Planning your visit
From the parking lot your visit to Bent's Old Fort starts with a 1/2-mile roundtrip hike to the reconstructed fort. There is not a lot of shade on the walk to the Fort, so definitely pack water, sunscreen, and a hat!
The paved pathway is 1/4 of a mile (1,275 feet) in length one way, with benches in several places.
Entrance fees are collected just inside the fort. PLease carry your pass with you so it can be shown to staff upon entry.
The Western National Parks Association store is located at the rear of the fort in the wagon shed structure.
Restrooms are located at the parking lot and at the rear of the fort at the end of the wagon shed structure.
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site basic purpose is defined in the Act of June 3, 1960 as being "...for the purpose of establishing a national historic site at the site of Bent's Old Fort on the Santa Fe trail." The site was "set aside as a public national memorial to commemorate the historic role played by such a fort in . . . the West."
The purpose of Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site is to preserve the location, resources, and stories associated with the commercial, political, and cultural events that occurred at and around the site of Bent's Old Fort and to provide opportunities for visitor understanding, appreciation, and stewardship.
Ther five year average of visitation from 2017 through 2022 (excluding the pandemic year of 2020) is 24,000 visitors annually.
About the History of Bent’s Old Fort
The Bent, St. Vrain Company operated Bent's Fort from 1833-1849. Following the US-Mexican War and a series of personal tragedies, William Bent abandoned the fort in the late summer of 1849. Portions of the structure were modified for use as a stagecoach station during the 1860 and 1870s. By the early Twentieth Century little remained of the structure above ground.
Initial construction of the fort was accomplished using a New Mexican labor force of approximately 100 men from Taos hired by Charles Bent. Throughout most of the fort’s initial operation a small pool of New Mexican laborers resided at the fort to provide constant maintenance to the adobe structure.
Throughout the early 1800s, most forts on the Great Plains were owned and operated by American furtrading companiies like the Bent, St. Vrain Company. Beginning in the early 1840s and peaking with the US-Mexican War in 1846, the United States Army used Bent's Fort as a warehousing facility and stop along the Santa Fe Trail.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes traded exensively at the fort. For travelers along the Santa Fe Trail the fort was the equivalent of a truck stop.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that we will ever have a definitive account of exactly what happened at Bent’s Fort in August of 1849. Certainly trade was poor considering the distruptions following the US-Mexican War. And cholera would have been another major disruption to business. The Cheyennes, with whom Bent was most closely associated, are said to have lost half their tribe to the disease in 1849.There was no wood fuel within several miles of the fort. Grazing was poor, for how could grass in the neighborhood recover with the heavy use of the fort, both by the company and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, as well as the recent use by the U.S. Army? William Bent may very well have wanted to prevent the post from being used by the military, competing traders, and perhaps even roving Indian bands.
About the Reconstructed Fort
The reconstruction of the fort was completed in 1976 to mark both the Nation's Bicentennial and the Centennial of Colorado Statehood. The Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the site and, transferring it to the State of Colorado in the 1950s. Both the DAR and the state hoped to reconstruct the fort, and the Bicentennial/Centennial offered the perfect opportunity to realize this dream.
The Fort was reconstructed by the National Park Service in 1975 -76 from historical documentation, drawings, and conjecture.
While the archeological documentation provided clear evidence of the Fort's foundation, thereconstruction design relied upon limited documentation of the rest of the structure. Aside from the historic Albert sketches of 1846, the design was based largely on conjecture. There are no photographs of the original Fort, even from the later stagecoach period in the 1860's and 1870's. There was simply no way to verify the dimensions or proportions of the original Fort. Although complicated by the divergent reports of eyewitnesses, some very obvious errors and fabrications, and, of-course, the many hiatuses in the record, historical data provided roughly thirty percent of the necessary material. The Project Architect further stated that the archaeological report provided another thirty percent of the needed material for reconstruction. The remaining forty percent of the design had to be entirely based on conjecture.
Last updated: November 16, 2023