I had never even knew such a place like Bent’s Old Fort NHS existed. However, during it’s hey day it was the center of a busy part of the world. And such an important fort, trading post, and stopping point for travelers, soldiers, locals, and more. Tribes, Americans, Mexicans, and people from around the world all would stop here at Bent’s Fort.
It was common to hear quite a few different languages spoken in the fort. Why was it so important, and what can you see here? Read ahead to learn more.
About Bent’s Old Fort NHS
Built in 1833, the fort protects the history and heritage of the Bent–St. Vrain trading company. Brothers William and Charles Bent went into business with another man Ceran St. Vrain on the construction of a fort and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. For much of its existence it was the only permanent and thus most important stop along the trail.
The company was an important source and stop for traders, tradesman and others along the trail. They dealt in much of the product that moved throughout the region from furs to food and more. They primarily traded in furs from Beaver to Buffalo Robes.
The fort was an important trading center with local tribes. Actually one of the brothers married a local tribal woman as well which solidified connections with the native American tribe in the area as well.
War and the Border
Another interesting fact is that the former US / Mexico Border was along the Arkansas River, which past just by the fort. So this fort was an important border point as well. It saw military personnel pass through, including the Army of the Americas.
The Post was an important staging area for what became of military actions by the US into areas of now New Mexico and beyond. It was later the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that set further south borders after Mexico ceded land to the United States. Another interesting NHS site in Texas, Chamizal discusses some of this legacy as well.
The Fort Now
The current fort exists as best as we can guess it would have looked during that time period. While the NPS does not like reconstruction anymore, it recreated this fort in the 70s. The original fort unfortunately burned in a fire, so the only things left were parts of the foundations.
However, an army engineer during his stay at Bent’s Fort actually made drawings of the fort and recorded measurements. It is through these measurements that they were able to construct the fort in a way that mimicked the old bent’s fort. The fort and site became a National Historic Site in the 60s, prior to the reconstruction.
Visiting Bent’s Old Fort
Visiting Bent’s Old Fort was definitely a great little side excursion. The first thing you notice is that the parking area is next to what is only really a bathroom. I kept looking around if it was part of a visitor center or if there was a closer road.
From what I saw, you have to walk to the fort. I don’t know if there’s an alternative road/path for those who need access or can’t walk that distance however.
The fort itself is in rather good condition. You have to stay on the trail as there’s a lot of folks buried in the area and much of the area is unexcavated (signs discuss people buried here, etc). The fort itself they did a good job with the reconstruction.
I’m obviously of mixed mind on that. However, the work done is quite incredible. They really put in effort to make it look like a living, working fort. You almost feel like you could be here approaching an operating fort still.
I also appreciate the rangers dress in period clothing. She was splitting food and feeding a woodfire while I was there. And it was a cold morning to be sure. You can even enjoy and sit along the couple fires that are stoked in the fort.
The fort itself is compact. I borrowed the guidebook ($2 to keep) and it was ok. I think it provided some information as to what the rooms are, but I had hope for more details on what I was looking at. It was nice that it pointed out a few people’s rooms that are mentioned in the video (highly recommend viewing).
You can also go up to the higher level of the fort. Just be sure to watch any younger folks as there are no railing and you could certainly fall down to the lower level.
The back part of the fort has some animal stocks with a few goats and such. Nothing really too spectacular. And of course a bookstore. These are a bit hidden away and it’s definitely possible to miss.
Overall though, you can probably spend an hour or more tops here at the fort. I don’t think there’s much to do. There is a candlelight tour of the facility in early December which sounds really cool. If you are close by or willing to make the trip. It’s probably a lot for most people who are far away.
Things To Do
There’s not a ton to do at the fortress. Expect to spend up to a couple hours exploring. But below are the things you can do while at the fort. Note the special event (candlelight tour) if you are available during those dates.
The main highlight of the historic site is obviously the fort. While it’s not as easy to realize, you’ll need to park a decent distance away from the fort and walk to it. This became tougher when the wind was howling as I visited. You can even do a longer hike that is about 1.5 miles in total.
The fort itself is two levels and reconstructed. If you take the time to watch the video (which I recommend) you can learn about the history of the fort, trade, the border, and more. Actually, the fort was reconstructed from plans from an engineer who visited and took measurements.
Be sure to borrow a guidebook from the visitor center, it’ll give you more information on the rooms. And also be sure to visit the top level for the rooms as well as the views from the fort.
Also don’t forget to visit the bookstore in the back area of the fort as well as the livestock pens. There were lots of curious goats when I visited. Although there was also a lot of droppings on the walkway so watch your step.
There are regular Ranger Guided Programs during the Summer (from Memorial Day to Labor Day). Rangers will give you information and take you around the fort with stories and history.
The cool thing is the rangers do dress up usually in period clothing. Outside of those times, there are still rangers present. And from what I saw, they still do dress up in period clothing.
The winter there is definitely the slow period. And while they don’t do formal programs, they often still are happy to share information, stories, and more. You can often see them splitting firewood as well in the courtyard.
Held the first weekend in December, Bent’s Old Fort lights up the fort with beautiful candles in the evening. Also there are historians that are brought in to discuss history and breathe life into the walls and land here.
So while the fort is a reconstruction, so much of it is built and rebuilt from historical records. It’s still interesting to see the best estimate of how it looked like during those past times.
This tour is the only time the fort is open in the evenings and is a once a year thing. I learned about it from the tour guide at the fort during my visit. You’ll need to book tickets to the even via Recreation.gov. I would book sooner than later if its of interest to you.
The first building on your left as you enter into the fort also serves as the visitor center. It also has displays and representation of wares that the fort held during its operation. If your visit goes like mine, the ranger likely will greet you as you enter the fort (although I was there on a very slow day).
Be sure to check out the displays and movie as well. It is a well done movie and gives lots of history and information on the fort. Also if available borrow a guidebook to help in your trip.
There is a fee to enter Bent’s old fort.
- $10.00 per person (16 years and older)
The America the Beautiful Pass also can cover you for your visit here.
The fort is open daily except for some holidays.
Summer: 8:00 am – 5:30 pm [May – Oct.]
Winter: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm [Oct – May]
There is a National Park Passport Stamp Located in the back of the fort in the bookstore.
Website: Official NPS Site
Where to Stay
There’s no camping at Bent’s Fort National Historic Site. The site though is located near La Junta Colorado which surprisingly has quite a few places to stay. This is where I stayed the night prior to visiting the site.
- BUDGET: EconoLodge: Basic Budget Hotel. Clean, as well located as anything else here.
- MODERATE: Holiday Inn Express: Pretty Decent hotel, located close enough to restaurants off the main road. Free Breakfast.
- HIGHER END: Hampton Inn: Basically slightly better than the Holiday Inn. Clean. I thought the rooms and service are better.
Bent’s Fort National Historic Site is located in the town of La Junta Colorado. However, it’s about 9 miles (15 minutes) from the main part of the town. The site is located east along Colorado 194 from the town.
Visiting Bent’s Fort is definitely worthwhile to do in conjunction with other sites or as part of a road trip. While it’s a cool site, there’s not enough to really fill up a full day. We recommend adding either Sand Creek Massacre NHS or Amache National Historic Site. You can also do both if your time and schedule permits.
Distances to Bent’s Fort:
- La Junta: 9 miles (15 minutes)
- Amache (Granada CO): 65 miles (70 minutes)
- Pueblo CO: 73 miles (90 minutes)
- Sand Creek Massacre NHS: 87 miles (90 minutes)
- Colorado Springs: 115 miles (2 hours)
- Great Sand Dunes NP: 156 miles (3 hours)
- Denver: 184 miles (3 hours)