Think the Old West is gone from Colorado? Not a chance! You can re-live it all on an easy day trip to Golden, Colorado. In the 1860s, Golden was the first capital of Colorado Territory, and as the town’s famous Welcome Arch says, this is still “Where the West Lives.”
Most Western adventures start by hitting the trail early, so mosey on down to the Windy Saddle, Golden’s western themed cafe, where you can grab some delicious pastries and hot coffee. Then in the words of Horace Greeley, who launched many an epic journey, “Go West, young man!” and head west on I-70 to Exit 254 for the first stop, the Buffalo Herd Overlook. Denver Mountain Park maintains a herd of 40 buffalo here with spectacular mountain views as a backdrop. Interpretive signs tell the history of bison in the West and you can stroll along the fenced enclosure and marvel at these beautiful animals that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds!
The Buffalo Herd overlook is where you pick up the Lariat Loop Trail, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado. Follow the road and signs to the next stop, Buffalo Bill’s Grave & Museum. The West’s most popular scout and showman is buried on top of Lookout Mountain with views of snowcapped peaks in one direction and the plains in the other. The museum tells his amazing life story with exhibits from the Wild West Show including Annie Oakley’s guns and a headdress that belonged to Chief Sitting Bull. Young cowpokes can dress up with cowboy hats and chaps for selfies.
From here, the Lariat Loop Trail earns its name, twisting and making hairpin turns down Lookout Mountain back to Golden, where the next stop is the free museum at the Colorado School of Mines. Here you can learn the fine art of gold panning and see the gems and minerals that led to the Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush of 1859.
Gold is heavy and to remove the ore from the mountains required 2,000 miles of narrow gauge railroads. You can see the steam locomotives that pulled the trains across the Rocky Mountains at the nearby Colorado Railroad Museum, the largest railroad museum in the state. Kids can climb aboard a caboose, ring a steam engine’s bell, watch both indoor and outdoor model trains, and on weekends, even ride aboard a Galloping Goose, a crazy contraption that used to carry mail and passengers over Lizard Head Pass. On weekends, the museum fires up real steam locomotives that pull passengers around a half mile circle of track.
By now, you’ve worked up an appetite and deserve lunch back on Golden’s historic main street, where you’ll find a number of restaurants serve a great Old West meal – buffalo burgers! You can grab a tasty buffalo burger at the historic Buffalo Rose, the Bridgewater Grill overlooking Clear Creek or The Old Capitol Grille & Smokehouse, located in the building that was Colorado’s first state capitol. You can even grab a sandwich of buffalo or elk at D’Deli Sandwiches and enjoy a picnic at a number of picnic tables located along fast rushing Clear Creek.
While at the creek, be sure to check out the Golden History Park, an entire homestead from the 1880s with farmhouse, schoolhouse and a working blacksmith shop. Bring some quarters to feed the heritage chickens in the authentic chicken coop and pop into the Golden History Museum, which offers free admission.
Afterwards, walk through Golden with its charming downtown. You’ll see touches of the Old West everywhere, including a gorgeous mural of Picasso, the wild Mustang Stallion of Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin, who has more than 17,000 worldwide followers on Facebook. The stunningly beautiful Mustang Picasso lived in the wild with 700 other horses in northwest Colorado for 30 years and over that time he became the legendary subject of photos, paintings, and poems.
And why not make a night of it by staying in Golden? The Golden Hotel has gorgeous Western paintings, while the Table Mountain Inn has a Southwestern motif of adobe walls and Native American blankets. Or try the brand new Eddy Taproom & Hotel. Located just off the Clear Creek Trail that was once the railroad line up into the mountains, the Eddy pays tribute to Golden’s early days and offers panoramic views from its outdoor beer garden. You can find a full list of Golden hotels here.