Lawlessness and perseverance; gambling and gunfights; gold rushes and saloons. The legends are alive in these Old West attractions.
Some of it is just that: legends. But many of the figures and places really did exist. Those times might be long gone, but the history is still lingering out there – if you know where to look.
If you’ve ever wanted to walk the same streets as Doc Holliday or visit Wild Bill Hickok’s final resting place, you’re in luck. These are the best living history locations, where you can step back in time for a visit to the Old West.
Surely you’ve heard of the O.K. Corral, made famous by the gunfight involving Wyatt Earp, “Doc” Holliday, and the Clantons. You can visit the corral (rebuilt after a fire), which sits in the Tombstone Historic District. You’ll get a feel for life in the old mining town with underground mine experiences, gunfight reenactments on the historic Allen Street, and even paranormal adventures.
The original silver mine is still under the streets of Tombstone, and there are still bullet holes in the walls of the Birdcage Theatre. Many infamous outlaws from the Old West are buried in the cemetery. Horse-drawn stagecoaches are ready to take you for a ride.
Calico Ghost Town, California
Once a thriving Old West mining town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Calico was abandoned in the mid-1890s after silver lost its value. It is now one of the most well-preserved ghost towns. Restorations in the 1950s brought it back to its former glory.
Check out what Calico was like during its peak. Visitors can take a ride on the Calico Odessa Railroad to see historical sites. Or, try your hand at panning for gold in a stream. Tourists are also able to head inside the Maggie Mine, a working silver mine in the 1880s.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood is very much alive these days, with several historic buildings that have been restored to their original Wild West magnificence. Legends like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Wyatt Earp used to roam the streets here. You can still catch them today – in reenactments, of course. Deadwood was where Wild Bill was killed, while playing poker in a saloon, and there is even a reenactment of it in Saloon No. 10.
Take in some history with a narrated tour on a historic stagecoach. Try your hand in a gambling hall. Or, ride a historic steam train through the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota.
South Park City in Fairplay, Colorado
Located in the historic town of Fairplay, South Park City is a reconstructed 19th-century mining town. The open-air museum is composed of 44 restored buildings from the past that were moved here. It started in the 1950s as a way to preserve the buildings. Now, it’s turned into a full-fledged historic experience.
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you explore the saloon, drug store, dentist office, blacksmith shop, homes, and more. There is even a restored narrow-gauge steam engine like the ones used by the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad here in the 19th century.
Old Sacramento, California
Sacramento is actually home to the largest concentration of Gold Rush-era buildings in the United States, and most of them are clustered here in the Old Sacramento Waterfront neighborhood. In terms of history, this Old West town was pretty important – it was the western endpoint of the Pony Express, and where the Transcontinental Railroad was founded. As you can imagine, it was a thriving district.
Visitors can dine aboard the Delta King, a historic riverboat docked on the Sacramento River, or check out the California State Railroad Museum, filled with over 40 engines and railcars. Historic tours will show you the subterranean spaces left behind after the town raised its street level up to combat flooding. And don’t forget to stop by the Hopkins Hardware store for a few fun souvenirs.
Bent’s Fort National Historic Site, La Junta, Colorado
Although Bent’s Fort isn’t an entire town, it deserves a spot on this list. The historic site is a reconstructed 1840s adobe fur trading post, built to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians. The fort was built by William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, to provide a safe, fortified place for trades.
These days, living historians bring it back to life for visitors with guided tours, demonstrations, and special events. Visitors can learn about commercial, social, and cultural contact between different groups of people.
Related: Hidden Treasures in National Parks
Old Trail Town, Wyoming
Old Trail Town is the site where showman William F. Cody, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” founded the town of Cody, Wyoming in 1895. The site now houses a collection of authentic structures and furnishings from around Wyoming and Montana. Historic buildings were actually moved and reassembled with care, setting up an Old West town for visitors to experience.
Included in the buildings are cabins used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There is also a saloon that was once frequented by Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. Many of the buildings here have significant historical value. You’ll find the post office from one of the earliest Wyoming settlements, and the 1897 home of the first mayor of Cody.