Cheraw, Colorado: Attractions, History, and Events


From its Wild West heritage to the sweeping grasslands surrounding it, Cheraw provides opportunities to disconnect from the bustle of daily life. Founded in 1907, this small Colorado town maintains its agricultural roots while welcoming visitors to appreciate its heritage.


  • Cheraw is a small agricultural town with cowboys, Native American history, and wide open spaces.
  • Attractions include picturesque old Main Street, the historic Cheraw Inn, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
  • Outdoor activities like hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing abound, especially at Cheraw Lake.
  • Annual events like the Cheraw Chili Cook-Off, Harvest Festival, and July 4th Rodeo round out the cultural experience.

Wide Open Spaces

Cheraw owes much of its laidback vibe to the wide open spaces that surround it. Tucked into the corner of Bent and Otero counties, fields of wheat and corn stretch for miles in most directions. To the south and east, the land transitions into rolling grasslands and eventually the Pawnee National Grassland. The sunrises and sunsets visible across these plains aren’t to be missed.

Most of the area’s recreational sites are found along the Arkansas River, which winds through grasslands ten miles south of town. Cheraw Lake offers fishing, boating, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. Just downstream, John Martin Reservoir State Park provides similar activities like camping, kayaking, and birdwatching within its 1,000 acres.

Cowboys and Native American History

As a small agricultural community, Cheraw has maintained its ranching roots. A number of working cattle ranches still operate in the area, and it’s not uncommon to see cowboys riding through town. Late June brings the annual Otero County Fair and Rodeo, where visitors can take in bull riding, calf roping, livestock shows, and more.

Historically, the plains around Cheraw were hunting grounds for multiple Native American tribes like the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne. Sadly, the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre that occurred about 60 miles northwest of town resulted in the brutal deaths of over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Today, the site serves as a solemn memorial to the atrocities that occurred across the region.

More positively, Cheraw celebrates its Native American heritage through annual powwows featuring traditional music, dance, food, and crafts. The town’s small but active American Indian community carries on cultural traditions and invites visitors to learn about and engage respectfully with their customs.

Seasonal Fun for All

One of the best aspects of Cheraw is that there’s always something going on, regardless of the season. As an agricultural community, late summer and fall feature multiple harvest-themed events, like the Chili Cook-Off in September and the Harvest Festival in October. These celebrations offer opportunities to sample local produce while enjoying activities like hayrides, pie-eating contests, and live music.

As winter sets in, the town doesn’t hibernate. Annual holiday events include the Festival of Lights Parade in December and the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. When snow covers the surrounding grasslands, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing become popular pastimes. Ice fishing is also popular out on the frozen waters of Lake Cheraw.

Spring and summer allow visitors to take advantage of Cheraw’s optimal weather for hiking, biking, camping, boating, and more. Annual Independence Day festivities like the parade, street fair, and rodeo celebrate the town’s Western heritage. For aquatic fun, head to Lake Cheraw to boat, fish, or just relax on the beach.

Local Flavors

Cheraw’s dining scene balances small-town charm with contemporary flavors at places like the Cheraw Cafe or the Frontier Diner. For a unique experience, visitors can request to join one of the community supper nights occasionally hosted by local ranching families. Alternatively, fixings for a picnic lunch or dinner can be collected from shops along Main Street or the local farmers market on summer weekends.

No visit is complete without trying Cheraw’s famous green chili, which consists of ancho chilies grown in the area and then fire-roasted. The smoky, mildly spicy flavor adds Southwestern flair to everything from stews to burritos to burgers.

Lodging and Accommodations

From hotels to cozy cabins tucked into the grasslands, Cheraw offers a variety of lodging options. Lake Cheraw contains over 100 campsites, including RV hook-ups and simple tent sites. Group sites allow for reunions or retreats.

Visitors looking for a guest ranch experience can choose from a handful of working cattle ranches that offer lodging, like the 4E Guest Ranch, Rocking R Ranch, or Flying B Ranch. Activities like cattle drives, horseback riding, and farm-to-table meals immerse guests in an authentic taste of the West.

Travel Tips for an Enjoyable Visit

Cheraw sees pleasant weather from late spring through early fall, though winters are generally mild with occasional snowstorms. Early autumn brings warm, sunny days and cooler nights, which is perfect for campfires.

The nearest commercial airport is in Pueblo, about 90 miles west of Cheraw via Highway 50. Amtrak and Greyhound stations are also located in Pueblo for rail or bus connections. Otherwise, visitors will need a private vehicle to explore the Cheraw area.

Once in town, walking or biking are enjoyable ways to get around Main Street and the residential areas. It’s ideal to explore the grasslands from a high-clearance vehicle that can handle dirt or gravel roads. Be sure to bring sun protection, proper hiking attire, and refillable water bottles.

Visitors should plan to stay at least two or three nights to see the main town attractions and experience some of the outdoor recreation at Lake Cheraw. Budget-conscious travelers can pick up grocery items in Cheraw for meals in addition to dining out.

Preserving Cheraw’s Treasures

The under three hundred residents of Cheraw aim to share their community’s heritage and natural beauty while preserving resources for future generations. Visitors play an important role by following Leave No Trace principles when exploring the grasslands. Simple actions like properly disposing of waste, leaving vegetation and artifacts untouched, and avoiding wildlife disturbances go a long way.

Tourists can engage meaningfully with the community by shopping locally, attending public events, and purchasing items directly from farmers and artists. Supporting Cheraw businesses strengthens the local economy and enables the continuation of annual festivals and gatherings. Together, mindful visitors and welcoming Cheraw residents can sustain Cheraw for years to come.


What is there to do in Cheraw besides outdoor activities?

Cheraw’s historic downtown offers shopping and dining in addition to small museums like the Bent’s Old Fort Display. Many ranches and farms allow visitors to tour their operations or purchase fresh produce when available. Annual festivals and events like the Chili Cook-Off provide additional entertainment.

Where can I see wildlife near Cheraw, and what might I see?

Lake Cheraw is a good location for birdwatching, especially during migrations. It is known to be one of the best birding spots in the region. Individuals can spot avocets, long-billed curlews, willets, and many other birds at this lake. Deer, antelope, coyotes, and other species are also spotted in the park and surrounding grasslands. Be sure to bring binoculars and practice respectful observation.

When do events like the Rodeo and Harvest Festival take place?

The Otero County Fair and Rodeo occurs around July 4th every summer. The Cheraw Harvest Festival happens annually in early-to-mid October. Dates vary slightly each year, so check local event listings for specifics.

What is there to do with kids in Cheraw?

Lake Cheraw offers swimming, boating, hiking trails, and interactive visitor centers perfect for kids. In town, young visitors may enjoy Main Street’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soda fountain. Seasonal activities like summer rodeo camps and holiday events also cater to children.

Is Cheraw an expensive place to visit?

Cheraw offers attractions and entertainment suitable for a range of budgets. Free activities like self-guided historical walking tours or hiking local trails can offset other costs. There are plenty of free activities to enjoy in Cheraw.

For what is Cheraw best known?

The Cheraw area is known for the Rocky Mountain Cantaloupe, which is famous even outside of the United States.

Is Cheraw easy to access from Denver?

Yes, Cheraw is easy to access from Denver. To get there, drive just under three hours via I-25 S and US-50 E.

What percentage of Cheraw residents have a Bachelor’s Degree?

According to the United States Census Bureau, 18.5% have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher.


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.