy or cowgirl, as it’s an iconic spot used heavily in the western movie genre. Hiking through Grand Canyon’s massive expanse of gorges, ridges and rock formations is definitely something you will remember forever.
Whilst there, you can live your Old West dream and try your hand at horse riding. Visit nearby Horseshoe Bend, one of the most photographed areas on the Colorado River, and an absolutely incredible sight. Or travel east to take a backroads tour of Monument Valley with a Navajo guide when you book your trip with a specialist tour operator like Grand American Adventures. Drive North into Utah to find the towering stone structures in Arches National Park which are so incredibly photogenic.
2. New Mexico
Don your best cowboy boots and visit the Old West towns in New Mexico. With plenty of hiking opportunities, picturesque foothills and old mining pits, any Wild West enthusiast could spend days exploring this part of the USA.
Its past reputation as a lawless state means that many notorious Wild West legends lived and died in New Mexico: Billy the Kid was killed and buried in Fort Sumner and train robber Black Jack Ketchum was accidentally decapitated in a hanging-gone-wrong in Clayton.
Other New Mexico towns worth visiting for that Wild West experience include:
- Las Vegas – the filming location of tens of movies and completely different from its namesake in Nevada
- Lincoln – site of the violent Lincoln County War
- Mesilla – where Billy the Kid was sentenced to death
- White Oaks – once a booming mining town and now a ghost town
And while you are in New Mexico the famous Route 66 of course can’t be missed!
3. Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Located in Wyoming, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a complex of five museums and a research library filled with artwork and artefacts of the American West.
You could spend days exploring all the collections, stories and exhibitions that work hard to truly bring the Wild West to life for its visitors– giving you a real taste of what it was like in those times.
4. Grand Canyon Railway
Take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway for a trip back in time. The lovingly restored rail cars ooze 1920s grandeur and the scenery you can admire during the ride is unrivalled. When you board this impressive Old West train, you get to experience the same journey people from all over the world have taken since the 1900s.
The Grand Canyon Railway operates between Williams, Arizona, and Grand Canyon National Park South Rim.
5. Goldfield Ghost Town
The Goldfield Ghost Town in Arizona is much like the set of a spaghetti western. Film buffs will definitely be in their element on a visit here!
The Goldfield Ghost Town is a reconstructed 1890s town including gold-mine tours, Old West gunfights and a history museum.
From the historic buildings, shooting gallery, antique train and goldmines to the staged gunfights by the Goldfield Gunfighters, you can live out your cowboy or cowgirl dream here! You can even enjoy a delicious steak in the local saloon, complete with authentic décor that harks back to your favorite era.