Kit Carson County Carousel title

Kit Carson County Carousel: Take a historic ride

Roxie riding the Kit Carson County Carousel's giraffe
Roxie riding the Kit Carson County Carousel’s giraffe. Note the snake winding around the poor giraffe’s neck. This is the sole snake she will ever hang around

Picture this: You’re riding a giraffe in a herd of all sorts of animals. The wind is ruffling through your hair while you speed around a track at 12 mph. The theme music swells in the background. Who rides a giraffe? Is this your real life or is it fantasy? You certainly have escaped from reality. Except the experience is real. You are riding the Kit Carson County Carousel at the Kit Carson County Fairgrounds in Burlington, Colo.

You can ride the carousel all summer, but you’ll want to start your summer visit with Old Town. Visit the museum complex in Burlington, then enjoy a horse-and-buggy ride across Burlington to the fairgrounds.

The carousel is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rides still only cost a quarter. The associated museum costs $1 and guests may drop more into a donation box in the museum. During the Kit Carson County Fair, the carousel is open additional hours.

Plus, every year in early December, the Kit Carson County Carousel opens for one Sunday afternoon. During Carousel Christmas, the carousel offers free rides and museum admission. Instead of their usual playlist, the carousel organ plays Christmas music. Come early because the lines wrap around the 12-sided carousel building. Since December weather in Colorado can be cold and snowy, make sure to check whether the carousel is open.

If you miss Carousel Christmas, don’t worry.

Deer on Kit Carson County Carousel
These deer have real antlers. Note the woodpecker on the deer’s neck.

Why is the carousel so extraordinary? The testimony of other witnesses tells the tale. The American Carousel Association’s president said it is “without equal….” She said (PDF) it is “absolutely the finest original American carousel in the world.” USA Today named it “the jewel of America’s carousels”. In 1987, the National Park Service said it deserved to join the National Historic Landmark list. In 2003, the carousel received the National Preservation Award.

The Philadelphia Toboggan Company’s (PTC) work was the “world’s finest and most substantially made.” (At the turn of the 20th century, “toboggan” meant “roller coaster”.)

The Kit Carson County Carousel was PTC’s sixth carousel. Because of that, it was named PTC No. 6. During its construction, PTC arranged Kit Carson County Carousel’s animals in rows of three. The outer ring features the largest and most elaborate animals. The inner rings’ animals are smaller and less elaborate.

PTC No. 6 consists of 46 animals, plus four chariots. The chariots occupy the middle of their rows with animals on each side. The menagerie includes horses, goats, dogs, camels, a lion, a tiger, and a hippocampus. (The hippocampus is a mythical seahorse.) Before mounting your chosen animal, check the animal’s details. Find roses, cupids, an Arab man in a medallion, a gnome about to shoot an arrow, and more.

If you want real life, note this: The horses’ tails are real horsehair. The deer have real antlers. Besides all that, the animals and chariots retain the original paint from 1905. That’s keeping it real.

The details continue in the beautiful paintings surrounding the center. And, oh, that organ! You must listen to the organ to comprehend its quality. It sounds like a 12 or 15-piece band.

People at Kit Carson County Carousel Museum entrance

To ride the carousel, purchase a 25-cent ticket and buy carousel souvenirs at the Kit Carson County Carousel.

lion and blue chariot
The lion flanks one of the blue chariots. The animals’ eyes were selected to match each animal’s personality.

Before riding the carousel, be sure to pick up the chart of carousel animals in the museum. With the chart’s help, you’ll be able to keep track of which animals you have ridden.

After purchasing the ticket, cross the sidewalk and wait in line. If time permits, the operator may tell carousel tales. When the carousel is ready for you to ride, choose your animal before stepping onto the platform. Please do not use the platform as a sidewalk. Walk straight to your animal. You may use the stirrups, but do not hold the reins. They are decorations only. Do hang onto the brass pole. The platform turns so fast that riders should hang on to the poles. While riding, please be kind to the animal. Don’t kick it.

Kit Carson County Carousel is a photographer’s dream. Wait until your ride is finished before taking any pictures. Please be courteous to other riders. When people are waiting for the next ride, please limit the number of pictures you take. Call ahead if you want to take extensive pictures.

Deer, tigers, and the operator on the miniature Kit Carson County Carousel
A carousel operator makes sure the wheels are still going round and round on the Kit Carson County Carousel.

At the neighboring carousel museum, learn about the carousel’s fascinating story. Exhibits also teach about the carousel’s organ. Additionally, make sure to examine the miniature carousel. Richard Hasart of Stratton, Colo., built it. He later donated his labor of love to the museum.

Support the carousel by shopping in the museum store. Items for sale include model animals and ornaments. We love Christmas ornaments and collect them at the attractions we visit. Since we love the carousel, we needed a Kit Carson County Carousel ornament. Our carousel ornament features the St. Bernard dog.

If you need a carousel fix over the winter, the carousel association has two books for sale on Amazon. “Kit Carson County Magic and Memories, 1905-2005“, celebrates the carousel’s centennial. “The Kit Carson County Carousel” tells the carousel’s story with beautiful photographs. It’s perfect for your coffee table.

The carousel has a fascinating backstory. It was scorned, suffocated, and had to suffer the indignity of seeing some of its horses snatched. Ride into carousel history in our next post.


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