The welcome sign at the Cody airport says it all: “Long Live the Wild West.” Indeed, there’s no better place to unleash your inner cowboy than in tiny Cody, Wyoming.
Founded by that legendary Western showman himself, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1896, the eponymous town is rife with rodeos, cowboy music, gunfight reenactments, shooting galleries, a recreated frontier town, wild mustang tours, and food and art that epitomize the authentic Old West. Stroll along Cody’s main drag, American flag-festooned Sheridan Avenue, and experience the buckaroo spirit at cowboy apparel stores (Stetsons and belt buckles aplenty), Western art galleries, old-time saloons, and beef-centric restaurants (bring your cattleman’s appetite).
A living reminder of all things frontier, this gateway to Yellowstone National Park (just 2 hours east) is a spirited community that proudly preserves its cowboy history. “I like the past that’s here,” gallery owner and Cody native Sue Simpson Gallagher told me during my solo press trip. “We embrace what the past has taught us. There’s a real sense of place.”
Here, then, are 12 ways to live out your Blazing Saddles fantasy in Cody.
1. Buffalo Bill Center Of The West
No facility provides a greater introduction to Western culture than the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Considered the “Smithsonian of the West,” this sprawling complex of five themed museums covers everything from art to natural history to firearms.
You can admire classic and contemporary paintings and sculptures of the American West — from Frederic Remington to Charlie Russell — at the Whitney Western Art Museum. Learn about Yellowstone’s diverse ecosystems through sights, sounds, and even smells at the Draper Natural History Museum.
Marvel at the 4,000 firearms — dating from 1400 to the present — at the Cody Firearms Museum, the most comprehensive collection in the U.S. explores the cultures, customs, and traditions of the Indigeneous Peoples of the Great Plains in one of the nation’s largest repositories of Native American art and artifacts at the Plains Indians Museum. You can also discover the extraordinary life and legacy of showman Buffalo Bill and his rip-roaring Wild West show at the Buffalo Bill Museum.
Pro Tip: Enjoy an authentic chuckwagon dinner on Tuesdays and Saturdays from late May through August. Make sure to reserve in advance.
2. The Cody Rodeo
Western culture isn’t complete without a rodeo and this “Rodeo Capital of the World” delivers big time thanks to two notable events — the Cody Nite Rodeo (nightly June 1-August 31) and the Cody Stampede (July 1-4), one of the largest professional rodeos in the U.S., dating back to 1919.
At the Cody Nite Rodeo — yes, it was my first rodeo — I watched buckin’ broncos, calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding (and quite a few riders limping away). In between events at the world’s only nighttime rodeo, the master of ceremonies and clowns kept us entertained.
Pro Tip: Stop by the Cody Night Rodeo Store for Western clothing and souvenirs.
3. Old Trail Town
Step into the Old West at Old Trail Town, a recreated frontier settlement of 26 historic buildings on the original Cody town site. Assembled by Wyoming native and historian Bob Edgar, they date from 1879 to 1901 and provide a rare glimpse of how early Western settlers lived.
Gape at the original cabins used by outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as the bullet-riddled Wyoming saloon popular with Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Marvel at how tiny these one-room trapper and homesteader cabins were. Pay your respects to early settlers at the small cemetery, which includes the gravesite of mountain man Jeremiah Johnson, where a young Robert Redford — who played Johnson in the biopic — carried the casket for his burial. Examine exhibits and historic photos that tell the tales of early frontier days.
Pro Tip: A small gift shop sells unique items such as Wild Bunch T-shirts, cast-iron pieces, wanted posters, memorabilia, and more.
4. Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tour
What’s more Western than mustangs running free in their native habitat? Join a Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tour and head nearly 20 miles out of Cody to the McCullough Peaks to view wild herds grazing or galloping across the grassy plains. On this 3-hour safari, you might also spot pronghorn antelope, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The tour provides binoculars and spotting scopes for up-close-and-personal views of the wildlife.
5. Western Art Galleries
The art lover in me was delighted to find high-quality galleries around town, representing local and big-name Western artists. The Simpson Gallagher Gallery, owned by Sue Simpson Gallagher (daughter of iconic Senator Alan Simpson), specializes in landscape painting. “Cody has always had galleries,” she told me. “Buffalo Bill wanted to start an artists’ colony here.” Nearby, the Big Horn Galleries sells Western and wildlife art.
Only steps away, you can admire the exquisite high-end furnishings and artwork at By Western Hands, a non-profit museum and gallery displaying works inspired by the American West. It aims to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of Western design and craftsmanship.
Fine art photography gets its due at Open Range Images, a co-op of 12 local photographers. Their work captures the stunning landscapes and wildlife of the area, “which is a photographer’s paradise,” said co-op member Cat Hesselbacher.
6. Western Gear And Gifts
Shopaholics, rejoice. Looking for authentic Western gear? Amble over to Seidel’s Saddlery to pick up a hand-tooled Western belt and other leather goods. Interested in Western wear? There’s Wayne’s Boot Shop for hand-crafted footwear; The Cowboy Palace for a statement cowboy hat, Western clothing, and more boots; and the Custom Cowboy Shop for Western duds and riding gear. Is handcrafted artisan jewelry your thing? Rockstar Cowgirl boutique has you covered.
Have a sweet tooth? Head to the Cowtown Candy Company for Cody Crunch and Wyoming logo chocolate bars. The Wyoming Buffalo Company, meanwhile, touts a “taste of the Old West” with buffalo, venison, elk, Western specialty foods, and as many Rocky Mountain huckleberry products as cowboy hats at a rodeo.
Pro Tip: Many of these stores offer mail-order services.
7. Western Music Performances
Get ready for some boot-tappin’ fun at two live music shows. At the Cody Cattle Company, I enjoyed a chuckwagon-style buffet dinner (beef brisket, beans, and cornbread, anyone?) while a “cowboy band” played tunes from Gene Autrey to Johnny Cash under a big tent. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and the show is at 7:30 p.m.
Another option, Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue, features Nashville veteran Dan Miller leading his band in cowboy classics like “Home on the Range.” Just be prepared to sing along.
Pro Tip: Both shows are only open during the summer.
8. Gun Culture Experiences
Guns are an integral part of Western culture. After learning about their history at the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center, you can try your hand at the indoor shooting range of the Cody Firearms Experience. Sample everything from an 18th-century flintlock to a contemporary automatic among the 75 available. “People from the Northwest want to shoot automatics, but those from the South want to shoot guns from the Civil War,” general manager Paul Brock told me.
For close encounters of the unusual kind, check out the eye-popping 1,400 relic weapons displayed at the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum. Get your early Colt, Winchester, and Remington fix among rusted samples from the 1800s along with weaponry through the years up to WWII. They were collected over 40 years by owner Hans Kurth — who literally dug up many decaying specimens himself.
9. Wild West Gunfight Shows
What’s the Wild West without a shootout? Every summer evening at 6 p.m., The Wild Bunch performs the Cody Gunfight in front of Buffalo Bill’s historic Irma Hotel. The costumed actors put on a free show featuring Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, and of course, a saloon gal — which literally ends with a bang.
10. Western-Style Dining
Wyoming is cattle country and you can eat your fill of prime rib, sirloin, burgers (beef or bison), and even Rocky Mountain oysters (if you’re brave enough) in Cody. They’re all dished up at two local icons: the Old West-themed Proud Cut Saloon and the turn-of-the-century Irma Hotel Restaurant & Saloon, both liberally adorned with mounted animal trophies. Don’t miss Irma’s signature bread pudding with whiskey sauce.
Those hankering for an old-fashioned soda belly up to the wooden bar at Annie’s Soda Saloon & Café, a quintessential Old West throwback. Choose from combos based on 40 soda and 14 ice cream flavors, such as The Remington (chocolate soda and salted caramel ice cream) or the Cowboy Rickey (limeade soda and cherry ice cream).
Pro Tip: On your way out of Annie’s, pick up a plate-sized “cowboy cookie” — made of oatmeal, chocolate chips, and pecans.
11. The ‘Wild West Spectacular’
Watch the legend of Buffalo Bill Cody come to life with singing, dancing, and humor at the historic Cody Theatre’s Wild West Spectacular, produced by the Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre each summer. Let sharpshooters, can-can girls, and historical figures Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and Wild Bill Hickok transport you back to frontier days.
Pro Tip: You can order sarsaparilla at the stage bar during intermission.
12. The Historic Irma Hotel
Soak up the spirit of the Old West at Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel, built in 1902 and named for his youngest daughter. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the iconic property in the center of town oozes period charm from its wallpapered walls to its old framed photos to its authentic furnishings. The restaurant’s cherrywood bar was a gift from England’s Queen Victoria, who was thrilled to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in London.
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