Want to experience the American West? Head to Cheyenne, Wyoming for Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Billed as the “Daddy of ‘Em All,” this annual festival features the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, a parade, a pancake breakfast, historical reenactments, Native American dance performances, country music concerts and an air show– not to mention the lively bar scene.
The best part? Many of the events are free!
I attended Cheyenne Frontier Days in July 2010 as a guest of Wyoming Tourism and spent several days meeting locals and absorbing Western culture. If you haven’t been to CFD, words won’t do it justice. Scroll down for photos and event details.
Participants in the CFD parade wear pioneer costumes and ride every conceivable form of transportation– from cars and tractors to bicycles, trains and horses.
I’ve seen plenty of parades in Manhattan– I even marched in one as a high school student– but we don’t have anything like the CFD parade here.
Every man, woman and child watching the parade stood to salute the passing troops. It was an amazing sight.
It reminded me of a Liz Lemon quote from 30 Rock:
“No part of America is more American than any other part.”
While I agree with Liz, the Americans in this part of the country are certainly more vocal about their patriotism.
Cost: The parade is FREE and open to the public
Visitors can enter the Indian Village and watch a Native American dance show– at no cost.
On the day I visited, the Little Sun Drum and Dance Group performed traditional dances from the Northern Arapaho and other tribes.
I learned a bit about the history of Great Plains tribes while watching world-class dancers; the performers even stayed after the show to answer questions about their outfits and culture.
Cost: The Indian Village is FREE and open to the public. Food and crafts are available for purchase.
Wild Horse Gulch
You’ll step back in time when you enter the Wild Horse Gulch in Cheyenne’s Frontier Park. Volunteers in period costumes stroll the grounds and interact with visitors– without breaking character.
Each history buff assumes the identity of a Wyoming pioneer after conducting thorough research. Visiting the Gulch is like going to colonial Williamsburg– but with more rifles and an abundance of leather pants.
Some of the participants sell crafts and artwork in the Gulch, including this painter.
I met a group of high school students who didn’t seem to mind wearing long-sleeved, 19th-century outfits in the blazing sun. Tellingly, they used their traditional sewing materials to craft leather cases for their cell phones.
Cost: The Wild Horse Gulch is FREE and open to the public. Crafts are available for purchase.
The pancake breakfast has been a CFD mainstay since 1952. Organized by the Kiwanis club, the breakfast feeds upwards of 30,000 people in one week. The meal is free, which explains the enormous line snaking through downtown Cheyenne on pancake days.
Boy Scouts handle crowd control and help distribute the pancakes. I enjoyed watching them catch flinging pancakes on their cafeteria trays; there were many flapjack casualties. Rodeo queens who possess beauty and horsemanship skills also helped out on the grill.
As a New Yorker, it took me a while to adjust to the openness of Cheyenne residents. When I arrived at the pancake breakfast with a camera and notepad, I wasn’t sure if people would be willing to talk to me.
In fact, locals were eager to share their insider tips for the festival and didn’t shy away from photos. One man in his 80s even offered to drive me from the center of town to the air show, since he didn’t want me to miss a single event!
Cost: The pancake breakfast is FREE and open to the public.
There was so much to do during Cheyenne Frontier Days that, for me, the rodeo was an afterthought. I’ve been a vegetarian for 18 years and wasn’t sure what to expect of this cornerstone event. Would I see animal cruelty? Would there be violence?
As it turns out, I didn’t have a strong reaction to the rodeo. I didn’t see any outrageous animal abuse, although the calves and bulls weren’t exactly treated with kid gloves. They were seen as farm animals, not pets.
It was the people that fascinated me. Some of the competitors were children who were ten years away from their driver’s license but already rode horses like pros.
Little cowboys in spurs and fringed chaps watched the action from the sidelines, waiting for their chance to ride.
Watching the rodeo was like attending a football game: I had little idea what was going on. I always seemed to be looking in the wrong place, just missing the action. Fortunately I had a local guide to fill me in on the finer points of bareback bronc riding and other rodeo arts.
A rodeo ticket gives you access to the grounds, where horses and bulls are kept.
Cost: Rodeo tickets start at $16.
Want insider tips for your Wyoming vacation? Check out our Q&A with Lori Hogan of Wyoming Tourism.