A First-Timer’s Guide to the National Western Stock Show

Giddy up and go to the 113th annual event, taking place in Denver January 12-27.

Dust off that cowboy hat and the pair of boots that have been languishing in your closet: The 113th 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!

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 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, Monday, January 21, and Saturday, January 26.

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 12, when 40 teams compete in a BBQ Throwdown (free with a grounds 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 113 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 at the third floor Petting Farm, or the Top Hogs show (January 12, 19–20, 26–27; 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 300(!) 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.

Head on over to 5280.com for more tips for first-timers at the National Western Stock Show! Yeeehaw!

If you go: The National Western Stock Show takes place January 12-27. at the National Western Complex, 4655 Humboldt St. Find schedules, ticketing info, and more at nationalwestern.com.

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