Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City

Four cities make up the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail: Dodge City, Wichita, Abilene and Hays. These cities were mentioned often in the old Gunsmoke series, which began on the radio and transitioned to a popular television series. In 2023, Skip and I visited all four cities and focused on Old West attractions. Our first stop on the Gunsmoke Trail was Wichita. (See Part 1 of the 4-part series.) In this segment, we’re exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City.

Dodge City is the epicenter of Gunsmoke. It exudes Old West, from the statues of Gunsmoke characters throughout town to still-existent feedlots. Yes, still today, Dodge City is a cattle town.

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail.

West Cowboy Silhouette, a metal structure depicting silhouettes of cowboys on horseback

Stop at the Visitor Information Center First

Your first stop in Dodge City should be the Visitor Information Center, located at 400 W Wyatt Earp Boulevard. Here you can pick up brochures and get more information about attractions. Be sure to ask for a city map to help plan your days more efficiently. Also, note that several of the attractions are seasonal, so plan ahead to know which attractions will be open on your visit.

While at the Visitor Information Center, take time for some photo ops. In front of the center is a statue of James Arness as Matt Dillon, the character Arness played in the television Gunsmoke series. Have a seat at the poker table with Doc Holliday for another photo op near the visitor center.

Train buffs will enjoy the 1139 Steam Engine built in 1903 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.

Take the Trolley Tour

One of the best ways to become familiar with and learn the history of a city is to take a tour. During summer months, a trolley tour leaves from the Visitor Information Center. This was actually our second visit to Dodge City. Our first visit was in 2018, and we took the trolley tour then. We did a podcast about the tour afterward. You can listen to it or read about it here.

Visit the Boot Hill Museum

Front Street replica at Boot Hill Museum

On our 2018 Dodge City visit, we saw many of the area attractions, including the Boot Hill Museum. But at that time, we learned of a planned big museum renovation. So, we were anxious to see the changes on our return visit.

The renovation was actually an expansion, an additional building with lots of awesome interactive exhibits. The original museum, with many of its 60,000 artifacts once owned by early Dodge City inhabitants, was left largely intact and was as interesting to see as it was a few years earlier.

We also witnessed a staged gunfight and afterwards enjoyed dinner and a show.
Read “Boot Hill Museum: Discover the Wild West Legacy”

Stroll the Dodge City Trail of Fame Walking Tour

Plan at least a half day to walk the Dodge City Trail of Fame, especially if you enjoy taking photographs. There are several more statues besides the ones we mentioned above. Two that come to mind are those of lawman Wyatt Earp and El Capitan. El Capitan is a bull that represents the Texas longhorn cattle that earned Dodge City its nickname “Queen of Cowtowns.”

In addition to statues, bronze medallions embedded into the sidewalks pay tribute to Dodge City legends. This includes both people from Dodge City’s Old West days and actors from the Gunsmoke series. Some include hand prints, as well.

Don’t stay focused solely on the sidewalk, however. Be sure to look up to see the ironwork pole banners along the streets… And the murals that adorn many of the building walls.

Mural depicting Old West characters as in the Gunsmoke series

Check Out the Santa Fe Depot

While you do the walking tour, you’re close to the historic Santa Fe depot. We suggest you take a walk over and peek inside. The depot, constructed by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company, dates back to 1897.

Not only did the depot serve as a busy passenger station, it also included a Fred Harvey Hotel and the El Vaquero dining room.

Today the depot still functions as an Amtrak station, but the hotel registration desk and sweeping staircase still exist. Most of the second floor has been converted into offices. However, during our 2018 visit, we saw one restored hotel room that was available to view.

See the Legends at the Gunfighters Wax Museum

Another seasonal attraction is the Gunfighters Wax Museum. Wax figures are dressed as Old West legends, like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and many more. Download an app on your phone or use one of the museum’s devices to listen to recordings about the lives of each of the legends.

Mannequins dressed as Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp at a poker table with a woman and sheriff standing nearby

The museum is above the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame, which is interesting, as well. We enjoyed seeing the artifacts (do you remember the Weekly Reader?) and the one-room schoolhouse. We especially got a kick out of the 1872 Rules for Teachers. One rule is, “After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.” Sheesh! Talk about a long work day!

View the Santa Fe Trail Rut Site

Santa Fe ruts

Drive eleven miles west of Dodge City, along U.S. Highway 50 to see the Santa Fe Trail Rut Site. Designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1966, the rut site is the remains of what was once the commercial highway that connected Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From 1821 to 1880, mules, oxen, and horses pulled large freight wagon caravans through the prairie—sometimes four abreast—which created deep ruts still somewhat visible today. Use of the Santa Fe Trail ended as the railroad pushed westward.

We took the walkway out to the area where you can see the ruts. Honestly, not knowing exactly where to look, there were a little hard to discern. Nevertheless, the view of prairie grasses and wildflowers is gorgeous and worth a trip out to see it.

Drive Out to Longhorn Park

Longhorn steer lying in the grassy field

Longhorn Park, near the airport, is home to a small herd of longhorn cattle. On our visit, we saw only one longhorn, but got some great photos of it. The rest of the herd was beyond a ridge.

According to a description on the Visit Dodge City website, “The park setting includes corrals for the longhorns and commemorative signs relaying the history of the famous cattle drive.” We didn’t see any of that, so maybe there is another entrance to the park that we didn’t see.

Stop at the Feedlot Overlook

Lots of cattle in a feedlot

Take Wyatt Earp Boulevard east of Dodge City to reach the Feedlot Overlook. In the pull-off from the road, you’ll find signage about the cattle. Be sure to take binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens for a good view.

Warning: Depending on the wind direction and where you are in relation to the feedlots, you may smell the cattle anywhere in Dodge City. It isn’t a pleasant odor, but locals refer to the smell as “money.”

Tour the Mueller-Schmidt House Museum (Home of Stone)

Outside view of the Mueller-Schmidt Home (House of Stone)

Although nowhere near a mansion, many of this limestone home’s unique features stand out as special. Even more special is the story behind the two families who lived in the home—and some of the family members whom may still lurk there in spirit.
Read “Home of Stone: The Mueller-Schmidt House—A Living Heritage

See Fort Dodge

One evening we drove out to Fort Dodge, an active military post from 1865 to 1882. Unlike most of the forts we’ve visited, Fort Dodge had no stockade. It was more like a small town. Built near the Santa Fe Trail to protect settlers moving west from Indian raids, it also served as a base of operations for troops and supplies.

Some of the original buildings remain, and most of them house services for the residents of the Kansas Soldiers’ Home. However, there is a lot of signage with detailed history. There is also a museum, but since we visited after hours, it was closed.

The Fort Dodge building called Custer's House
This building that served as the commanding officer’s quarters is called the Custer House, although General Custer was never stationed at Fort Dodge.

Sip a Cocktail at Boot Hill Distillery

The vintage bar in Boot Hill Distillery

Boot Hill Distillery is unique, because the farmer-owners complete the entire process themselves, from growing the grain to distilling and bottling. We took a tour of the distillery during our 2018 visit, where we learned about the distilling process. We also learned the building’s fascinating history and the ground on which it sets.
Read “Boot Hill Distillery: Soil to Sip in a Historical Location

Dodge City Restaurants and Breweries

Dodge City offers several great eating establishments. Between our 2018 and 2023 visits, we enjoyed several. Here are some highlights, in photos.

Central Station Bar & Grill

Barbeque sandwich with chips and coleslaw

Cowboy Capital Saloon & Grill

Burger with a large stack of onion rings

Dodge City Brewing


If You Visit the Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City…

Click here for more information on the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City.

After Dodge City, we headed north to Hays to explore more Old West attractions. See Part 3 of the 4-part series to see how we spent our time in Hays.

Other articles in this issue of Midwest Wanderer Explores…

Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Wichita
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Hays
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Abilene
Wild West Wichita Comes Alive at Old Cowtown Museum
The Keeper of the Plains and Mid-America All-Indian Center
Time Travel at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Boot Hill Museum: Discover the Wild West Legacy
Home of Stone: The Mueller-Schmidt House—A Living Heritage
Boot Hill Distillery: Soil to Sip in a Historical Location
Historic Fort Hays: Tracing the Footsteps of Frontier Defenders
Cowtown to Carousels: Explore the Dickinson County Heritage Center

One thought on “Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City

  • June 13, 2024 at 10:40 pm

    Fascinating. I’ve been a fan of “Gunsmoke” since the radio and TV series, and it’s curious to see how Dodge evolved from a buffalo to a cattle town.


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