Dust off that cowboy hat and the pair of boots that have been languishing in your closet: The 111th National Western Stock Show is in town. If you’ve never been one of the 650,000 annual attendees at this grand event, now is the time to dive in. Didn’t grow up on a ranch? No worries—Karen Woods, the stock show’s PR director, has the lowdown on making the most of your maiden visit. Giddy up ya’ll.
1. Visit during a weekday (or get an early start).
Weekend days are undoubtedly the busiest. If possible, head to the National Western Complex on a weekday, when you can share the sights, sounds and, yes, smells with far fewer people. If you’d rather brave the weekend crowds, try to be at the doors when they open at 9 a.m. Give yourself extra time, as parking (although free) is limited at the complex. Luckily, shuttles are available to take attendees from the overflow lots at Coors Field to the complex every 15 minutes.
2. Don’t plan on seeing everything.
With more than 600,000 square feet to cover at the stock show—and that doesn’t include the stockyards—you’ll need a game plan. Woods suggests starting at the Hall of Education, located next to the Expo Hall, where the shuttles drop you off. Here, you can get all your burning questions about agriculture answered. After walking through the exhibits and vendor booths (and perhaps taking a ride on the mechanical bull), go up to the second floor to check out the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale and let the kids (if you got ’em) take a pony ride. Finally, head downstairs to the barns and stockyards; if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a livestock auction. Finish up your visit by taking in a rodeo or one of the many shows. Pro tip: Wear comfortable shoes.
3. Have a cow (or a funnel cake) and a drink.
The stock show has expanded its culinary offerings in recent years, but first-timers should opt for the classics to get the full experience. Funnel cakes, hamburgers, kabobs, and turkey legs are annual staples, as is some epic barbecue. Serious foodies should plan their visit for January 7, when 40 teams compete in a BBQ Throwdown (free with a general admission ticket, samples included). While there are more than a few places to imbibe during the show, none is as historic as the Cowboy Bar on the Expo Hall’s bottom level, where you can rub elbows with true cowboys in a space where they’ve been wheeling, dealing, and boozing for as long as the show’s existed (that’s 111 years).
4. Bring the kids.
As if the opportunity to see farm animals up close isn’t enough, the stock show offers a full range of activities to keep the kiddos entertained. If you have little ones in toe, check out the pygmy goats, Sicilian donkeys, and mini call ducks on the third floor Petting Farm, or the Top Hogs show (January 7–8, 14–15, 21–22, times vary), where pigs ride skateboards and do other fun and thrilling tricks.
5. Get yourself something nice.
From handcrafted jewelry and leather goods to cowboy hats and more, find a new Western dud from one of the show’s 900(!) vendor booths. Kids will also love being able to spin their own rope—they can do so in a full range of colors—on the exhibit hall’s third floor.
6. Go ahead and freeload.
Many of the stock show’s best events are free with an admission ticket ($10–20 for adults 12 and up; $2–$3 for children ages 3–11; free for kids under two). Check the events schedule on the day of your visit for the most updated info. Our top picks include the 2017 Colorado Fiddle Championships January 7 and 8 in the Beef Palace Auction Area, the daily Farmyard Follies shows, which feature goats, sheep, llamas, and the infamous spotted donkey from the Great American Petting Zoo, and the Stock Dog Trials competition, which takes place throughout the show. Of course, you won’t want to miss the ever-popular Mutton Bustin’, in which 5- to 7-year-old kids try to stay atop a running sheep.
7. Take in a show.
No trip to the stock show would be complete without taking in one of the live events. Here are our picks:
- PRO Rodeos: Catch some of the biggest superstars in the rodeo world, as well as mutton bustin’ and the Westernaires, a local nonprofit precision-mounted youth drill team, at one of the 20 pro rodeos taking place throughout the stock show. Dates and times vary
- Buffalo Bill Wild West Show: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Buffalo Bill’s death in Denver, this reenactment of one of the original Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows will feature trick riding, sharpshooting, and other events. January 14, 5 p.m.; January 15, 4 p.m.
- An Evening of Dancing Horses: Formal dressage, freestyle reining, drill elements, and other equestrian events choreographed to the music of the Denver Brass. January 18 and 19, 7:30 p.m.
If you go: The National Western Stock Show takes place January 7–22 at the National Western Complex, 4655 Humboldt St. Find schedules, ticketing info, and more at nationalwestern.com.