In the 1870s Dodge City surged to prominence, becoming the “Queen of the Cowtowns”, as a terminal for cattle drives from Texas via the Chisholm Trail.
Some 150 years later, cattle are still a backbone of the local economy, as you’ll see at the vast spread of feedlots visible from the southeast side of town.
Dodge City’s infamy harks back to those boomtown days when Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) had a busy few years as a lawman here.
Other cultural contributions, like the expression, “Get the hell out of Dodge”, come from the long-running radio and TV series Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955 to 1975.
In Dodge City, real history merges with legend, along the Dodge City Trail of Fame and at the Boot Hill Museum, which will drop you into an Old West town, in the company of can-can dancers and gunslingers.
1. Boot Hill Museum
Dodge City’s top attraction is an outdoor museum documenting the early settlement’s gunslinging past in an entertaining way.
The name comes from the old cemetery, which used to be on the northwest corner of the site. Boot Hill was commonly used for Old West cemeteries, given the number of people who died violent deaths “with their boots on”.
The Boot Hill Museum does a good job of balancing captivating exhibits, including some 200 guns from the period, with unabashed fun at the recreated town and boardwalk.
Live shows are a big part of the experience, with reenactments, can-can performances and action-packed gunfights.
2. Dodge City Trail of Fame
At the Dodge City Visitor Information Center you can get hold of a map for a self-guided tour of the Old Dodge City National Historic District.
Marked with an itinerary of medallions embedded in the sidewalk, the Dodge City Trail of Fame was inaugurated in 2003 and pays tribute to famous and infamous former residents like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the gunfighter Doc Holliday.
There are also markers for actors whose performances have helped enshrine Dodge City in American culture. Among them are Errol Flynn, Gene Barry from the TV series “Bat Masterson” and Dennis Weaver from Gunsmoke.
3. Dodge City Days
The second-largest community festival in Kansas takes place in Dodge City at the height of summer. Dating back more than 60 years, Dodge City Days is a ten-day celebration in late July and early August, with 100,000 people attending at least one event.
This is all a fun-packed tribute to Dodge City’s Western heritage, with a parade, live music, arts and crafts shows, a pageant, contests and more besides.
The main event is the six-day Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, recently listed by Time Magazine as one of the “50 Authentic American Experiences”, with a schedule crammed with bull riding, bronc riding, calf roping and barrel racing.
4. Santa Fe Trail Remains
History is carved into the ground at this site, nine miles west of Dodge City. At a pull-off area along US 50, the Santa Fe Trail Remains are a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
What you’ll find is the longest unbroken stretch of clear Santa Fe Trail rut remnants in the state.
Over the decades between the 1820s and the 1870s, the prairie here was disturbed by the hooves of horses, mules and oxen, and flattened under the weight of the large wagons they towed.
More than 150 years later, these grooves are still visible in the ground, in a landscape that looks much as it did when caravans of travelers passed through these lands.
There’s a shelter here with more context about the trail and its uneasy relationship with the Apache, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans in the mid-19th century.
5. Wright Park Zoo
On the south side of downtown, Wright Park has had a zoo for the best part of a century now. This attraction was founded in 1926 when the city acquired a pair of black bears and raccoons to put on show.
The zoo’s enclosures were scattered around the park until moved to one site in the 1980s, and this was expanded a decade later.
Accredited by the American Zoo Association (AZA), Wright Park Zoo is a nice contrast to Dodge City’s gritty history, with more than 120 animals from around 30 different species.
A few of the noteworthy residents include Siberian tigers, cougars, emu, buffalo, Black bears and, as you would hope, longhorn cattle.
6. Home of Stone
Dodge City’s oldest building still in its original location is a fine limestone house built in 1881 for John Mueller. He was a bootmaker by trade, and was such a success that he invested in a saloon and soon became a cattle rancher.
Things had turned sour for him by 1890, as he lost his cattle in a blizzard and his boot shop burned down. Returning to St. Louis, Mueller sold the house to the Adam Schmidt family.
They remained for 75 years before selling the property and all its furnishings to Ford County in 1965. The Home of Stone is still the only limestone construction in Dodge City, and has a scenic setting on the hillside northeast of downtown.
June through August, the Ford County Historical Society opens the house to the public, and rooms like the parlor, kitchen and bedrooms are as they were when Mueller was here in the early 1880s.
7. Long Branch Lagoon
At the north end of Wright Park is a western-themed public water park that opened its doors in 2016. All the attractions have names harking back to the days of the cattle drives.
There’s Cowboy Creek, a 720-foot lazy river, Wrangler Rapids, a wave pool and Dalton’s Plunge, a thrilling boomerang slide.
Smaller members of the posse will love Fort Splash, a zero-depth pool with a giant dumping bucket, sprays and water cannons.
Also at the park is an Olympic-sized lap pool, a climbing wall, a diving well, a hoop for water basketball and drop slides.
8. Cattle & Feedlot Overlook
It’s hard to get a sense of the full scale of the cattle industry in Dodge City until you come to this scenic vantage point on the city’s east side.
The Cattle & Feedlot Overlook is posted on a hilltop next to the Dodge City Regional Airport, and grants an all-encompassing view over the feedlots to the southeast.
As you can imagine, this quantity of cattle comes with a certain odor, especially if the wind is blowing in.
But it’s an eye-opening sight that needs to be seen, for better or worse. Accompanying the overlook is an interpretive board tracing the roots of Dodge City’s cattle trade.
9. Dodge City Brewing
When this purpose-built craft brewery opened in downtown Dodge City in 2017 it became the first establishment of its kind in southwest Kansas.
The master brewer at Dodge City Brewing has close to 20 years of brewing experience and is a BJCP Certified Beer Judge.
There are normally six beers on tap, and when we made this list these included the flagship cream ale, a Belgian-style Tripel, a Baltic Porter, an English Bitter and an Imperial Bock.
Something they do just as well as beer is pizza, baked in a brick oven with a signature dough and sauce.
10. Boot Hill Distillery
Directly on top of the original Boot Hill Cemetery, where early Dodge City’s gunfighters, scofflaws and prostitutes were laid to rest in the 1870s there’s now a small-batch craft distillery.
The Boot Hill Distillery is housed in the old Municipal Building (1929), which previously hosted the municipal court and various city departments.
The tasting room is charged with that history, and features a fully-stocked Brunswick Bar, and leather sofas, lounge chairs and barstools.
The spirits poured here are crafted by a father-son pair of farmers who plant, grow and harvest the grain themselves. On the menu are several whiskeys, bourbons, vodka and gin, to name a small few.
11. Dodge City Trolley
If you want to get a handle on Dodge City’s essentials in the most convenient way, you could always hop aboard this hour-long tour.
During peak season, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, the air-conditioned Dodge City Trolley departs the Visitor Information Center four times a day, seven days a week.
In the company of an entertaining guide you’ll see the original sites of Front Street, Gospell Hill, the Longbranch Saloon, the “deadline” and a lot more. The tour also takes in Fort Dodge, the historic path of the Santa Fe Trail.
12. Historic Santa Fe Depot
On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Dodge City was the last rest stop before crossing an enormous undeveloped region to the west. In 1896, this led to a sizable station being constructed, in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
To accommodate extended stays, this building housed the Harvey House Hotel “El Vaquero”, one of many such establishments in the western United States.
The site, across the road from the Wyatt Earp Statue, remains an Amtrak station, but is large enough to have several occupants. One is the Depot Theater Company, which will give you an in-depth guided tour of the complex by appointment.
13. Boot Hill Casino & Resort
Given its heritage Dodge City is also a logical place for a casino resort. This is found on the west side of the city and became the first state-owned casino when it opened in 2009.
The interior is infused with an Old West design motif, and has more than 600 slot machines, as well as 18 table games, 2 live poker tables and the Firesides restaurant for steak, BBQ, burgers and other casual bites.
On one side of the casino is the 108-room Hampton Inn & Suites, while on the other is the United Wireless Arena, which is Dodge City’s main venue for concerts, major sports events and more. In the winter months you can head to the arena for some ice skating.
14. Wyatt Earp Statue
The three eventful years that Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) spent as a lawman in Dodge City are commemorated with a larger than life-size bronze statue.
This can be found at the southeast side of downtown, by the tracks at 1028 E Wyatt Earp Blvd to be precise.
On a low pedestal, the statue shows Earp walking at speed, with his hat in his left hand and his right hand holding a drawn revolver. The work of sculptor Mary Spurgeon, the statue has been here since 2004 and is on the Dodge City Trail of Fame.
15. El Capitan Longhorn Statue
A postcard image for modern Dodge City is a life-size statue of a longhorn steer, standing proudly where Wyatt Earp Blvd meets 2nd Ave.
This stirring bronze sculpture testifies to the epic cattle drives along the dusty trail from Texas to Dodge City between 1875 and 1885.
The steer that stepped out from the herd to lead these drives was nicknamed “El Capitan” and would often make multiple trips. This sculpture is the work of Tempe, AZ artist Jasper D’Ambrosi.