A road trip out west makes for a quintessential American vacation. One of the places high on many travelers’ lists is the first national park, Yellowstone, which is located in Montana and Wyoming. If you’re heading west during your travels, one stop you won’t want to miss is Cody in Park County, Wyoming.
Known as the “most charming town” in Wyoming, this truly Western town has something for everyone. Developed by Buffalo Bill Cody, it’s the perfect place to get a taste of a real Western town. He hoped that its location, only 53 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, would make it a must-stop destination for travelers.
Cody is a town loaded with history, world-class museums, and outdoor adventures. It’s also a place to relax, enjoy, and take in nature.
Strolling along the main street of downtown Cody, you’ll immediately feel the Western spirit. You can almost hear the sound of spurs in the dusty wide streets first navigated by horse-drawn wagons and carriages. It’s an experience you will not soon forget.
Things To Do In Cody
While Cody is a small town, it’s not short on things to do. We recommend you plan your stay in advance so you don’t miss anything. To really get a feeling for the area, you should plan on staying at least two nights. It’s a good idea to include a mix of activities to get the full Cody experience. You’ll want to spend some time outdoors, visit the museums, view some wildlife, and enjoy the food, too.
1. Buffalo Bill Center Of The West
If you think you know Colonel William Frederick, popularly known as the showman Buffalo Bill, a visit to the five separate museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum will make you think again. You’ll learn how Buffalo Bill developed the town of Cody and the surrounding area in the Buffalo Bill Museum. Don’t miss the Draper Natural History Musem to get an in-depth look at all the creatures and fauna that call Yellowstone home. The Plains Indian Museum provides a look at day-to-day life of the Plains Indian people. If you’re interested in learning more about the weapons used in the American West you, can explore the Cody Firearms Museum. All five museums are included in the admission fee.It might be surprising to learn that Cody was an early supporter of equal rights. He hired women and Native Americans, provided good wages for both, and adamantly opposed slavery.
While you’re there, don’t miss the Whitney Western Art Museum. It features prime examples of Western art by masters such as Remington, Charles Russell, and Thomas Moran as well as notable works by many modern artists.
2. Old Trail Town
You’ll feel like you’re in the Wild West when you head into the Old Trail Town. Historian and archaeologist Bob Edgar realized that many of the historical buildings and materials of the region were disappearing. So he relocated a collection of over 26 structures to recreate an authentic old Western town for preservation and enjoyment of this history.
As you walk the dusty trail between the buildings you will hear the theme music by Ennio Morricone from the film The Good, The Bad, and The Uglyin your head. You’ll see the original cabins used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the saloon that was the spot for the “Hole In The Wall Gang.” It’s like stepping back in time.
3. Cody Nite Rodeo
If you haven’t been to a rodeo before, you’re in for a treat. Cody is the Rodeo Capital of the World. Attending the Cody Nite Rodeo is an American Western tradition full of all the excitement you’d expect from any sporting event. But this one adds even more energy because everything is done on horses.
There’s the Star-Spangled Banner kickoff, singing along with songs of the ’70s and ’80s, and cowboys and cowgirls showing off their best horse-riding and wrangling skills. It’s hard not to get swept up in the exuberance of performances including bronc riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, barrel racing, bareback riding, and more. There’s even a fun event for the kids to safely get in the ring and kick up a little dust. It’s a Cody tradition that is well worth experiencing.
If you’re in Cody around the 4th of July, don’t miss the Cody Stampede Rodeo. This annual event draws the best cowboys and cowgirls to compete for $400,000 in prize money.
4. Get Outside
You’ll want to experience all the beautiful nature in Cody and the surrounding area. The first national forest, Shoshone National Forest, offers varied terrains that are perfect places for hiking or biking. The Shoshone River runs through Cody and includes rafting, kayaking, and white-water rafting. River trips on the Shoshone North Fork provide a scenic respite to observe local wildlife including many migratory birds like the white pelican. The South Fork winds out of the Absaroka Mountain Range and is one of the best spots in the country for fly fishing.
You can plan horseback riding adventures and day trips. If you want to be even more adventurous, try zip-lining or powered hang gliding, too.
There are plenty of trails and wildlife viewing areas to see bison, deer, moose, mountain sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, eagles, and many other birds and creatures. Just remember to respect nature. Never approach wild animals. Follow the rules for the safety of all.
5. Heart Mountain WWII Interpretive Center
To learn how to improve our future, we should study our past. An emotional visit to the Heart Mountain WWII Interpretive Center will make you stop, reflect, and understand what we can do to make the future better for everyone. This beautifully curated museum contains a collection of photographs, videos, and interactive displays. You will see inside the daily lives of the Japanese Americans who were relocated here during World War II. You’ll learn of their courage, resilience, and patriotism even under these extreme conditions. The experience explores civil rights issues and hatred and is a sad reminder that we must not forget and must continue to work on our nation.
6. Buffalo Bill Dam
Building in a thriving town in Cody was one thing. Making sure that it had water was another. The Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center walks you through the building of the dam and offers some pretty spectacular views. The dam irrigates over 93,000 acres of local crops and was the highest dam in the world when it was built in 1910.
Building the Buffalo Bill reservoir proved insightful and provided a reliable water source for the town and the Bighorn Basin.
7. Cody Firearms Experience
Like it or not, guns are part of the Old West. We’re not gun owners but we set off to learn more about the history of guns and what they represent at the Cody Firearms Experience. What impressed us the most was the professionalism and safety the staff provided. They spent a lot of time explaining what to expect and all the safety regulations.
Here you can experience shooting a gun in a supervised setting. They have everything from a replica of an Indian Trade musket to a Colt Walker revolver, a Winchester Model 1873 rifle to a rapid-fire Gatling gun.
You’ll learn how guns were necessary for survival and safety in the Old West. Hunting was the primary source of food and sustenance. We certainly walked away with a new understanding of the Western gun culture and history.
Where To Eat In Cody, Wyoming
You’re out West, so meat lovers, prepare to eat some delicious locally-raised cattle and wild game. You can even have a good old chuck wagon meal. The restaurant at the Irma Hotel serves up its famous prime rib and authentic Rocky Mountain oysters. You can even grab a tasty Buffalo Bill beer at the bar. You’ll also find a wide array of other food spots that feature Mexican, Italian, German, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines. Something to please just about every palate.
Best Hotels In Cody
The town of Cody is small but full of places to rest your head at night. Choose from hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, Airbnbs, and more. For a nostalgic stay try the historic Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel. It’s on the main street in Cody, built by Buffalo Bill, and named after his youngest daughter. Don’t miss the famous room-long Cherrywood bar, which was presented to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria of England. You can still have a drink at the bar now located in the hotel dining room. The bar is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you’re a literary fan, check out the Chamberlin Inn. Now a 21-room boutique hotel with a lovely private courtyard and private walled garden, it is where Ernest Hemingway completed his manuscript for Death in the Afternoon. He spent time in Cody fishing in Clark’s Fork River and spinning tales at the Irma Hotel bar in the evenings. You can see the register he signed on display and even stay in the Hemingway Room if you are so inclined.
Conveniently located right on main street the Holiday Inn Cody at Buffalo Bill Village is a spot for all types of travelers. The modern and clean accommodations will make everyone happy. They have a pool, fitness center, laundry, bar, and gift shop.
Best Campgrounds In Cody
If you’re looking for a more outdoorsy stay, there are plenty of Cody, Wyoming, campgrounds to choose from. You can sleep out under the stars or choose a place to put up your tent and relax.
Check out Big Quiet Camping, where the name alone tells you you’re going to be out in the wide-open spaces. They have walled tents, teepees, Japanese cabins, and tent camping to choose from. Out in the organic farmland, you will experience first-hand the healing power of nature.
There are also two camping areas, right outside the city limits of Cody at the Buffalo Bill State Park, that offer rustic views and accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs.
At the Cody Wyoming Trout Ranch Camp, you can stay in a teepee along the river and catch your own trout dinner. They also have RV spots available.
When you’re planning your road trip in the West be sure to make Cody one of your stops. Take the time to enjoy all the history, the scenic outdoors, and all the interesting and varied attractions. You’ll be glad you did.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check out the guided tours that include a walking tour of historic downtown Cody and the scenic road tour from Cody to Yellowstone. You can even take a quick preview before you go.