How to Experience Cowboy Culture in the Northwest

Whether you’re a cowboy in Washington, a cowboy in Oregon or you’re not a cowboy at all but would like to experience some of the Northwest’s best cowboy culture, we’ve got some great ideas for you.

Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering, Ellensburg

The Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering  takes place over three days in late winter.  The festival includes four stages with national, regional and local talent, including music, art and poetry as well as fine craft and commercial/retail exhibitors, and food booths, all of which are focused on preserving the “spirit of the cowboy.”

The fair includes more than 40 vendors from across the nation, which sell items like felt hats and handmade boots, custom leather products, works of art and more, while fiddlers from across the region compete  in the Historic Liberty Theater.  Various events are held throughout downtown allowing visitors of all types to experience authentic cowboy culture just east of the Cascades.

Wild Wild West! experience, Portland to Pendleton

If you really want to delve into the Wild West, America’s Hub World Tours offers the opportunity for a 7-day, 6-night excursion during the summer. It includes accommodation, a guide/driver and transportation, activities, daily breakfast and more.

While you’ll start out with a tour of the city of Portland, you’ll embark on a walking tour of the Pendleton Bronze Trail while listening to the stories behind its legendary cowboys and cowgirls, as well as arms of the law, tribal leaders, artists, educators and more. The excursion also includes several days enjoying the unique experience of traveling in a covered wagon pulled by mules, dining on food cooked over the campfire, and sleeping under the stars in an area where the sky is so dark you can see every star above you.

There are many other highlights too,  like a visit to the Happy Canyon Hall of Fame which spans over a century of Round-Up and Happy Canyon history, the legendary Pendleton Hat Company, a trip underground to discover Pendleton’s hidden history as the former entertainment capital of Eastern Oregon, and so much more.

Pendleton Round-Up, Pendleton

There’s another excuse to visit Pendleton, Oregon, it hosts one of the top rodeos in the Northwest. In fact, it’s one of the ten largest in the entire world. Started in 1910, the annual event draws crowds of 50,000.

Ellensburg Rodeo, Ellensburg

Ellensburg has quite the cowboy culture, so if you can’t make it for the gathering in February, you can plan to go to its rodeo, one of the top rodeos in the nation. Held annually in late August and early September, it started nearly a century ago in 1923. Today, it hosts more than 500 contestants, bringing out some of the best riders, ropers, and wrestlers compete in what many consider to be the best rodeo arena in the nation.

Winthrop, Washington

Winthrop offers a trip back in time to the Old West all year round. It sits in the heart of the Methow Valley along the North Cascades Scenic Byway and boasts Western storefronts and wooden boardwalks that are lined with shops, galleries, bars and eateries. It’s a great place for horseback riding too, whether you’re a beginner looking for just a taste of the experience, or want to enjoy more of a challenge, there are everything from gentle valley-bottom rides to rides over more rugged terrain at higher elevations. You can choose from half-day trail-rides, chuckwagon breakfast outings, or multi-day pack trips they head deep into the remote wilderness. 

Winthrop, Washington

St. Paul Rodeo, Oregon

For over 80 years, the St. Paul Rodeo has celebrated the Fourth of July in true cowboy style with a big rodeo for such a small town. Located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, St. Paul makes a great way to celebrate Independence Day.  St. Paul Rodeo

St Paul Rodeo

Try a Dude Ranch in Eastern Oregon

To experience a real working ranch first hand, try staying at a real working ranch. Look at the Steens Mountain Guest Ranch in Diamond, Oregon for a real feel at what it is to be a cowboy. If you want the cowboy experience but in a more bed & breakfast sort of way, consider Aspen Ridge Resort in southeastern Oregon.