Outdoors and Adventure

America's Wildest Rodeos

Filed Under: Canada, United States

A time-honored tradition of America's West, rodeos captivate the imaginations of cowboys, cowgirls and ranching enthusiasts across the globe with visions of bucking bulls, bareback horse riding, lasso roping and winning purses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While the actual rodeo competition is at the forefront of these events, North America's most popular rodeos inspire more than a few "Yee-haws!" with events honoring Wild West culture like chuckwagon cookoffs, homages to American Indian and Mexican traditions, and rollicking midways or carnivals. Grab your Wranglers and cowboy boots, click your spurs and discover the 5 wildest rodeos in America.

Feelin' inspired? See our slideshow of America's biggest rodeos.

DowtownTraveler.com, flickr
Cheyenne Frontier Days
Cheyenne, Wyoming
They don't call Cheyenne Frontier Days the "Granddaddy of 'em All" for nothing. America's most iconic rodeo, the 10-day Frontier Days classic has lured cowboys and cowgirls to Wyoming every year since 1897, when the classic Western event first took place. Nearly 200,000 people swarm Cheyenne, WY, to attend rollicking events that include concerts from country music stars like Zac Brown Band and Merle Haggard, a parade, chuckwagon cookoff and, of course, the main draw: the rodeo.

Sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, rodeo events feature more than 1,500 participants seeking to win purses totaling $1 million in cash and prizes. Attendees can watch bull riding, bareback bronco riding, steer wrestling and barrel racing competitions. When visitors are ready to do more exploring, they can check out a recreated American Indian village, chow down at a daily pancake breakfast stand or watch the United States Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration.
Chris Bolin
Calgary Stampede
Alberta, Canada
If you only plan to attend one rodeo in your life, make it the Calgary Stampede, better known as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." Held in Alberta, Canada, annually since 1912, the Stampede opens with a parade teeming with more than 100 floats, marching bands, mounted police, cowboys and First Nations Indians. While events like chuckwagon racing, agricultural and blacksmithing competitions, as well as a retail marketplace, help bring more than 1 million people to the Stampede, hands down, the event's main attraction is the rodeo.

One of the most famous rodeos in the world, the Stampede features 6 major events: bull riding, steer wrestling, racing, tie-down roping, saddle and bareback riding, and offers payouts up to $100,000 in each category. Other notable Stampede activities include a visit to the "Indian Village." Erected by members of various tribes, the village offers examples of tipis and powwows, as well as arts and crafts demonstrations.
Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Las Vegas
The mothership of all rodeos, the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the ultimate rodeo championship in the United States. Occasionally referred to as the " Super Bowl of Rodeos," the event is the final event of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's rodeo season: The winners in the rodeo's events earn world championship titles. The high-stakes events include bareback riding, steer wrestling, bull riding and barrel racing, and at the end of the rodeo, the cowboy with the most winnings earns the title, World All-Around Rodeo Champion Cowboy -- the ultimate honor.

Held annually in Las Vegas during the first full week in December, this rodeo perpetually sells out all events; book tickets well in advance if you plan to attend. Between events, take some time to explore the rodeos other attractions, like the Cowboy Christmas, a holiday gift show featuring more than 400 vendors, as well as a Miss Rodeo America pageant, live music performances and a mechanical bull riding contest.
Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau
Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo
Fort Worth, Texas
Git yer cowboy boots and Stetson ready for wearing -- you're gonna want them at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, one of the greatest Wild West expos in America. For 23 days, "Cowtown," as Fort Worth is known, accommodates the extravaganza, which attracts more than 1 million people from the US and abroad, as well as some 22,000 head of livestock. Warm up to the rodeo spirit at the All-Western Parade, a display of authentic wagons, stagecoaches, marching band and floats, before heading to the Best of the West Rodeo competition.

You'll watch honest-to-goodness working cowboys take part in heart-pounding saddle bronc riding, stock sorting and even wild cow milking. Other must-see events include the traditional Mexican Celebration, and the World's Original Indoor Rodeo, complete with barrel racing, roping, steer wrestling and bareback riding. When it's time to wind down after dark, head to the midway to ride the Ferris wheel, play games or simply enjoy cotton candy and people watching.
National Western Rodeo
Denver, Colorado
Do your part to keep western culture alive with a trip to the National Western Stock Show; proceeds from the event support the National Western Scholarship Trust, given to students studying agriculture and medicine and planning to work in rural areas. The stock show aims to preserve the western lifestyle for the next generation of ranchers and farmers, and attendees are privy to events like a stock show parade, livestock demonstrations and bull riding performances.

Things heat up at the rodeo, which includes special events like the Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo and the Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza, featuring competitions in bareback and bull riding, folkloric dancing and exhibition bullfighters. Be sure to grab tickets to one of the rodeo highlights, An Evening of Dancing Horses, featuring dressage, freestyle reining and drill elements choreographed to music.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at PassengerConners.com.

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