The Wild West Comes Alive in Cody, WY

For months before our NPS 100 journey, I had fretted about this day. This is the day we would cross over the Big Horn Mountains of western Wyoming as we made our way to the town of Cody. This drive would involve going up to a peak of 10,000 feet…and then back down. I had no idea what to expect.

Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway

Travelers heading through the Big Horns must first decide which route to take. I had read that Highway 14A is the most adventurous and not recommended for RVs. Highway 14 is very scenic and drivable, but not for chickens. That left Highway 16, the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, as the best option for this chicken and her family. It promised scenery and a smoother ride.

As we left Buffalo, WY, we soon spotted the snow-capped mountains in the distance. My heart races whenever I set eyes on mountains because I just love them (other than driving in them), and these views did not disappoint. It was easy to see how this scenic byway earned the name “Cloud Peak,” as these clouds almost seemed to rest upon the mountaintops.

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It wasn’t long before we began to make some serious gains in altitude. Despite my initial fears, this nice, wide road had gentle curves and no steep drop offs, making it an easy ascent up into the mountains. Sweeping views filled our window frames.

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As we reached the peak, we found fields of snow. Luckily, there was plenty of room to park Birdy, allowing us to hop out and play at the highest pass on the byway. Here, we felt as though we could touch the sky.

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The boys sprinted across the snowy landscape. White hillsides jutted upward, with tall pines standing guard in the background. The air smelled fresh and new, like a cotton quilt hanging out on a clothesline.

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Of course, one cannot merely run across the snow. Snow is much more fun in flight. Soon, we were tossing it upward, letting the icy cold chill our hands.

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And then we were tossing it at each other. Who doesn’t love snowball fights in June?

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Even in this wintry landscape, pretty little pieces of spring were popping. Tiny colorful flowers dotted the landscape where the snow had melted.

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After we had our fill of winter in June, we loaded up and began the descent through Ten Sleep Canyon. Here, the landscape suddenly changed as the purple granite and snowy peaks gave way to craggy red rocks.

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As we continued further westward, we felt a little isolated. There aren’t many towns along this stretch of highway. A quick stop at CC’s Pizza in Greybull rejuvenated us for the final leg of this day’s travels. We were eager to make our arrival in Cody, where we would stay for two nights.

Cody, WY

The town of Cody takes its name from the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody, one of its founders. Today, the small town appeals to travelers with its Wild West heritage and its proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Theodore Roosevelt once called the stretch of roadway between Cody and Yellowstone “the fifty most beautiful miles in America.” After reading about this beauty and receiving recommendations to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum, we put Cody on our itinerary.

Cody has a great downtown district that mixes the new and the old. We enjoyed checking out the outdoors stores and fly-fishing shops, as well as historic sites like the Irma Hotel. This grand structure dates back to the 1890s and still retains an authentic Wild West ambiance, including a carved wooden bar that was a gift from Queen Victoria.

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Visitors can sit on the porch each evening to take in a reenactment of a Wild West shoot out performed nightly in summer months.

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Our boys thought the gunfight was a little cheesy, but we enjoyed the unique experience.

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Another popular attraction in town is the Cody Night Rodeo, which is the place to go to see modern day cowboys in action. We didn’t make it to the rodeo during our visit, though.

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Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Our social media friends had recommended a visit to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and one said it was as good as a Smithsonian. They were right. This is one amazing museum. It’s actually like five separate museums in one.

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We started off by exploring the Whitney Western Art Museum, which includes a variety of works with western themes. A life-sized elk welcomes visitors to the gallery, while smaller sculptures, including those by noted artist Frederic Remington, can also be found.

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One gallery pays homage to Yellowstone. These works made us even more eager to head there.

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Next, we toured the Plains Indian Museum, which includes beautiful displays of Native American artifacts presented in informative displays. What was life like for those living here centuries ago?

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What makes this museum special is how immersive it is. Visitors will find full-sized tipis and a pioneer cabin to explore.

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We entered a replica of a sweat lodge, where we heard the sounds of a crackling fire and crickets, as though we were truly sitting out in the grasslands of long ago. Video screens flickered with photos and videos, telling the stories of the Plains Indians. This, and other displays, make tribal traditions and lifestyles come to life.

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Of course, the namesake for this museum has his own section. Operating since 1927, the Buffalo Bill Museum is the oldest part of the center. Here, you can learn about the real man and the colorful legend.

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You’ll truly feel you are transported where the buffalo roam alongside Buffalo Bill.

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Our final stop was the Draper Natural History Museum. This gallery starts you in the high treetops of a forest and spirals you down through the various ecosystems you’ll find at various heights from the tips of the trees to prairie dog tunnels underground. The displays are beautifully done, leaving me with a great appreciation for the wildlife and landscapes of the region.

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Even after spending a full day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, we didn’t make it to the the firearms museum, the raptor center, or to the buildings outside of the museum. There is just so much to explore here.

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As we left the museum, we continued to enjoy the larger-than-life sculptures found on the grounds. This one created a dramatic scene as the skies darkened overhead:

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Our tickets ($19 for adults, $12 for youths) included admission for a second day, but we didn’t have a day to spare. Despite this, we felt we had gotten our money’s worth with the many hours we spent.

Final Thoughts on Cody, WY

Cody is an interesting little town. We appreciated learning about its history and strolling the modern day business district. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West was definitely a highlight and provided a wealth of information as we prepared to continue our journey west.

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7 Comments on "The Wild West Comes Alive in Cody, WY"

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Debbie
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Wonderful descriptions. I once pulled our pop up on the highway between Cody and South Dakota ! I was following my husband on his motorcycle. Glad you enjoyed the museum. Just curious… where the boys bored? I remember my kids enjoying it but it was back in the old days of no smart phones. Lol. I don’t remember their exact ages but I think they where 5-7th grade maybe??
Can’t wait to take our grandaughter soon. !!
Debbie

Pamela
Guest

I was a mere 15 years old the first time we visited Cody. I recall visiting some of the museums you highlight here. I remember feeling like we were truly in the old west during our time there. We are returning here this coming summer and I hope to introduce that same spirit to my kids. Lovely post with lovely photos! The info about the drive from Devils Tower to Cody was very helpful!

Scott Larsen
Guest

😉 That’s an elk, not a moose!

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