Western showman “Buffalo Bill” Cody founded his namesake Wyoming town in 1896 to welcome visitors to Yellowstone National Park.
As the nation’s first national park developed into an attraction after its creation in 1872, Cody acquired ranch land along the Shoshone River approaching one of the park’s five entrances. To ensure that people would use the eastern entrance to Yellowstone, Cody promoted a railroad to a site just 50 miles from the park and built a fine hotel in the middle of his new town.
The little northwestern Wyoming town of Cody has been welcoming Yellowstone tourists and promoting Western traditions since its inception. Primitive early roads from the end of a rail line in Cody have evolved into well-traveled highways to the park’s eastern entrance on U.S. Highway 14/16/20 and the northeastern portal 80 miles away via state Route 120 and U.S. Highway 212. Both routes are designated scenic byways. Highways and automobile travel doomed the railway to Cody.
Southern Nevadans heading for Yellowstone National Park find one scenic approach route takes them to Jackson, Wyo., through Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone. To reach Cody, travelers must exit the park, so hold onto your entrance fee receipt, which will allow you to re-enter the park. The drive from the park to Cody through the canyon is spectacular in any season. It is a popular drive for the autumn color season starting in mid-September.
The eastern entrance is closed to wheeled vehicles in winter, but snow coaches, snowcats and guided snowmobile tours carry winter visitors into the park. Within adjacent Shoshone National Forest, the road attracts snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Because the area boasts 300 waterfalls that freeze in winter, Cody is a center for ice climbing and attracts top climbers for its annual ice climbing festival that takes place during Presidents Day weekend.
As the highway approaches Cody, it passes a popular reservoir created by a dam on the river, both named for the colorful Buffalo Bill. Visitors find several outdoor recreation possibilities in the Cody area, including horseback trail rides, mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, kayaking, canoeing and hunting.
Cody holds many special events with cowboy, pioneer or Old West themes. The town hosts rodeos every night from June through August, with its biggest rodeo event of the year, the Cody Stampede, taking place during Independence Day weekend. The Professional Cowboys Association-sanctioned event has been an annual tradition since 1919.
Because tourism is its main business, Cody has many more lodging options than most towns of fewer than 10,000 residents. The two-story Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill in 1902 and named for his daughter, remains a tourist mainstay downtown for food, lodging and shopping.
Riding the Cody Trolley is a good way to get acquainted with the town and its history. Informative and entertaining, the hourlong narrated ride starts from the porch of the Irma Hotel. Inquire there about reservations and ticket prices.
A fixture in Cody since 1917, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West combines five respected museums and a research library. The Smithsonian-affiliated museums feature collections on the life and times of Buffalo Bill, the natural history of Yellowstone, the Plains Indians, firearms that affected Western expansion, and the West as portrayed by many artists.
Allow several hours for your visit. Tickets are available online or at the door.
— Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.