Day 1: Nebraska’s Cowboy Capital was once referred to as the “Gomorrah of the Plains,” in reference to its Wild West culture. That wild-and-wooly history is easily accessible, but today’s Ogallala carries on in the preferable tradition of Clara Allen’s ranch—rural and welcoming, with plenty to do. Start by visiting Boot Hill, where cowboys, pioneer women, and American Indians have been laid to rest since the 1800s. Just down the hill is 1887 Mansion on the Hill—made from Ogallala bricks and an indication of where the city was headed at the end of its cowboy heyday. The Open Range Grill is a great place to enjoy a cold one before checking out the Petrified Wood and Art Gallery. The 2015 Ogallala Indian Summer Rendezvous, which boasts a chili cook-off, a beer garden, and live music, runs Sept. 24–26. But if you miss the festival, you can catch a good time at Front Street, where the Crystal Palace Review and Shoot-Out occurs nightly throughout the summer.
Day 2: As rich as Ogallala is in cowboy culture, its other inarguable draw is Lake McConaughy, where every water-related activity is available, from fishing to birding to boating to building sand castles at one of the biggest events of the summer—Kites and Castles. There are horse-friendly campgrounds along the beach, and Eagle Canyon Horseback Adventuresis happy to share its trails with you and your horse. Or, revel in two of the greatest luxuries this world has to offer by horseback riding at 17 Ranch Winery. If your taste is a little more down and dirty, the Paxton Labor Day Celebration—complete with the Thunder in the Valley bull riding classic, and a parade and tractor pull—should get you covered. Finish out your day in Paxton with a downhome meal from Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge, where the wild game graces your plate as well as the walls.
Day 3: Get a morning nosh from Bittersweet Bakery and Cakery and head east to Ash Hollow State Historic Park,where wagon ruts remain from the days of the Oregon Trail.Travel got a little easier when the railroad arrived, and the Phelps Hotelin Big Springs—built in 1855 to house the men who were working on the Union Pacific—is available for tours. Sam Bass’ Saloon offers travelers a chance to have a steak in the name of the outlaw who participated in the most lucrative train robbery in history, in Big Springs in 1877. But if that doesn’t get you in a celebratory mood, head up the road for Brule Day on Aug. 8th. You won’t be able to resist this charming good time complete with a parade, flower show, and street dance.
The Bunkhouse B&B and Stables is where to hitch your horse—literally—when you come to town. With Nebraska plains out to the east and the Colorado hills to the west, cattle calls and prairie birdsongs will be the only alarm clock you need. 308-464-1224