Of course, we had heard of Cody, Wyoming before planning our trip to Cody Yellowstone, but we had no idea how special this destination was. When witnessing the extraordinary scenery surrounding this town, one can understand why Buffalo Bill Cody chose this location to build the town that carries his namesake. One can imagine the thousands of buffalo roaming the plains just below the picturesque Big Horn Mountains.
Top Things to do in Cody, Yellowstone
Cody Yellowstone is the region comprised of the municipalities of Cody, Powell, and Meeteetse. When stopping in Cody, don’t limit yourself to the one Wild West Town, make sure to get out to explore the surrounding area. This is Big Sky country and the scenery is beautiful at every turn.
William Frederick Cody (Buffalo Bill) had a vision. Cody, Wyoming is located just 52 miles from the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and he made sure that anyone visiting Yellowstone from the Eastern United States, had to drive through Cody. The tradition continues today and the only way to the world’s first national park from the East is through America’s most exciting western town.
When road tripping or renting a car to explore the area, make sure to spend two or three days in Cody. The number of activities goes beyond the usual Wild West attractions. There are so many things to do in Cody, it has something for everyone.
Old Trail Town
One of the top things to do in Cody is to stop at the Old Trail Town. This town is fascinating and we spent much longer here than we planned. Old Trail Town is located at the original site of the town of Cody. Historic cabins from around the area were been moved and reassembled in this location giving visitors a glimpse into life in the Wild West.
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
Two cabins and a saloon used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stand intact. You can even see the bullet holes in the saloon doors. The Wild West outlaws known as the Hole in the Wall Gang made a name for themselves and one can only imagine the scheming and planning that went on within these walls.
If you have ever watched the movie Jeremiah Johnson starring Robert Redford, you will recognize a famous tombstone at the town cemetery. Johnson became famous when he went on a revenge-filled rampage after a tribe killed his native wife. His grave was moved to Cody from California in the 1970s and Robert Redford attended as a pallbearer.
Kirwin Ghost Town Adventures
We said early to make sure that you don’t spend all your time in downtown Cody and we are going to cut straight to one of the best day trips from Cody outside Yellowstone National Park. The town of Meeteetse is located just 30 minutes from Cody but feels a world away. It is the only easy mountain access point in the area of Cody Yellowstone, and take our word for it, you get far into the mountains. In other places, you’d need to hike for days to witness this scene. With Kirwin Ghost Town Adventures, you’ll be in the heart of the Absaroka Mountain Range in less than an hour.
Owner and operator Thom Nave will give you instructions on where to drive for the best views, best wildlife spotting, and safest route. You are supplied with a two-way satellite communicator so there is no need to worry about getting lost.
Bison and Wildlife
Once you are suited up, you’ll set off in your own self-drive side-by-side ATV and head into the Absarokas for a rip-roading adventure. This trip starts with a drive through the Antlers Ranch where you’ll be able to spy on a herd of Bison before venturing up high into the mountains.
Meeteetse is where the deer and the antelope play, and as you zoom through the sweeping landscape, you’ll feel as if you have been transported to the African Savanna. can spend all day getting taking twists and turns on the more than 75 miles of scenic roads to see herds of Black Angus cows roaming the stunning countryside. There are high lookouts, deep canyons, and some of the best views in Montana. People book this trip to venture out to the Kirwin Ghost Town, but it is the journey that makes it extraordinary.
Kirwin Ghost Town
As we mentioned above, most people book their ATV to see the Kirwin Ghost Town, and for good reason. When telling locals that we made it out to Kirwin Ghost Town during our trip to Cody, their eyes lit up with excitement. “You made it up there!” We felt mighty proud of ourselves for venturing to 9600 feet to see the abandoned mining town dating back to 1885. When Gold was discovered in the area, people flocked to Kirwin seeking their fortune.
At the turn of the century, as the Gold Rush dwindled so did its population and the final straw occurred when an avalanche killed three of the town’s residents in 1906. People were left with only what they could carry and today, many of the buildings remain preserved for visitors to take a peek into the past.
This town is rugged and remote, but one can understand why it was chosen as a base. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking with high snowcapped mountain peaks at every turn. You can visit Kirwin Ghost Town on your side-by-side.
If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can get a ride in the ghost coach. As Thom said “This trip is for anyone aged 8 months to 80 Years.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
No list of the best things to do in Cody, Wyoming would be complete without mentioning the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This is usually the first and only stop for many people driving through Cody. During our visit, a bus tour was passing through, and we heard everyone complaining about how there wasn’t enough time at the museum. When I asked them how much time they were given, they said “one hour.” Boy were they right! You need hours to visit this incredible complex of five museums under one roof. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is often touted as the Smithsonian of the West and for good reason.
When you purchase a ticket to the Center of the West, it is good for two days, and you are going to need it. We spent about three hours inside and barely scratched the surface. Let’s break down what you’ll see.
Buffalo Bill Museum
Buffalo Bill Museum is the star attraction. In fact, before we visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, we thought it was the only museum. The flagship museum of the center, this is most likely the first museum you’ll visit in the complex paying tribute to the life and times of Buffalo Bill Cody.
You’ll see memorabilia from his Wild West Show, costumes, and other collections depicting the American Cowboy. There are old photographs, a model of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show grounds, and chaps and saddles that the legendary performers wore.
If you like cowboys, you’ll love this museum. Make sure to check out the Gallery of Gunfighters showcasing the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Whitney Western Art Museum
The Whitney Western Art Museum is worth visiting to walk through and look out the large glass window at the Buffalo Bill Statue alone, but there is so much more to it. It is filled with art dating back to the early nineteenth century depicting life in the Wild West.
Draper Natural History Museum
I will admit, we normally skip the natural history museums in cities we visit because frankly, they are all often similar. However, with this museum included in our ticket, we took a walk-through and were thoroughly impressed. Centered around a massive map of the Yellowstone region, this museum displays the wildlife and ecosystem of Cody Yellowstone.
Plains Indian Museum
I must admit, I have a difficult time with the name of this museum. Canada has long adopted the term Indigenous when discussing the culture and history of our Native People. I’m not sure how America’s Indigenous People feel about the term Plains Indian Museum, but that is the name. Regardless of what it is called, this was one of our favorite stops in the Buffalo Bill Center of the Wild West.
Displays depict the history and traditions of the Indigenous People who have lived on the plains for centuries. There are beautiful displays from earth lodges to long houses showcasing the transition to modern dwellings.
Cody Firearms Museum
I’m not a gun lover so I’ll admit that Dave and I walked briskly through this museum, but if there is one gun museum that makes sense it is the Cody Firearm Museum. Cody is where the Wild West is alive and well and hey, America’s Wild West was built on gunslinging.
This museum houses the largest collection of Firearms in The United States. It’s no wonder they have plenty of guns since the likes of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley made sharpshooting legendary. The 7,000 firearms and 30,000 artifacts span from the 1800s to today. One of the more unique pieces is the Gatling Gun.
Buffalo Bill Dam & Interpretive Center
A surprising stop in Cody Yellowstone was the Buffalo Bill Dam & Interpretive Center. This is one of the best free things to do in Cody and when visiting the visitor center, a free ride is even offered from the parking lot. This Dam is impressive. When it was built in 1910, it was the largest dam in the world. At the time of construction, it was 325 feet (99 m) high and in 1993, an extra 25 feet was added
This dam was such an engineering marvel, that when the Hoover Dam was being built, it was used as inspiration for its construction. You can walk across the dam to take in the extraordinary views of the Shoshone River on one side and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir on the other.
When Cody was being settled, it was in grave need of water and irrigation and this dam was built as part of the Shoshone Project to create the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. It changed the landscape creating water and irrigation for more than 90,000 acres of farmland.
Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
Located in Powell, just 15 minutes from downtown Cody is the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. The Center is so beautiful, it is difficult to comprehend the dark history that took place here during World War II. It was at Heart Mountain that 14,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated.
This center tells their story through first-hand accounts. The foundation has preserved what remains of this confinement site as a reminder to learn from our mistakes and to pay tribute to those families who were ripped from their homes.
A visit to this center is a sobering experience and something that we all need to see. Sadly, the human race continues to repeat past mistakes, but with places like Heart Mountain, we can be reminded of the triumph of the human spirit and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.
Heart Mountain Memorial Trail
When visiting the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, make sure to drive up to the memorial trail. It is a short scenic trail with viewpoints and interactive displays telling the story of the internment grounds. There is also a memorial wall commemorating the Japanese Americans that served in the US armed forces during the war.
Follow the Footsteps of Hemingway
One of our favorite places to hang out in Cody was in our very own hotel, the Chamberlin Inn. Located in downtown Cody, this hotel has the charm of the 1800s with the modern atmosphere of today. It is the best place in town for a cocktail and for anyone wanting a little urban chic vibe. The back terrace is elegant and relaxing and their wine list is divine. But make sure to order either the refreshing Chamberlin Cocktail or their famous Old Fashioned.
Ernest Hemingway stayed in the hotel when he passed through Cody and you’ll see his signature on the register. You can actually book a night in the exact room he staying in set up to portray the feeling it had when we slept here a century ago. If you aren’t staying in his room, you can ask to tour it if it isn’t occupied.
Don’t worry if you aren’t staying in Hemingway’s room, all rooms have a classic feel taking you back in time. Plus there are old photographs and memorabilia on display throughout the hotel.
Cody Trolley Tour
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Cody is to hop on the one-hour-long Cody Trolley Tour. This is a great introduction to Cody Yellowstone as the trolley takes you from one Cody Attraction to another. You don’t get off the bus, but you do see where to go in Cody so that you can stop by on your own in the coming days.
The driver and guide are entertaining as they tell you about the history of Cody while pointing out historic houses, popular attractions, and photos of historic events in the region.
Watch a Wild West Shootout
Located right in front of the Cody Trolley Tour is a free show that happens nightly at 6 pm. You can book a front-row seat for $3 or you can stand on the side of the road to watch The Wild Bunch Gunfighters show. It’s a fun attraction for families and if you happen to be walking by it’s worth a look.
Located directly in front of the Irma Hotel, this is a good stop to make before dinner at the legendary location. Make a reservation for 7 pm and you can catch the show before you eat!
Speaking of The Irma, we mention booking a meal here. It wasn’t our favorite meal in Cody, but it is a place that you cannot skip. The Irma Hotel was the first hotel in the region built by Buffalo Bill and named after his daughter Irma. It’s not a place you go into for the food, but instead for the atmosphere. However, make sure to book a table in advance, this place fills up fast!
The cherrywood bar was a gift to Wild Bill from Queen Victoria and it stands front and center. When you finish eating, make sure to take a walk through the historic hotel. It’s included in the National Register of Historic Places and is filled with western memorabilia. Or you can have a cocktail at the Buffalo Bill Bar or the Silver Saddle Saloon.
One of the more unique things to do in Cody is to stop at the Cody Mural. We thought this was an outdoor mural somewhere on a wall when we heard about it, but in fact, it is a huge mural painted on the domed ceiling of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
This mural depicts the history of the Mormon Community and their contribution to the irrigation of Wyoming. When you have checked out the mural, there is an interesting museum showcasing art and artifacts from the Mormon pioneers who settled in the area.
By Western Hands
If you are looking for a piece of artwork to take home with you from Cody, make sure to stop in to By Western Hands. Even if you are not in the market for gallery art, they welcome visitors to peruse their displays. Part museum and gallery, part boutique shopping, you’ll be able to browse the works by resident artists depicting the American West.
Some pieces were reasonable in our mind and if we were driving or lived in the US, we just may have had an item shipped to our home. Others are quite priceless with chaps and a saddle reaching tens of thousands of dollars on their price tags.
Drive the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway
There is really no way to avoid driving the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway as it is the road that leads to Yellowstone. And besides, you don’t want to miss this gorgeous stretch of highway. President Theodore Roosevelt called this 52-mile-long stretch of highway the most beautiful road in America. It truly is beautiful, so when planning your drive to Yellowstone, make sure to give more than the hour-long drive it takes to get to the East Gate Entrance of Yellowstone.
There are plenty of stops to keep an eye out for including the Dr. Seuss-inspired Smith Mansion, beautiful working ranches, and the Sleeping Giant. If you are up for an adventure you can go ziplining at the Sleeping Giant Ski Resort in the summer or skiing in the winter.
Oldest Ranger Station in the United States
During your drive, make sure to stop at the Wapiti Ranger Station. This station has been in continuous operation since 1903. What makes the stop worth it, is that you can actually see the original ranger station that is still in use today. It’s also a great stop to get information on Yellowstone National Park.
The volunteers are friendly and eager to help. In fact, when we stopped … came out of his office to talk to us. He said he doesn’t see many people as interested in this stop as we were. We found that surprising, how could people not be interested in a place that is listed in both the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark
Shoshone National Forest Hikes
The Shoshone National Forest was the first national forest in America which is fitting considering it is located directly beside the very first national park in the world. (That would be Yellowstone National Park if you are wondering). If you want to do some hiking, you can ask for recommendations at the Ranger’s Station.
Shoshone National Forest is much quieter than Yellowstone National Park for outdoor adventures and there are plenty of outdoor attractions from camping, to hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.
If you have a short time, check out the Popo Agie Falls Trail. It is only a 3.1 mile (5 km) out and back trail that takes about 1 1/2 hours to hike. There are several other hikes that can range up to 21 miles long. But make sure you have wilderness experience if you are going to tackle one of the longer hikes.
Cody Dug Up Gun Museum
A fun free museum to visit in Cody is the Dug Up Gun Museum. No photographs are allowed inside, but we ended up spending longer in this museum than we anticipated. As we mentioned above, we’re not gun lovers, but this museum has a twist. The guns on display here are literally dug-up guns that are in varying forms of preservation.
Some are rusted or half intact while others were found in trees, in car glove compartments, or at historical sites. Guns are displayed in sections from the Civil War to guns from different regions and countries.
Other free museums to visit in Cody are the Cody Heritage Museum and Museum Powell Homesteader if you have the time.
Did you know that Wyoming is the Rodeo Capital of the World? Well, Cody has embraced that spirit and during the summer months, there is a nightly rodeo that you can attend. The Cody Night Rodeo officially started in 1919 but has been continuously operating since 1938 making it the longest-running rodeo in the world. In fact, the Night Rodeo in Cody is the only nightly rodeo out there. So, if you are visiting between June and August, you can count on a rodeo happening the night you are in town.
Where to Stay in Cody
There are plenty of hotels in Cody and we stayed in two of them located in different parts of town.
The Chamberlin Inn is located right downtown on the main corner where the Irma Hotel, Cody Trolley Tours, and Wild West Shootout take place. We found this to be an excellent location to see many of the top attractions in Cody. Our room was elegant with modern decor while keeping the old west feel.
It had an excellent cocktail lounge and several sitting areas to relax and enjoy the view. The outside courtyard was a great place to hang out. We really enjoyed our stay here and if you are looking for a boutique hotel option, this is your place.
The Comfort Inn is located at the Buffalo Bill Village Resort. This is an excellent option for people driving through Cody. It’s within walking distance to the downtown attractions and rooms have been renovated to create a modern feel. It offers an excellent hot breakfast that is included in your stay.
The bedding is of premium quality and we felt very comfortable in our fresh clean room. The staff is outstanding and friendly and can highly recommend this more affordable option to The Irma Hotel or Chamberlin Inn.