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15 best things to do in Dodge City, Kansas

Please ignore Marshal Matt Dillon’s advice. For 20 seasons, the TV show Gunsmoke brought the Wild West town of Dodge City to viewers. Because of the show’s influence, American culture considers Dodge City the Wild West’s most wicked town. Gunsmoke Marshal Matt Dillon ordered numerous criminals to “Get out of Dodge.” You should get into Dodge and enjoy our 15 best things to do in Dodge City, Kansas.

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If you’re a Gunsmoke fan and have never visited Dodge City, prepare for a surprise. The real Dodge City doesn’t look like the TV version. The studio filmed the show in Kanab, Utah, instead of Western Kansas. Even though the show’s producers didn’t film it in Dodge, the city has plenty of historical sites and original buildings to show its guests. 

Related: Dodge City is one of our 12 best Kansas places.

Table of contents: Law and order | Name game | Trail of Fame | Boot Hill Museum | Western Cattle Trail | Teachers Hall of Fame | Coronado Cross | Fort Dodge | Home of Stone | Nuevo México | Visitors Center | Dodge City arts | 9/11 Memorial | Raceway Park | Boot Hill Distillery | Dodge City Brewing | Boot Hill Casino | Dine in Dodge

Law and order in historic Dodge City? Not so much.

While the real Dodge City landscape isn’t like the television show, the need for law and order was paramount in Old Dodge City, as it was in the TV show. Unfortunately, law enforcement wasn’t available in the cowtown at the confluence of the Santa Fe Trail and the Great Western (Texas) Trail. Lawlessness reigned when cowboys brought longhorn cattle from Texas to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Trail Railroad. The combination of Fort Dodge soldiers, cattle drive cowboys, and railroad workers meant that Dodge City soon became the Wickedest Little City in the West.

The city of 21,000 people 150 miles west of Wichita is now a tamer place, but its rich history remains a drawing card. Ask Doc Holliday to show you.

Dodge City mural in Downtown Dodge
Dodge City mural in Downtown Dodge

The Dodge City, Kansas, name game

Three men are candidates for the “Dodge” in “Dodge City,” Henry Dodge, Grenville Dodge, or Richard I. Dodge. Henry Dodge camped near present-day Fort Dodge in 1835 during an expedition from Fort Leavenworth to the Rocky Mountains. He later became Wisconsin Territory’s first governor and later served as the state’s U.S. Senator. Fort Dodge, Iowa, bears his name. 

Colonel James H. Ford ordered Grenville Dodge to establish a fort on the Santa Fe Trail. He ordered troops to establish the fort, but the troops he sent said he skimped on their provisions. Therefore, they named their encampment Camp Dodge in mockery. The temporary camp later became a permanent fort. Grenville Dodge became famous as the Union Pacific Railroad’s Chief Engineer while the UP built the Transcontinental Railroad.

Roxie’s reliable report: Dodge City is the county seat of Ford County, named for General Ford — not former President Gerald Ford.

Related: Grenville Dodge platted North Platte, Nebraska, on the Transcontinental Railroad.

Colonel Richard I. Dodge was Fort Dodge’s Commandant when the railroad reached “Buffalo City.” When the town company applied for a post office, the post office refused to accept the name. Colonel Dodge was the town company’s President, so his name went on the town. However, the colonel wanted people to believe the city took its name from the nearby fort.

Dennis Weaver's medallion on the Dodge City Trail of Fame
Dennis Weaver was the first person honored on the Dodge City Trail of Fame.

1.  Follow the Dodge City Trail of Fame

Dodge City is grateful for Gunsmoke. The Dodge City Trail of Fame walking tour in Downtown Dodge City honors Gunsmoke, plus more TV and movie stars, Western heroes, and Dodge City dignitaries. Gunsmoke’s biggest stars are on Gunsmoke Street. Dennis Weaver was the first honoree. He portrayed Chester Goode for nine seasons on Gunsmoke (ad) before leaving to star on the TV show McCloud (ad). His medallion and handprints are on Front Street.

Of course, real-life Dodge City residents Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday appear on the trail. 

Roxie’s reliable report: “Big Nose” Kate Elder was Doc Holliday’s significant other. Her nickname wasn’t a comment on her facial structure. Instead, it meant she was a glutton for gossip or “nosy.”

Public health pioneer Dr. Samuel Crumbine worked in Dodge City. His story is in my book Secret Kansas: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Buy an autographed copy in our shop.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Ride the Dodge City Trolley for the one-hour Historic Trolley Tour during the summer months. It’s a perfect orientation to Dodge City as you return to the 1870s. Destinations include the Long Branch Saloon, Gospel Hill, the “deadline,” Front Street, and more. Visit Fort Dodge on the path of the Santa Fe Trail. 

Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City Kansas
Relive the Old West at Boot Hill Museum.

2. Survive a (fake) shoot-out at the Boot Hill Museum

In 1874, John T. Lytle drove the first herd of longhorns to Dodge City. Lytle didn’t stay in Dodge; he continued his journey to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Lytle’s route soon became one of the busiest American trails. At Dodge City, cattle owners sent their livestock east on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Or, like Lytle, continued north.

Dodge City was the first city the trail cowboys had seen for weeks. With full wallets, they wanted to enjoy life. Businesses, some of them unsavory, mined the cowboys’ wallets.

Related: Abilene was a notorious cowtown before Dodge City existed.

The Long Branch Saloon was one of Dodge’s most famous establishments, and Gunsmoke recreated it for Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake). The original saloon was considered a higher-class establishment than many of Dodge City’s saloons.

However, its status didn’t preclude it from controversy. When voters chose a law-and-order city government, the saloon’s allies fought back. The pressure to overturn ordinances banning gambling and prostitution came from the state governor and the railroad. The saloon lasted through the end of the cattle drives, but a disastrous 1895 fire destroyed Front Street, including the saloon. 

Return to Dodge City’s cowtown days

At the Boot Hill Museum, head back to Dodge City’s glory days as the Queen of the Cowtowns, including the recreated Long Branch Saloon. The museum owns over 60,000 artifacts telling Dodge City’s history.

Summers are the best time to visit because the museum’s (G-rated) activities are available. Options include can-can lessons at the dance hall, gunfights, the Long Branch Variety Show, country-style dinners, and the Beatty & Kelley Ice Cream Parlor. The Rath General Store is open all year.

Eric and Roxie at cards with Doc Holliday's card game statue
Prepare for violence when playing cards with Doc Holliday.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Across the street, gamble with Doc Holliday. But beware. Doc has covertly placed his hand on his pistol, so don’t consider cheating!

El Capitan, longhorn bull sculpture
El Capitan watches the Great Western Cattle Trail, looking for the next longhorn herd.

3. Join longhorns and cowhands on the Great Western Cattle Trail

El Capitan, the giant longhorn, looks south over W. Wyatt Earp Blvd., watching for the next large longhorn herd arriving from Texas. Look for trail markers next to the huge bull at the Dodge City Raceway Park entrance and the Point of Rocks west of the Dodge City Iron Cowboys sign on Highway 50. See live longhorns in Longhorn Park at W. Hwy. 50 and Airport Road.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: See the longhorns’ successors at the Cattle and Feedlot Overlook on Highway 50 east of Dodge City. Fair warning: Prepare for the smell of money.

4. Honor teachers at the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame

The Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame has honored more than 400 teachers since its inception. It’s the first teachers’ hall of fame in the United States. Curiously, the Hall of Fame and the Gunfighters’ Wax Museum share the same building. (Maybe that’s not so curious. I worked as a substitute teacher for eight years and sometimes felt like I’d dropped into the chaotic Old West.)

Roxie’s reliable report: The Western Frontier’s first school stood at First Ave. and Gunsmoke St., where the AT&T Building currently stands.

Related: The National Teachers Hall of Fame is in Emporia.

Coronado Cross
This cross marks the site where Francisco Vásquez de Coronado crossed the Arkansas River in 1541.

5. Join Coronado’s search for mysterious Quivira

Pueblo-dwelling indigenous people sent Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on a fruitless search for gold deep into Kansas. Coronado crossed the Arkansas River near Dodge City during his wanderings on June 29, 1541. The Coronado Cross marks the site. Father Juan de Padilla held Mass on the hills above the river, the first Christian service held in the interior of the North American continent.

In June 1975, the Ford County Historical Society installed a 38-foot-high pressed concrete cross at the crossing six miles east of Dodge City on Highway 400.

Roxie’s reliable report: Padilla would die in 1542 when his indigenous parishioners objected to him leaving them. A similar cross near Lyons, Kansas, commemorates his death.

Custer House at Fort Dodge
The Kansas Soldiers’ Home superintendent lives in the Custer House. Although he may have stayed in the house as a guest, George Armstrong Custer didn’t live here.

6. Guard the Santa Fe Trail at Fort Dodge

In 1864, the army established Fort Dodge, where the Santa Fe Trail‘s Dry and Wet Routes intersected. Because it carried traffic from both trail branches, many teamsters camped there. When the native peoples learned that, the camps became their target. The fort’s troopers protected trade. After the Civil War, the army used the fortification to prepare for campaigns against the natives.

Two soldiers, Leander Herron and James Fegan, received the Medal of Honor for separate actions around the fort.

During the 1878 Northern Cheyenne Exodus, troops from Fort Dodge confronted Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork. Their commander, Col. William H. Lewis, died from his battle wounds. Lewis was the last soldier to die on a Kansas battlefield. The troopers continued to chase the Cheyennes but did not catch them until they had reached Nebraska. Their failure enabled the Last Indian Raid in Kansas.

In 1890, Fort Dodge became the Kansas Soldier’s Home, six miles east of Dodge City. The dignified buildings named for famous military heroes are far different than the fort’s original dugouts. Visit the library and walk the self-guided tour.

Related: Fort Dodge and neighboring WaKeeney both have Kansas Veterans Cemeteries.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Visit clearly defined Santa Fe Trail ruts at the overlook nine miles west of Dodge City. Imagining the creaking wagon trains is easy.

The two-story limestone House of Stone exterior with sidewalk and lawn in Dodge City
The Home of Stone

7. Explore Dodge City’s oldest building, the Home of Stone 

The elegant Mueller-Schmidt House is Dodge City’s only limestone house, and it’s the city’s oldest building still on its original site. The contractor quarried the stone along Sawlog Creek near Dodge City. Its first owner, John Mueller, was originally a boot shop owner. The store’s success enabled him to invest in a saloon and become a cattle rancher.

Unfortunately, he lost 75,000 head of cattle in a January 1886 blizzard, and a fire destroyed his boot shop. In a cruel irony, Mueller could have sold at least one of his herds for $75,000 on the day before the blizzard struck. The Muellers then returned to St. Louis in 1890. 

Blacksmith Adam Schmidt purchased Mueller’s home and moved in with his family. His children Heinrich and Elma lived there into the 1960s. They sold the house to Ford County, and it became a museum in 1965.

Because only two families lived there, the house is mostly like it was in the late 1800s, except for indoor plumbing and electricity. Some of the original wiring is still operational.

View from the top of a narrow spiral staircase with a pair of pictures in the Home of Stone
The Home of Stone is narrow, and so is the staircase.

Look for the beautiful walnut spiral staircase and Heinrich’s homemade Uncle Sam costume that he wore in the 1919 parade welcoming home Dodge City’s World War I veterans.

Roxie’s reliable report: The kitchen, where the family ate informally, is in the basement, down a steep, narrow set of stairs. I pitied those who had to serve formal dinners from the kitchen.

8. Visit Dodge City, Nuevo México

Including Old Glory, five flags have flown above Dodge City, Kansas. The Adams-Onís Treaty defined the United States-Mexico border after the Louisiana Purchase. The boundary stair-stepped northwest from the Gulf of Mexico to where the 100th meridian crossed the Arkansas River. United States territory was north of the border, and Spanish territory was south. Therefore, Dodge City south of the river used to be Spanish and then became Mexican territory. When Texas gained its independence, the new republic also claimed the area.

Cross the Second Ave. Bridge to enter the former Mexican state of Nuevo México (New Mexico to Anglos). During the early 20th century, the railroad imported Mexican workers who lived in the Mexican Village south of the railroad tracks.

Roxie’s reliable report: Kansans pronounce the Arkansas River as Ar-KAN-zus, not the name of that other state.

Eric tapping his watch on the Mountain Time marker behind the Dodge City visitors center.
Straddle the 100th meridian and stand on Central and Mountain Time markers where the original time zone line used to be.

9. Cross time barriers at the Dodge City Visitors Center

Roxie’s reliable report: The Santa Fe railroad depot visitor center’s grounds include markers explaining the 100th meridian’s role. Look for the sundials showing Central and Mountain Time. When the nation established time zones in 1883, the 100th meridian was the Central-Mountain Time boundary. Straddle the meridian at the marker near the sundials. The depot is one of many Dodge City buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Roxie’s reliable report: The 100th meridian traditionally divides the wetter Midwest from the arid Western plains.

The red brick former Carnegie Library, now the Carnegie Arts Center, Dodge City.
Dodge City turned its Carnegie Library into an arts center.

10. Celebrate the arts in Dodge City, Kansas

The unique domed former Carnegie Library in the heart of Dodge City is now the Dodge City Area Arts Council‘s headquarters. Two galleries showcase monthly exhibitions of local artists’ works. Opening receptions occur each month’s final Friday, and the council encourages patrons to purchase the exhibitors’ art.

Second Avenue Art Guild

A group of area artists formed the Second Avenue Art Guild in the historic downtown district to create more awareness of the visual arts.

Stan Herd stagecoach mural on a brick building in Downtown Dodge City
Stan Herd’s mural is reminiscent of a Frederic Remington painting.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Look for the murals in Eisenhower Park and Stan Herd’s four-story stagecoach mural. It’s one of seven Herd murals in Dodge City.

Liberty Garden, Dodge City Kansas
Honor 9/11’s heroes in the Liberty Garden in Dodge City.

11. Commemorate 9/11 in Dodge City

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? Most Americans remember their precise location and activities when they heard about 9/11’s events.

In Dodge City, the Twin Towers still stand in Liberty Garden. Each 110-inch tower replica stands in a reflecting pool, an inch for each of the tower’s stories. A four-foot piece of twisted steel from Ground Zero stands on the flagpole’s base. The garden also protects parts of the Pentagon’s limestone and sandstone from Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Cool off in the nearby Long Branch Lagoon Water Park during the summer.

12. Dare to do dirt at Dodge City Raceway Park

Dodge City Raceway Park is the state’s premier dirt track in Kansas. The park seats 3,500 people and hosts numerous motorsports events. If you love the roar of engines, DCRP is where to be. The track hosts International Motor Contest Association races, Sooner Late Models, the United Rebel Sprint Series, flat-track motorcycles, and a National Tractor Pulling Association event. Each season finishes with the three-day Steve King Memorial sprint car and midget class races.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Steve King Foundation supports dirt track drivers, pit crew members, racing officials, operations personnel, and immediate families of those who suffer severe illness, injury, or death.

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A white sculpture of Joe Sughrue guards the Boot Hill Distillery.
Salute Dodge City’s history at the Boot Hill Distillery.

13. Drink to Dodge City on Booze Hill

Boot Hill Distillery stands where Boot Hill Cemetery used to be. Farmers turn their crops into high-quality whiskey. We appreciate the straight wheat whisky and the barreled gin. Make sure to spend some time in their tasting room. Try their delicious Amaretto sour.

Related: The first Boot Hill Cemetery was in Hays.

Before you enter the distillery, examine the monuments at Boot Hill Monument Park in front of the distillery. A pair of yoked oxen commemorate the patient animals who pulled the wagons on the Santa Fe Trail. Pioneer dentist O.H. Simpson modeled his Cowboy Sculpture on cowboy and U.S. Marshal Joe Sughrue.

Two pages from the book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die with a cocktail.
The Boot Hill Distillery is No. 19, and the Boot Hill Museum is No. 38 in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die.

Buy an autographed copy of 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die from our shop.

Dodge City Brewing Co. in Dodge City Kansas
Slake your thirst at Dodge City Brewing Co. and Boot Hill Distillery.

Drink Dodge City at Dodge City Brewing

Down the hill, drink Dodge City, Kansas, brews at Dodge City Brewing Co. Try the 1872 Lager, the Sundance Gose, and the Spruce Street IPA. Accompany your brews with a Pizza with No Name.

Roxie’s reliable report: Actor and Dodge City native Dennis Hopper commissioned La Salsa Man, a former Muffler Man now wearing a sombrero and a serape while carrying a food tray. The giant stands near the brewing company.

The one-stop entertainment location

14. Trust your luck at Boot Hill Casino

You won’t have to leave the Boot Hill Casino if you don’t want to. Play slots, table games, and more. Plus, you can attend events at the United Wireless Arena and stay at the on-site Hampton Inn & Suites. Check the casino’s partner deals. RVers should camp at Riverside RV Park.

15. Dine in Dodge

You have to eat at Casey’s Cowtown Club. No visit to the Queen of Cowtowns is complete without a steak at Casey’s. Mexican food lovers should try El Charro Mexican Restaurant. Bring home some of their house-made salsa. Refresh yourself with a Captain Cranberry cold brew at Red Beard Coffee. Eat, drink, dance, and enjoy vintage railroad décor at the Central Station Bar & Grill.

More to explore

Soldiers from Fort Scott passed future Dodge City on their way to the Mexican War. Pawnee Rock west of Great Bend was the Santa Fe Trail’s halfway point. Some say that Coronado turned back toward Mexico City after he climbed Coronado Heights in Lindsborg. Garden City, the largest city in Southwest Kansas, is an hour west of Dodge City. Read more about Kansas and the Midwest.

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