Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado, commemorates an historic 1800s fort and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail in southeastern Colorado. The original 1833 fort was lost to time and wear, but a faithful reproduction was completed in 1976 after the site was declared a National Historic Site in 1960.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
ILNP Park Review
Our Visit We visited Bent’s Old Fort on a holiday weekend in September. It’s only a couple hours from our home, so this was the closest national park unit we hadn’t visited before.
Our Weather 95 degrees and partly cloudy–hot, especially for September
Overall Impression Bent’s Old Fort is a great place to learn about the American West in the early 1800s when trade routes were opening up between the U.S. and Mexico, and trade with Indian tribes flourished. It’s a recreation instead of the original, but that makes it a fantastic place to take kids. Very little of the impressive fort was off limits, and my kids thoroughly enjoyed perusing the passages and rooms touching the displays and “feeling” life in the 1800s when the fort served primarily to facilitate peaceful trade with the Indians while providing respite and resupply for traders and travelers on their way to Santa Fe. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the southeastern Colorado area.
Visiting Bent’s Old Fort (as opposed to Bent’s New Fort built downriver in 1853) is a relatively small park, and it consists solely of the fort and a single hiking trail loop that runs along the nearby Arkansas River. You can easily see the entire fort and take a quick jaunt on the hiking trail in two hours. The parking lot is 1/4 mile from the fort, but the trail is easy. A golf cart is available to pick up anyone unable to make the walk.
Once at the fort, you’ll probably be greeted by a volunteer in a period costume who will orient you to the fort and turn you loose to roam. A short film and small library of material is available near the entrance, but all the information you need is in the “self-guiding tour” book available for loan. The fort is a series of rooms and passages, each faithfully reproduced and full of period furniture and artifacts (or good replicas). The rooms include the trade room, a dining room, kitchen, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, warehouses, well room, doctor’s quarters, and several living quarters from a bunk room for laborers and soldiers to fancier quarters for characters like William Bent, the original manager of the fort and trading post.
As mentioned, very little of the fort is “off limits,” and there are plenty of displays for visitors to interact with including pelts and skins, blacksmith hammers, tools, brooms, etc. Visitors leave with a great sense of what life must have been like in this isolated trading post, the largest structure for hundreds of miles. In addition to the historic rooms, there is a modern bathroom and air-conditioned gift shop inside the fort.
Outside the fort is a corral for animals which at the time of our visit included a horse, some cats, a peacock family and some chickens. A path takes visitors through fields of grass and sunflowers to the Arkansas River, at this point more of a stream about 50 feet wide. When the fort was built, the Arkansas was the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s an easy hike, and it gives you a feel for why the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail offered more safety and resources than the shorter Cimarron Route to the south. If you have more time, you can continue on the trail to complete the longer loop back to the parking lot.
Suggestions While the fort is kid-friendly in many ways, be careful with very little children as the upper level does not have a railing, only a short portion of wall a few inches high. If you have trouble with heat, check the forecast as summer can be stifling in the fort. Remember the gift shop is air conditioned, so make it a mid-tour stop on a hot day. The hiking trail is nice, but be wary if you don’t like bugs. We encountered thousands of grasshoppers, bees and wasps, though all of them left us alone.
Nearby Towns La Junta, CO
Other Nearby Attractions Santa Fe NHT
Official NPS Website Bent’s Old Fort NHS
Write Your Own Review