When you picture the Wild West, images of cowboys, cattle drives and sprawling ranches come to mind. That snapshot is certainly true of Nebraska, still home to all three of these things. Nebraska rodeo and ranch life maintains a strong representation in the local culture.

In fact, cattle is Nebraska’s largest single industry, bringing in over $12 billion in revenue and utilizing 24 million acres of range land and pasture. And believe it or not, cows actually outnumber residents almost 4 to 1.

It takes a lot of cowboys and dedicated ranchers to maintain those statistics, and visitors to the state can see firsthand the lifestyle that is required, by vacationing at dude (working) ranches, participating in cattle drives or attending one of the many Nebraska rodeo events held throughout the year.

If you’re ready to eschew the fancy hotel and get back to the real American Frontier, then Nebraska is the place to be. While Nebraska rodeo events are certainly a sight to behold, working ranches actually allow you to participate in the day-to-day activities of a typical ranch hand, including gathering and driving cattle, branding calves, checking fences, and hauling feed. Many also offer roping and riding lessons as well. You’ll experience wide-open spaces, some hard but rewarding work, and an appreciation of what it takes to bring meat to the table.

In addition to vacationing on working cattle ranches, Nebraska offers hunting, horseback riding, hiking, fishing and other outdoor vacations on ranches throughout the state. You can raft the Niobrara River, hunt your Thanksgiving turkey, or fish for large-mouth bass in a spring-fed lake. It can be a great opportunity for your children to learn to ride a horse, and most ranches are situated in areas that are perfect for bird watching and nature photography.

If you would rather watch than participate, then the Nebraska rodeo is the place to get your cowboy fix. Nebraska rodeo hosts to over 40 events each year, stretching from May through September. These intense competitions feature steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, barrel racing, roping and bull riding. This growing sport sees local, national and international competitors riding it out for some big bucks.

Nebraska Rodeo is a long-standing tradition in the state of Nebraska and a great family activity. In addition to the exciting events, there are rodeo clowns to keep the crowd entertained (and help keep riders safe), you’ll get some good music, tasty food, and there is often a carnival or fair on the grounds as well. You might even be able to get up close and personal with some of the animals.

Nebraska is a great place to experience the rigors of the Old West, whether by participating or sitting back and watching the action.

Photo by Nebraska Traveler