Wayne in Ridgway

In the run up to the upcoming Grit Series, we’re going On Location with John Wayne for some Old West vibes and a headlining day with Duke.

Written by Jenn Thornton

Those of us planning to lace up for the upcoming John Wayne’s Grit Series are already in a Ridgway, Colorado state of mind. But for Wayne fans who are new to this area, rest-assured, you’re not—at least entirely. Neither is our big-hatted hero, who swaggered into Ridgway to film a little movie you may have heard of called “True Grit.” Wayne filled the boots of one of the most iconic film characters of all time, the U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn, and won a Best Actor Oscar for his trouble. 

Ridgway, as it happens, is also the site of the John Wayne’s Grit Series, which pays tribute to the man and his legacy—on and off screen. A 5K and half-marathon fundraiser for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s mission to support the cancer-fighting community, the Aug. 27, 2022 race meanders through the forest and wild-flowered wilderness at the base of the San Juan Mountains where “True Grit” was filmed. One of these sites is the barn where Wayne’s cantankerous “Rooster” bids farewell to Kim Darby’s spitfire Mattie Ross. Not a runner, spectators are welcome on the course and in Ridgway where they’ll find that the bygone days has not passed it by. 

Ridgeway has roots in the Old West but is vibrantly well-rounded, a big-talking small town of welcoming folks of a good nature with a great sporting culture and some damn good grub. The Grit Series aside, Wayne is still big box office in Ridgway. Visitors who take the True Grit walking tour (winner of True West magazine readers’ choice for Best Historical Town Tour), will discover a series of historical markers identifying sites from the film in Ridgway and nearby Ouray. 

The outfit responsible for the True Grit walking tour about town is the Ridgway Western Heritage Society, which is staging another production on Sept. 24—the Ridgway Old West Fest, a fun-filled weekend that tips its hat to ranching, railroad history and western culture. Debby Campbell—the daughter of the original “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Duke’s “True Grit” co-star Glen Campbell—will headline the event’s country-music concert held at an open-air venue at the Ouray Country Fairgrounds. 

Not gotten your fill? Mosey to over to the True Grit Café for some meaty cowboy cuisine—and we do mean meaty. “Tender steaks, tasty burgers” is the mantra of this Duke stronghold, which was built in tribute of the Oscar-winning film, and features a bevy of photos of one Hollywood’s most bankable stars of all time. Fun fact: the “Chambers Grocery” external wall that appeared in one of the film’s early scenes makes a cameo at the café too. In Ouray, the Outlaw Restaurant allows tourists to try on a tattered hat supposedly brought there by John Wayne. Another Western tall tale? Maybe. But a good one. 

Rugged individualist? Ridgway is really for you. You don’t have to be a cinematographer scouting locations for the next big Western to see that Ridgway is paradise for the great outdoors. A simple pair of eyes will do. Whether hiking, angling, mountain biking, horseback riding or any other possible pursuit (ice climbing for the truly game), rest-assured there’s a trail, a stream, a canyon, a cavern, or a natural wonder for you in Ridgway. It was good enough for Wayne.

For information about the Grit Series, visit our website here!