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by Matt, Dec 2021
EVERYONE told me that Cody, Wyoming was amazing, but it took me until this year to finally make it there. It did not disappoint!
If you’re going to visit Cody, Wyoming, I’m here to help!
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Quick Background of Cody
- Top Ten Things to do
- Other Things to do
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay
- Visiting Yellowstone
Cody, Wyoming was established by Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1800s to take advantage of a tourist attraction that was starting to become quite popular: Yellowstone. Today, people still stop at Cody today on their way in and out of Yellowstone National Park.
Top Ten Things To do
1. Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is EASILY the number one thing to do in Cody. It’s a world-class facility. It’s shocking they have such a nice museum in such a small town.
This is often referred to as the Buffalo Bill Museum, but it’s actually five different museums under one roof:
- Buffalo Bill Museum. This is all about Buffalo Bill Cody’s life and his Wild West Show.
- Cody Firearms Museum. This is a massive collection of mostly Winchester guns. But they also have historic guns and a section on Browning.
- Draper Natural History Museum. A gorgeous series of displays on wildlife and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
- Whitney Western Art Museum. Gorgeous and historic paintings of wildlife, Native Americans, and Yellowstone.
- Plains Indian Museum. Exhibits on Plains Indian Culture and an extremely rare tepee made out of bison hide. Although I loved the tepee and appreciated the culture, I though this was the least impressive of the museums.
But they also offer other experiences:
- Live Raptor Experience. This is a bird show put on most days at 1 pm. Free with admission.
- Cowboy Rich’s Chuckwagon Dinners. We did this and loved it! Cowboy Rich and his wife were so friendly. They intentionally do not offer any sort of entertainment with the chuckwagon cookout because they want people to mingle and get to know each other. It was really nice meeting other locals and visitors. Book here.
- Scout Saddle Company. Watch a real craftsman make saddles, belts, bracelets, and cell phone cases. Handcrafted products are available for purchase in the store.
- Horseback Rides. When I visited, they offered horseback rides, although I currently don’t see them on their website.
- Check their calendar of events to see if they offer additional programs while you’re there.
There’s something for every visitor here. Here are my main takeaways and recommendations for visiting the Buffalo Bill Center of the West:
- Allow two days to see the entire museum. Tickets are about $20 for an adult, but it’s good for two days. I’d recommend spending about a half a day in the museum each day, and filling the rest of your day with other activities below. Save your ticket because you’ll need to show it the next day!
- Book a personalized tour. I did this, and having a guide explain the most important things in the exhibit, as well as provide more context made the experience much nicer. Trust me, you’ll get a lot more out of the experience.
- Use the audio guide for the Whitney Western Art Museum. This audio guide is free and it’s like having a personal guide explain the meaning and significance of the paintings in the museum.
- Walk outside. Even if you don’t go to the Live Raptor Experience, you can still go outside to see the bald eagles. Other things outside include beautiful sculptures, a playground, an area to eat lunch, and Buffalo Bill’s childhood home.
- If you’re a gun afficianado, plan on spending an entire day in the Cody Firearms Museum. Seriously. An entire day.
- Special collections. There are many incredible things to see, but two historical exhibits that I really enoyed were the buffalo-hide teepee (very rare) in the Plains Indian Museum and the Deadwood Stagecoach in the Buffalo Bill Museum.
2. Cody Rodeo
Cody bills itself as the “Rodeo Capital of the World.”
It claims it has the longest-running professional rodeo in the world and the only place in the country that has a rodeo performance nightly.
There are actually two rodeo events here:
- The Cody Nite Rodeo. This happens every night from June 1 – August 31.
- The Cody Stampede. This happens once a year from July 1 – July 4. This is a huge event where professional riders compete on the professional rodeo circuit.
For many people, this is the main reason they visit Cody, Wyoming. Unfortunately, I missed it by one day.
3. Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel
The Irma Hotel is famous for being the hotel that was established by Buffalo Bill Cody shortly after he established the town.
He named the hotel after his daughter, Irma.
I recommend staying at “The Irma,” as it is known. But even if you don’t stay here, I highly recommend visiting the hotel and eating in the restaurant.
Inside the restaurant is an elaborate bar. Legend says Queen Victoria donated this to Buffalo Bill in 1900. This is an accepted fact in Cody, but I’m not sure it’s actually true.
4. Old Trail Town
Old Trail Town is a really cool place if you like learning about the Old West. It has three sections.
This is a collection of historical and authentic Old West buildings. The man who started Old Trail Town went around the West purchasing historic cabins and buildings before they were destroyed. He then moved them to this location in Cody.
It’s not actually laid out like a “town.” (It would be even more amazing if it was.) Rather, the buildings are placed side-by-side in a courtyard.
However, in an age when so many fake western buildings exist, the authenticity of the Old Trail Town buildings makes this a very enjoyable experience.
Some interesting buildings include:
- Butch Cassidy’s “Hole in the Wall” Cabin, where he hid out after his robberies.
- The Buffalo Hunter’s Cabin, where renowned buffalo hunter Jim White lived.
- Curley’s Cabin, the home of a man who scouted for General George Custer.
Mountain Man Memorials
There are beautiful busts of four different mountain men who ventured through this area in the early 1800s:
- John Colter
- Jim Bridger
- George Drouillard
- Jedediah Smith
Interestingly, the owner also moved the graves of some famous westerners to Old Trail Town:
- Jeremiah “Liver Eatin'” Johnston.
- Jim White the Buffalo Hunter.
- Jack Stilwell
- Phillip Vetter
- W.A. Gallagher and Blind Bill Hoolihan
- Belle Drewry
Jeremiah Johnston was played by Robert Redford in the movie Jeremiah Johnson. After the movie was released, a group of school kids petitioned to move Jeremiah Johnson’s grave from California to the West, where he wanted to be buried.
The owner of Old Trail Town paid for it and held a funeral procession. One of the pallbearers was Robert Redford.
Watch the movie; it’s awesome!
5. Wild Horses
Wild horses, or mustangs, roam all over the west, mostly on public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The McCullogh Peaks Wild Horse Herd is located just east of Cody. Anyone can visit the area and try to find the horses.
NOTE: Mustangs are WILD and will attack if you get too close! So keep your distance.
However, the area is kind of a sprawling area and it might be difficult to find them on your own. The roads are also a little difficult to navigate.
So I booked a tour through Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tours. It lasts 3 hours and you’ll ride in a van with the tour guide, stopping occasionally to get out and look at the horses.
This is not a zoo; these are wild animals. So it’s possible you won’t see any. But the guide told me he’s only had one tour in many years where he didn’t see any horses.
I have to admit, I was glad I booked the tour because I wouldn’t have had any idea of where to go to find them.
6. Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center
Located just west of town is the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center.
This site is part engineering, part recreation, part history, and part scenery.
- Engineering. Built in 1910, it was the tallest dam in the world when it was completed. I believe it was also the first concave-style dam and served as the forerunner to the more famous Hoover Dam.
- Recreation. Boating and camping are available in the Buffalo Bill State Park, which includes the reservoir.
- History. The city of Cody required water to survive. Learn about the history of irrigation in the Bighorn Basin in the Visitor Center next to the dam.
- Scenery. The dam is located in the beautiful Shoshone Canyon. Just driving to the dam is a nice scenic ride.
And it’s FREE!
7. Cody Firearms Experience
You know when you get that strange hankerin’ to shoot a Gatling Gun, but there just aren’t any around for you to shoot?
Well, problem solved.
The Cody Firearms Experience is probably the most “Wyoming” thing you can do.
They have a shooting range where you can shoot many kinds of guns:
- Black Powder Rifles/Muskets
- Black Powder Handguns
- Modern Day Handguns
- Cowboy Handguns
- Modern Day Rifles
- Cowboy Rifles
- WWII Rifles
- Machine Guns
But their most popular is the Gatling Gun. It only takes a few seconds to fire off all your shots (and money), but it’s still pretty cool! Watch my video above to see me in action.
8. Heart Mountain War Relocation Center
The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center is a World War II site. Who knew that Cody was the site of World War II history?
Northwest of Cody is a mountain peak called Heart Mountain.
Nearby, a relocation center was set up during World War II to house Japanese-Americans who were removed under executive order by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
There were over 600 buildings to house those who were moved here. Luckily, a few buildings survive.
Stop in at the visitor center for exhibits and a movie about relocation during the war. Then drive to the buildings they lived in and go for a walk on the scenic loop.
9. Cody Trolley Tours
If you want to get a good overview of the town and learn some “history,” give the Cody Trolley Tours ride a try.
The old-timey trolley is cute and the high-energy tour guide is a hoot.
The trolley drives through the town of Cody before heading out to Buffalo Bill Dam. However, it does not stop to allow you to get out and see the dam.
This is mostly entertainment with nuggets of education. If it’s real history you’re after, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will take care of that for you.
10. Cody Gun Fight
The Cody Gun Fight is also put on by Cody Trolley Tours.
This is a FREE gunfight reenactment put on just outside The Irma Hotel.
The show runs daily (except Sundays) and starts at 6:00 pm, but they recommend getting there a few minutes early. You can buy a reserved front-row seat for $3 on their website.
Other things to do
These didn’t make the top ten, but they might still be up your alley!
There are two productions that are popular in Cody. Unfortunately, we couldn’t attend either.
Cody’s Wild West Spectacular is a two-hour play about Buffalo Bill with dancing, singing, music, and humor. I heard this is a must-see, but it wasn’t playing when we were there.
Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Review is a dinner and show. Locals told me I must see this, but I couldn’t. Oh well, there’s always next time.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West isn’t the only museum in this one-horse town. There are actually quite a few interesting museums in Cody.
- By Western Hands. An art gallery mostly focused on creations made by woodworkers.
- Historic Cody Mural and Museum. Visit this FREE museum and see the gorgeous painting depicting the early history of Cody and see why pioneeers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints moved to the Big Horn Basin.
- Cody Heritage Museum. This tiny little building has been restored and turned into a museum all about Cody. It’s right on main street and literally takes a few minutes to walk through. I believe they ask for a small donation.
- Cody Dug Up Gun Museum. The owners have literally dug up guns all over the place and now they display them for you! They have guns from the Gold Rush Era, Civil War, Old West and Indian Wars, World War I, and World War II. A nice complement to your Cody Firearms Experience.
- The Homesteader Museum. This has more history of Cody and the Shoshone Irrigation Project.
Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway
This is a spectacular road connecting Cody to Yellowstone. I didn’t list it on the Top Ten because it’s not really “in” Cody. Also, I’m assuming if you’re visiting Cody you’re also visiting Yellowstone and you’ll be driving on this road anyway.
But there’s more to do here than just drive the road. There are many campgrounds and resorts along this scenic byway.
There are quite a few trails in Cody and nearby in the hills. I didn’t get the chance to do any of them, but I would refer you to AllTrails to find some.
There are also a handful of fishing guides in Cody, such as North Fork Anglers, Wyoming Trout Guides Fly Shop, and High Country Fly Guides.
There are some companies that offer tours of Yellowstone leaving from Cody. These tours take all day and usually travel around either the Lower Loop or Upper Loop of Yellowstone (watch my video for a quick overview of each loop).
Should you book one of these tours?
Generally, I love tours because they take care of the logistics and they teach you about the place!
But you might want to consider a few things about doing a Yellowstone tour from Cody:
- You’ll spend much of your day driving because Cody is far away from the central portion of Yellowstone.
- Yellowstone is a 2-5 day park. You can’t see all sections of Yellowstone in one day.
Where to eat in Cody
We ate at multiple places in Cody and enjoyed them ALL.
The Irma Hotel
I highly recommend this just to experience The Irma, if nothing else.
2 Mules Chuckwagon
We really enjoyed this for the food and the company.
WYold West Brewing Company
WYold West offers food and A LOT of beer options. We had a Cuban sandwich and a delicious dessert here. We don’t drink, but they had a wall of beer spouts you can choose from.
Everyone told us to eat breakfast here. So we did! It did not disappoint.
Proud Cut Saloon
We didn’t eat at this steak house but we’ve heard from many people who have.
Fat Racks BBQ
This gets high ratings online.
Noon Break 2 Go
This Mexican restaurant also gets good reviews online.
Hungry Bear Restaurant
With a name like “Hungry Bear,” I’m guessing the portions are huge here. LOL.
Maybe you wouldn’t think of Thai food in the middle of Wyoming, but this gets good reviews online.
Where to stay in Cody
If you’re looking for an “experience,” stay in The Irma or Chamberlin Inn. For anything else, I recommend using booking.com.
This is the oldest lodging in Cody and the most famous. We stayed here and loved it. Each room has a name, such as The Buffalo Bill, the Colonel Cody, and The Max Wilde.
Watch my video above to get a good feel for The Irma.
I wish we would have spent a night at the Chamberlin Inn because this place looks really nice. It plays on the old historic theme as well, though it looks a little more upscale than The Irma.
There are more than old historic hotels in Cody. We saw many nice Best Westerns (which we usually recommend; we’ve never stayed in a bad Best Western) and budget hotels.
If you’re just looking for a good value, we recommend using booking.com.
If you’re visiting Cody, you’re probably planning on visiting nearby Yellowstone. Of course, Yellowstone is a must-see.
However, I do not recommend staying in Cody to see Yellowstone; it’s too far away.
Even though it’s only 45 minutes to the entrance of Yellowstone, Yellowstone is a BIG place, and it takes a long time just to get from the entrance to the Grand Loop Road, where all the attractions are.
Yellowstone is BIG; That’s why you really need a game plan to see Yellowstone.
Seriously, just to drive around one of the two loops in Yellowstone takes hours, and with so many things to see along the way, it can be very difficult to know which things to stop at.
If you don’t plan it right, you might stop at the wrong sites and skip over the best sites.
That’s why I created a step-by-step game plan for seeing Yellowstone.
I’ve been visiting Yellowstone my entire life, so I’m incredibly familiar with it.
I even include a 3-hour audio guide so you can know the best stories about the park!