Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

Summer Getaway: Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone

Window to the Wild West

BYRich Warren
A trip to Yellowstone National Park is sure to bring peak experiences. You might see a herd of bison traipsing down the highway. And did you know there’s a whole family of geysers that can sometimes erupt simultaneously with Old Faithful? Taking in your first glimpse of the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you may well feel like bursting into “God Bless America.” Yellowstone never fails to impress.
 
Accommodations inside the park include hundreds of cozy cabins, the ultra-romantic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the fabled Old Faithful Inn built with local logs and stones, or any of five brand new eco-friendly lodges in the canyon area. Planning ahead is critical, however, since summertime crowds can make it challenging to find last-minute rooms.
 
If you find yourself without a place to stay in the park, head to the Wild West, just outside Yellowstone’s borders. The town of Cody, Wyoming, lies just 50 miles east of Yellowstone’s eastern entrance and is a mecca for enthusiasts of all things Western. Founded by Buffalo Bill Cody himself, it sports streets wide enough for a horse and wagon to turn around and has a quaint downtown where purveyors of Western wear and cowboy hats and boots sit side by side with art galleries. A local, unlikely legend claims that when Buffalo Bill died in Denver 100 years ago this year, a group of his friends sneaked his body back and buried him on Lookout Mountain, overlooking his namesake town.
 
Cody’s charms make it worthy of an extended visit by itself, in addition to using it as a home base for daytrips to Yellowstone. The city’s gigantic Buffalo Bill Center of the West, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, is five museums under one roof — the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Natural History Museum. You easily could spend an entire day at this world-class facility.
 
Several must-sees and dos in Cody include: 
  • The longest-running rodeo in the West, held nightly during the summer months
  • Old Trail Town, a collection of historic buildings and artifacts moved from other sites in Wyoming and Montana, including stores, a blacksmith shop, and a cabin used as a rendezvous point for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • The Cody Gunfighters, a simulated Wild West shoot-out held on the streets outside the historic Irma Hotel, named for Buffalo Bill’s youngest daughter
  • An hour-long trolley ride taking in all the town’s highlights
  • Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Review
As you travel to and from Yellowstone, consider making a loop through landscapes just as beautiful as the park itself. The main route, the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, features vistas of mountains and meadows, ranches and rivers, not to mention truly astounding rock formations with playful names like Laughing Pig, Wolf With One Big Eyelash, and Henry Ford in an Edsel Being Chased by a Grizzly Bear. Be sure to take a guidebook detailing the locations of these formations, and keep your eye open for bighorn sheep, eagles, elk, and grizzlies.
 
To come back to Cody via a different route, exit Yellowstone at the northeast entrance, and travel the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, named for the leader of the Nez Perce Indians who used this route to flee from the U.S. Army in 1877. Along the way, you’ll have panoramic vistas of Shoshone National Forest, the Absaroka Mountain Range (watch for the Cathedral Cliffs), and a dramatic 1,200-foot gorge. Be sure to stop at the parking area just after you pass over the Sunlight Creek Bridge, the highest in Wyoming, for a breathtaking view.
RICH WARREN is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio, whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and National Geographic Traveler.
Wild horses in Cody, Wyoming
Wild horses in Cody, Wyoming
If You Go
More adventures: Just outside of Cody, you’ll find world-class fly-fishing, white-water rafting, horseback trails, wild Mustang tours, mountaineering, and hang gliding. Also, there are dozens of dude and guest ranches — in fact the term “dude ranch” was invented here. 
 
American history: Near Cody, stop by the fascinating, but sobering, Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site, where 14,000 Japanese Americans were detained during WWII. Its Interpretive Center offers exhibits, narrated stories, and simulated barracks.
 
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Contact a AAA Travel agent to help you plan your next trip by calling toll-free 1-888-870-9392 or visiting AAA.com.
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