Stroll down the main street of Cody, Wyoming and you will notice it has a different ambiance than many of the other Old West towns that beckon visitors. Cody is a true cowboy town, complete with rodeos and a free, 1800s melodrama-style gunfight, performed each summer evening at six sharp by members of the Cody Gunfighters.
There are many attractions in Cody, which is known as the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park, a mere 50 miles away on the scenic Chief Joseph Highway. The late television commentator Charles Kuralt called the road the most beautiful drive in America.
One of the biggest draws in this small town—population 7,500—is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, one of the finest Western museums in the country. Visitors are seldom prepared for the expansive size of the museum and the pristine quality of the exhibitions.
In addition to plenty of great Western art, including Remingtons and Russells, the BBHC boasts the finest collection of American firearms in the country, an incredible Native American collection, a recently refurbished Plains Indian museum and the newly opened Draper Museum of Natural History, which covers 56,000 square feet. You can easily spend a full day, savoring all the treasures.
Old Trail Town is a step back in time and a way to see the Old West as it really was. Historic structures, furnished with artifacts and antiques of the day, have been trucked in from all over Wyoming and include Butch Cassidy’s cabin, the bullet ridden Rivers Saloon frequented by the “Hole in the Wall Gang” and General Custer’s Indian scout cabin.
Walk down the wooden plank sidewalks and you expect some of the old Western greats to saunter out of the saloon door or the marshal’s office. Surely the ghost of Buffalo Bill resides here, or maybe downtown at the Irma Hotel, which he built as a tribute to himself and named for his daughter.
Cody—the rodeo capital of the world—lives up to its reputation with the Cody Nite Rodeo, held at 8:30 p.m. each evening, June through August. From calf roping and bareback riding to team roping and bull riding, this rodeo is a major tourist draw and attracts top cowboys and cowgirls.
On Fourth of July weekend, Cody stages a real blowout, including the Cody Stampede, which has been judged the best outdoor rodeo in America, a two-hour parade that draws bands from across the region and spectacular fireworks. Former director of the BBHC, Byron Price, says, “Cody is the best place to be in America on the Fourth of July.”
Cody is also a good place to be in September, when the annual Design Conference showcases a broad perspective on design, including fashion, furniture, accessories, arts and crafts.
There’s plenty to do and see outside Cody, too, including dude ranches on the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River. Pahaska Tepee, which was Buffalo Bill’s Old Lodge near the Pahaska Resort, is also a favorite with tourists.
One of the best activities is watching wildlife. Bears can be seen outside Yellow-stone National Park, as can moose, bison, elk, sheep and deer. A few miles west of Thermopolis, you can even find dinosaur tracks.
Around here you’ll find some of the warmest, friendliest folks in the West. After all, Buffalo Bill founded Cody as a hospitality center, and the townspeople have never forgotten his vision.
M.J. Van Deventer is the Editor of Persimmon Hill magazine and the Director of Publications for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. She is also the author of Western Design and Native American Style.