National Western Stock Show Parade. Photo: Hans Watson
No city embodies the Spirit of the West better than Denver. And that’s on full display each year in January, during the National Western Stock Show. This year’s fest runs from Jan 6th through the 21st, with a parade on Thursday, Jan 4th at noon.
The National Western is the world’s largest stock show, with more than 20,000 animals on display, and it’s grown massively since 1906, the first year the event was held. The show started at the turn of the century as a way for Colorado ranchers to showcase their prized pigs and share new breeding and farming techniques with fellow ranchers. But the show quickly grew into a one of the biggest fairs in the West.Today, the Stock Show is larger than life, just like the Old West. During the month-long event, cowboys and cowgirls from across the West and beyond pour into Denver to compete in rodeos, equestrian events, stock shows, BBQ competitions and more. It’s like the grandest county fair on earth, and there’s something for everyone. The stock show lasts nearly the entire month of January – it’s held at the beginning of the year each year – and there are events each day of the week. For instance, you can catch a rodeo or horse show featuring some of the best professional athletes from around the world on almost any day of the week. The horse shows are some of the largest anywhere. But if rodeos aren’t your cup of cowboy tea, you’re bound to find something interesting in any one of the hundreds of vendor booths.
The great news: The majority of events are held right by Downtown Denver at the National Western Complex, and the cost of admission into the grounds won’t set you back too much either.
So what should you make sure to see this year? Here are a few don’t-miss events at the 2018 Stock Show:
1. Kick-Off Parade
Thursday, Jan 4 at Noon – Downtown Denver – FREE
Each year, the National Western Stock Show gets started with a big bang parade that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. There are marching bands, floats and other standard parade fare, but the parade also pays homage to the past in a big way. More than 100 Texas longhorns are driven through the streets of Downtown Denver, along the parade route from Union Station down 17th Street. It’s a blast from Denver’s cowtown past, and it’s a bit surreal to behold: a stampede of bulls clomping down the skyscraper-lined streets.
2. National Western BBQ Throwdown
Saturday, Jan 6, 10am-4pm – NW Events Center Parking Lot – FREE with Admission
Although the BBQ Throwdown is new this year, it’s bound to become a favorite for the thousands of Stock Show fans. This 4th annual Throwdown is a competition, featuring some of the best BBQers from around the country. During the event, you can taste some of the fresh-cooked BBQ from booths, listen to live music, watch culinary demos, and there’s even a grill giveaways.
3. Mutton Bustin’
Jan 16 and Jan 20 at 6pm – Stadium Arena – FREE with Admission
Mutton Bustin’ is a fan favorite every year, and even better, it’s included with your admission price. But what is Mutton Bustin’ exactly? Basically, it’s like junior bull riding, but instead of bulls and bull riders, it’s 5-7 year-olds holding on for dear life on the backs of sheep. Hands down the event is one of the most fun to watch, and it’s great entertainment for the whole family.
4. RAM Invitational Freestyle Reining
Sunday, Jan 7 at 2pm – Events Center – Tickets Starting at $25
Outside of the horse world, Freestyle Reining isn’t a well-known event. But it’s massively entertaining, and you won’t want to miss the event this year. Essentially, Freestyle Reining is a choreographed routine, but the cowboys and cowgirls use music, costumes and horseback riding tricks into their allotted time to woo the judges. It’s like figure skating, but on horseback, and it’s entertaining even if you’ve never ridden a horse in your life.
5. PBR Bull Riding
Jan 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm – Coliseum – Tickets Starting at $60
Bull Riding is the quintessential rodeo event, and no one does it better than the riders on the PBR tour. There’s no greater thrill at the National Western than watching the best riders holding on for the longest 8 seconds on the back of 2,000-pound bulls. It’s a fierce, edge-of-your-seat competition, and one of the best to see.
The 2018 National Western Stock Show runs from January 6th to 21st at the National Western Complex in Denver. Tickets are available online and at the gates. Some events require grandstand tickets, as well. Enjoy the show!