Friday, June 24, 2016

36 Hours in Cody, Wyoming

The town of Cody, Wyoming is a popular stopping point for travelers making the long drive between Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore. While I considered resting my head here for just one night, I'm so glad the family decided to spend an extra day exploring this cowboy town which was founded as a tourist magnet in 1896 by the already famous Buffalo Bill Cody.

The historic Irma Hotel and home to the Cody Gunfighter show

Gunslinger Showdown

We arrived in the late afternoon of a sunny June day. Driving through downtown, I noticed that quite a crowd was gathering in front of the historic Irma Hotel. While most cowboy stories tell of gunfights on the street taking place at high noon, the Cody Gunfighters put on a performance in front of the hotel at 6PM every Monday through Saturday during the summer months. It's like the Old West come to life.

Cody Night Rodeo

After a quick stop to drop our suitcases at the hotel, we headed over to the Cody Nite Rodeo which has been going on nightly from June through August since 1919. That's quite a long run! It's the town's way of paying homage to Buffalo Bill and his famous Wild West Show.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that, despite being Texans, this was the kids' first rodeo. We arrived an hour early for the 8PM show so that we'd have time to look around at the horses and clowns as well as get our food (hot dogs, corn dogs, BBQ sandwiches, soda and beer) from the concession stand before the rodeo started. There was even a mechanical bull for those brave souls who want to embrace their inner cowboy! We made our way to the Buzzard Roost at the far side because those seats had backs, unlike the benches in the Grandstand closer to the entrance.

Cody, Wyoming
Calf roping

While the Cody Nite Rodeo features mostly local talent, the Cody Stampede which typically occurs around July 4th brings in top competitors with its purse of over $400,000. Although I grew up watching the professionals who competed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I really enjoyed seeing high school kids and other up-and-comers out there in the arena. It's quite a rush for the audience when the announcer broadcasts that it's someones first time in the bull riding competition.

Cody, Wyoming
Youngsters in the stands are invited to participate in the Calf Scramble

Over the next two hours, we watched both cowboys and cowgirls rope calves, race horses around barrels, and ride bucking broncos and twisting, turning bulls. Some cowgirls performed standing balanced atop their horses while twirling hoops in the air. The brave rodeo clowns were quick to distract the bulls while a rider was down and equally as fast to dive into a barrel when the bull got too near.

When it came time for the Calf Scramble, kids under 12 years old were invited to come down to the arena and participate. Even though I wasn't quite sure what was involved, I sent my girl down to join in the activity. All the kids lined up across the middle of the arena. Suddenly, a few calves were released into the area, and the kids took off in hot pursuit. The goal was to grab the bandanna from the calf's tail and then bring it back to the announcer for a prize. One calf quickly gave up his bandanna, but the other one proved to be elusive and kept the game going for quite a while. (Note to parents: Make sure your kid washes off before climbing into bed because... well, let's just say that all that brown stuff on the ground isn't just dirt.)

You can easily spend all day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The next morning, we headed to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Visitors can easily spend all day here because it's actually five different museums under one roof. True to the nature of the town, a chuck wagon cook greeted us as we walked through the parking lot and offered us a cup of campfire coffee. He was also simmering some chili in the Dutch Oven, but that wouldn't be ready for a few more hours.

Of course, one of the museums focused on its namesake, Buffalo Bill Cody. Long before Western movies and television shows, Buffalo Bill toured with his Wild West Show and reinforced the world's fascination with America's legendary Western frontier. The displays cover both the good and the bad (by today's standards) parts of William Cody's life. He was famous for his speed as a Pony Express rider and as a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. He was also known as "the youngest Indian slayer of the Plains" and for killing 4,280 buffalo in only 8 months.

Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West
Display at the Plains Indian Museum

A counterpoint to Buffalo Bill's story is presented in the Plains Indian Museum. Tales of displaced tribes — or, even worse, slaughtered people — are depicted in this area. Artifacts and artwork are displayed along with explanations to give visitors a context for what they are viewing. As he grew older, Buffalo Bill is said to have regretted his "Indian slayer" ways and incorporated parts of Indian culture in his Wild West Shows. This collection began with the artifacts gifted to Buffalo Bill over the years by the Indian performers in his shows.

A great scavenger hunt for kids at the Whitney Western Art Museum

The Whitney Western Art Museum features a collection of paintings, prints and sculptures ranging from the old masters to modern interpretations of famous battles like Custer's Last Stand from the Native American point-of-view. Although we've taken the kids to numerous art museums, this is the first one to offer up an artwork scavenger hunt in the form of a retro bingo card where you slide the red plastic piece over each window as you spot the element.

The Cody Firearms Museum has a rather vast array of antique guns. There are over 7,000 firearms and more than 30,000 firearms related artifacts in the collection. Whereas I'm not a big fan of people carrying around guns in the modern world, it was truly a necessity for survival in the Wild West. Displays such as the colonial gun shop and a frontier hunting lodge explain firearms historical importance in daily life. There's also a shooting gallery if you or the kids are interested in arcade style target practice.

What you may encounter in Yellowstone

Last of all, the Draper Natural History Museum does a better job of explaining the Yellowstone ecosystem than any of the small National Park run museums we explored in Yellowstone. My kids picked up an Adventure Passport at Trialhead Bulletin Board and searched for stamps and information as we made our way through the museum. We strolled down a spiraling ramp through the Alpine-to-Plains Trail depicting the various microclimates found in Yellowstone. The "Please Touch" displays and interactive computer stations kept the kids engrossed in the exhibits.

Large scale area map

Where to Eat

Although the Center of the West does have a cafe where visitors can eat lunch, we opted to take a break from the museum and dine at the Irma Hotel. Built by Buffalo Bill in 1902 as a European style hotel for tourists on the way to Yellowstone, this hotel is named after Buffalo Bill's daughter. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the saloon which is famous for its long, French-made, cherrywood bar gifted to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria who is said to have spent a whopping $100,000 to have it built. With a pressed tin ceiling and antler chandeliers, the saloon doesn't let you forget that you are in the West. Lunch and dinner buffets are offered during the summer months along with a full menu.

The Irma Hotel's famous cherrywood bar which was a gift from Queen Victoria to Buffalo Bill.

For dinner, we dined at the super kid-friendly Millstone Pizza Company & Brew Pub. The menu includes pizza, pasta, submarine sandwiches and burgers. A kids menu and craft beer flights are also available. With sports shown on the TVs and an arcade downstairs, no one was in a rush to leave.

Lodging at Cody Cowboy Village

We spent our two nights in town staying at the rustic Cody Cowboy Village (Cabin #116), located near the rodeo and Old Trail Town.

Cabin #116 at Cody Cowboy Village

Although we were in  the furthest cabin from the free continental breakfast, our porch had a fantastic, unobstructed view of the sweeping plains and mountains rising west of town. Finding comfortable accommodations for a family of five people can be difficult,  but we had plenty of room with two queen beds in the bedroom and then a queen foldout sofa in the separate living room. A microwave and minifridge along with a small table gave us the option of picking up food from the grocery store if we wanted to save money.  Free Wifi can be accessed in every cabin, too.

Two Queen Bedroom Suite

Spend the day in Cody

So, if you are one of those travelers making your way between Yellowstone National Park to the west and Devils Tower or Mount Rushmore to the east, make sure you spend some time exploring Cody. It's a fun place to learn more about cowboy life and can give you a better understanding of both the historical events and natural history of the surrounding areas. I think you'll find your trip enriched by stopping a for a day in Cody instead of just rushing through.

Related posts: 

It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration

I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
  2. Copy and paste our badge and a link to this page.
  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
  4. Tweet it and include this hashtag. #wkendtravelinspiration .
  5. Follow all the hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration who are working hard to spread the word on what wonderful work travel bloggers are doing.
  6. Don’t forget to check out my amazing co-hosts and their pages: Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.

I've also joined with the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. I loved this post! I've never really consider what one might find in Cody and now you've shown me so much, that I actually want to go there.

  2. this is a part of the U.S. i have not explored at all. And I suppose we ought to when my child starts learning American History. This is great information!

  3. I love the bingo idea - that's great!!

  4. Cody Wyoming looks like a great place to visit - when we did our summer road trip last year, we didn't have time to explore much of the state and we'd love to return!!

  5. What a fun place to visit for a sampling of the Wild West. The only rodeo I've been to was indoors in Chicago, not exactly the right setting. We need to plan one of our trips west to coincide with a rodeo. We never seem to be out there at the right time.

  6. While I wouldn't normally include a city built for tourism in my travel plans, I thought the activities sounded really fun! I'd love to see history come to life and a gun show at that!

  7. Hi Michele. Out West in Queensland where we live is Cowboy Country too. I used to frequent rodeos which I was a teenager because I mixed in that crowd back then. I have not been to one since then though. In Australia we don't call our take-away food places "Concession Stands". Do you know the history behind that name?

  8. Looks like a fun town! Isn't it great to find great places like this in the middle of nowhere? The museum and the hotel look great. Did you see anything interesting in the menu? I have heard places in these regions have things like bison and elk burgers.

  9. Very interesting. The rodeo looks fun, especially the calf scramble for children. Your log cabin at the Cody Cowboy Village looks very quaint.

  10. Michele, I haven't been to Cody in years. It looks like it's changed...a lot. What a great place for kids!

  11. I'd love to see a rodeo myself! We were in a HORRIBLE hotel in Salt Lake City after we'd spend a few days in the Yellow Stone National Park. It was my mistake, I didn't check the room before paying ...

  12. What a fabulous place; never heard of it before. I've been to 41 states but never had the opportunity to experience the Wild West culture. We have been talking about spending some time exploring Texas. Does the state have anything similar?

  13. We passed through Cody many years ago on our way to Yellowstone National Park. If I knew it was so nice I would have stopped. The town has such a nice, Western atmosphere. My husband would definitely enjoy the gunfighter show.

  14. Concession stands are usually at movie theatres and stadiums for when the audience wants to eat while watching something. I have no idea how that term became associated with snack stands and remember being puzzled in Italy that there were "concession ticket prices."

  15. I think you would really enjoy the museum complex. James Michener supposedly called it "The Smithsonian of the West." It's very well done.

  16. I was also pleasantly surprised at how interesting this "touristy" town was. They made it a very worthwhile stay.

  17. Bison was definitely on the menu. It tasted like a very lean, dry version of beef.

  18. It was a VERY kid friendly town. If we had more time to spare, I would have liked to stay at a dude ranch.

  19. I hope you have a chance to go back some day.

  20. I'm surprised other museums don't do it as well. It really adds a nice twist to the scavenger hunt idea.

  21. Now that you mention it, the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that I grew up attending was also held indoors in the Astrodome. So, I guess this was my first rodeo in a proper, outdoor setting.

  22. Oh, I figured it had been this way for ages, although I do know that the museum was recently overhauled.

  23. It was very nice to have a cabin where we weren't sharing walls with neighbors. the kids didn't have to stay quiet all the time.

  24. Oh no. Too bad about the hotel in SLC. That was where we stayed at a Hyatt Place for the first time, and I decided that I really liked that chain when traveling as a family.

  25. Oh yes, Texas has plenty of rodeos and dude ranches. The one in Houston in March is huge. You might also be interested in my post about the cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

  26. The town really did capture the spirit of the West. I hope you get a chance to visit some day.

  27. This sounds so cool Michelle! Here in London England, we are lucky to be around all manner of experiences and activities BUT as you can imagine, we're never even remotely around anything cowboy like and a rodeo is something I've only ever seen on TV. I'd love to watch something like this that's so different to anything I've experienced before :)


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics