Bent County, Colorado: Outdoor Activities and History


Bent County is a sparsely populated region in southeastern Colorado, situated along the Arkansas River. While it may fly under the radar for many travelers, this rural county offers pristine nature, Old West history, and outdoor recreation galore. The county’s biggest claim to fame is its stretch of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, which brought pioneers west in the 19th century. Today, you can still see wagon ruts and other traces of history along the trail.


  • Bent County is home to part of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, which pioneers used to drive west in the 19th century.
  • Bent County has amazing fishing, hunting, and birdwatching with its biodiversity.
  • John Martin Reservoir State Park is a great family-friendly adventure spot for summer visitors.

Taking In Local History and Culture

As you explore Bent County’s historical attractions and cultural sites, you’ll gain insight into the frontier history and heritage of this region. In the county seat of Las Animas, be sure to visit the Bent County Museum and the Boggsville Historic Site. The Boggsville site preserves the adobe homestead built in 1866 by entrepreneur Thomas Boggs, which became a major trading post on the Santa Fe Trail. Tour the restored buildings and walk the trail to experience a taste of pioneer life.

The town of Las Animas also hosts the annual Santa Fe Trail Days celebration each September, featuring heritage demonstrations, chuckwagon cookoffs, and reenactments of life on the trail. Mix and mingle with locals to embrace the community’s enduring pioneer spirit. Don’t miss the chance to try classic frontier dishes like buffalo stew, cornbread, and Dutch oven pies.

Scenic Byways Through Untamed Landscapes

Bent County boasts several scenic and historic byways perfect for awe-inspiring road trips. The Granada to Holly Route takes you through classic shortgrass prairie, dotted with yucca, cacti, and wildflowers. You’ll traverse long stretches of wide-open range without a building in sight. Keep your eyes peeled for pronghorn antelope and soaring hawks along the drive.

For striking canyon views, take the Road Canyon Road Scenic Byway near the town of McClave. Here, you’ll skirt along the edge of Road Canyon, with its eroded sandstone walls in hues of red and yellow. Stop at the lookout point for postcard views of the canyon below, where you might catch sight of bighorn sheep picking their way along the rocky terrain.

Outdoor Adventure Awaits

The county’s varied terrain offers limitless outdoor recreation, particularly fishing and hunting. One of the most popular activities is angling along the Arkansas River and John Martin Reservoir. Here, you can reel in channel catfish, walleye, crappie, and even monster-sized carp.

The open prairie is also a prime habitat for pronghorn, mule deer, and pheasants, making Bent County a hunter’s paradise. For birdwatchers, John Martin Reservoir State Park and the Holbrook Canal are noted birding hotspots, with sightings of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and more.

Four Distinct Seasons to Visit

One of Bent County’s assets is its mild climate with four distinct seasons, each offering its own activities and attractions for visitors.

Spring is the ideal time to view spectacular wildflower blooms covering the prairie. Popular events include the annual Arkansas Valley Fair and Rodeo in Rocky Ford.

Summer brings hot and sunny weather perfect for boating, swimming, and camping at John Martin Reservoir State Park. Don’t miss the summer concert series at the park’s amphitheater.

In fall, the aspens and cottonwoods burst into vibrant shades of gold amid crisp, sunny days. Take an autumn driving tour along CR-25 for dazzling views of colorful foliage with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.

Bent County winters are generally mild, but you can still find snow at higher elevations for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Family-Friendly Attractions and Services

From dude ranches to state parks, Bent County has no shortage of family-friendly attractions and amenities. Many ranches offer kid-approved activities like horseback riding, hay rides, campfires, and cowboy cookouts. Or spend a weekend camping, boating, and fishing with the kids at John Martin Reservoir State Park.

The town of Las Animas has a public pool, skate park, bowling alley, mini-golf, and movie theater to keep children entertained.

Uncovering Layers of History

History buffs will delight in exploring Bent County’s many links to the Old West. As part of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, you can walk or bike along well-preserved wagon ruts left by pioneers during the westward expansion. Pay your respects at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in nearby Kiowa County, where a horrific 1864 battle killed 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

For a family-friendly history lesson, visit the Koshare Museum in La Junta. This quirky roadside attraction started by the Boy Scouts has an eclectic collection of Native American artifacts and Wild West memorabilia.

To immerse yourself in Dust Bowl history, check out the Springfield Museum in Baca County. Peruse the photographs, newspapers, and artifacts documenting life during the devastating Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s. You can still see evidence of the eroded farmland that plagued the area.

Adventure Sports in Rugged Terrain

While not as extreme as other Colorado destinations, Bent County still satisfies adventure seekers through activities like off-roading, hiking, hunting, and more.

Off-roading is popular throughout Bent County, with designated routes and open riding areas located near McClave, Holly, La Junta, and Las Animas. Rugged terrain ranges from rocky trails to deep sand dunes. Be sure to have high clearance 4WD and off-road tires.

Hikers can choose from trails of varying lengths and skill levels. One favorite is Vogel Canyon, traversing scenic rock formations with the Spanish Peaks as a backdrop.

During hunting seasons, outdoorsmen flock to Bent County to bag deer, elk, pronghorn, and game birds. Be sure to obtain proper licenses and follow regulations when hunting on public land.


What is there to do in Bent County besides outdoor activities?

In addition to endless outdoor recreation, Bent County offers historic sites like the Boggsville Historic Site, cultural attractions like the Koshare Indian Museum, and events such as the county fair and seasonal celebrations.

Does Bent County get much snow in winter?

Bent County typically receives limited snowfall during its mild winters. However, higher elevations see more snow, allowing for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing at spots like Lake Dorothey State Wildlife Area.

Where should I stay for the best access to trails and outdoor activities?

John Martin Reservoir State Park offers camping, cabins, and lake access in the heart of Bent County’s outdoor recreation region. Other good bases are the towns of Las Animas and La Junta, which provide easy access to attractions county-wide.

What is the best way to experience the Santa Fe Trail history?

Visit Boggsville Historic Site to see preserved buildings from a trading post along the trail. Or take a self-guided driving tour along Highway 194 to see wagon ruts and landmarks with interpretive signs explaining their history. The Trail Days festival in Las Animas each September also showcases Santa Fe Trail history and heritage.

Is Bent County very crowded with tourists?

As a rural region off the beaten path, Bent County sees far fewer visitors compared to better-known Colorado towns. So you can enjoy plenty of wide-open spaces, uncrowded trails, and relaxed small-town vibes.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.