Looking for a slice of Texas culture? Since the late 19th century, the American cowboy has been a figure of special significance, and cowgirls have gained similar respect for their roles and achievements. Thanks to a variety of guest and dude ranches, historic districts, entertainment venues, rodeos and excursions, visitors can easily slip into the boots of this cowboy lifestyle and live the Western experience in Texas.
Visitors can experience the authentic cowboy lifestyle by trading in their suits and ties for jeans and boots and visiting one of the 100-plus guest and dude ranches Texas has to offer. Experienced cowboys lead groups on overnight trail rides and horseback riding adventures; families can spend the days saddled up, followed by evenings enjoying traditional cowboy fare cooked outdoors fireside beneath a sky full of stars - uninterrupted by big-city lights. For a more adventurous trip, experienced riders can participate in authentic cattle drives rounding up herds of cattle across vast open ranges. Learn the origins, history and importance of herding while learning how to sort and pen.
Visit a Guest Ranch
These guest ranches offer many attractions for the cowboys and cowgirls-in-training as well. Swimming pools, water slides, canoeing and horseback riding lessons are offered at most across the state, making them both kid and family friendly. Additionally, for the lower-key cowboy, bird and wildlife watching are popular attractions that surely won’t disappoint! Grab a pair of hiking boots and a walking stick and hit the trails to observe the many species native to Texas.
Nestled in the heart of some of the most scenic areas of Texas, many of the ranches are easily accessible from urban centers. Just southwest of Houston, George Ranch is a working ranch featuring historic homes, costumed presenters and hands-on activities. And in Kingsville – located along the coast between Corpus Christi and Brownsville - King Ranch is one of the world’s largest ranches featuring guided tours to illustrate the history and modern-day workings of the ranch. Ninety miles northwest of Fort Worth, Graham is home to the Wildcatter Ranch, which covers 1,500 acres and offers the perfect escape for adventure-seeking families.
More centrally located in the Texas Hill Country, the small town of Bandera is known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World.” Modern-day visitors can experience this town’s strong rodeo tradition by staying at one of the Bandera County dude ranches, where horseback excursions and chuckwagon meals are still the norm. For a night in town, unwind the Old West way by enjoying the live music at one of the local honky-tonks.
Cowboy Life in Texas
In the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, cosmopolitan cowboy meets Wild West with a host of sights and activities. In Dallas, Pioneer Plaza houses the world’s largest bronze monument, displaying 40 Texas longhorn steer being driven by three cowboys on horseback, a celebration of the trails that led cattle to markets. Nearby, the historic West End Entertainment District offers specialty shops and the area’s most famous steakhouses and saloons, including Gilley’s Dallas, which features the mechanical bull from the legendary Hollywood movie “Urban Cowboy.”
The Chisholm Trail, which you might have heard about from movies and songs, was a crucial 19th century cattle route that ran from San Antonio to Abilene, hitting Fort Worth on the way. The trail still exists, and its historical and cultural significance is enough to warrant a visit, but not by foot. Ride down the old Chisholm Trail on horseback like a cowhand of a bygone era, while enjoying a scenic view of the Fort Worth skyline.
From a cultural perspective, the city of Fort Worth – known for cowboys and culture – features some of the country’s best museums of the American West, such as the Sid Richardson Museum, the Amon Carter Museum and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Sundance Square offers additional museums, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. The Old West comes to life in the Stockyards National Historic District with the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, known as the Fort Worth Herd, and on weekends, the Stockyards Championship Rodeo. Don't forget to add the world’s largest honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas, named "Country Music Club of the Year" eight times by the Academy of Country Music and three times by the Country Music Association to your must-see list in Fort Worth!
In West Texas, the semiannual Longhorn Cattle Drive takes place each spring and fall in Big Bend Ranch State Park. For three days, guests can experience life on a working ranch by driving the longhorns from the rugged country to ranch headquarters. It is certain that visitors will leave with a healthy respect for the cowboy lifestyle and, more importantly, feeling like “The Duke” – as if they are riding straight out of the Hollywood movies.
In the spring and summer months, rodeo season is in full swing across the state. Visitors come from across the country to enjoy this Western tradition filled with sights, sounds, scents, tastes and experiences. With high-stakes professional roping and riding, concert performances, carnivals, barbecue cook-offs, live auctions, trail rides and more, rodeos offer something for everyone. Well-known annual events include the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and Rodeo Austin.
So dust off the boots, grab a cowboy hat and hit the trails for an unrivalled Texas experience, where the Wild West meets the cosmopolitan cowboy in an unforgettable way.