Conveniently located about an hour’s drive along scenic byways from two Yellowstone National Park entrances, the historic community of Cody, Wyoming, appeals to all ages with a wide range of fun things to do.
Only have a few hours in town? The Buffalo Bill Center of the West houses five world-class museums and is a must-see. During the summer, Cody, known as the “Rodeo Capital of the World” hosts a nightly rodeo featuring experts in roping, bull riding and barrel racing. Extend your stay to explore Cody’s natural beauty on a horseback or rafting trip and stay at the charming Buffalo Bill Cabins.
Here’s what you’ll want to do when visiting Cody for an unforgettable experience in America’s authentic Wild West.
Read More: Where to stay in Cody.
1. Tour the Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is, without a doubt, the #1 must-do activity in Cody. You’ll need several hours to explore the complex. Your admission is valid for two days, so spread out your visit if you have the time. Be sure to check the Center’s events calendar to see what programming is scheduled during your visit.
Here are the five Smithsonian-affiliated museums at the Center of the West:
This is the place to start when you visit with kids. It tells the story of the ecology and natural history of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Pick up an Adventure Passport and help the kids collect six National Park Junior Ranger-style stamps as you work your way through the museum’s Expedition Trailhead exhibit.
See, hear, touch and even smell the four different environments that make up the Yellowstone Ecosystem — Alpine, Mountain Forest, Mountain Meadow and Plains/Basin.
When you arrive, ask at the front desk when The Raptor Experience will be presented. It’s a daily live lecture about one of the museum’s injured birds of prey.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Be sure to go outside whenever you have a chance. There are cabins to explore, sculptures to see and a playground to play on.
Buffalo Bill Museum
This section of the Center of the West tells the story of the founder of this small town, the great western showman and the world’s first international superstar, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
This museum explores the life of Cody along with some other well-known characters from the American West, including sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Native American legend Sitting Bull. Don’t miss the scale model of the Wild West show backed by archival footage of the time, and the display of dime novels that helped make Buffalo Bill a household name.
As its name suggests, this museum tells the story of the Native American tribes that lived in the area. Exhibits include a beautiful buffalo hide teepee made from at least 13 buffalo hides sewn together by the women of the tribe. This is the place to learn about how Plains Indian people used almost every part of the buffalo for food, shelter, clothing or tools.
The most intriguing thing in this museum: The statues are all colorless. Because the tribes varied widely in skin tone and hair color, the museum curators didn’t want to choose one skin color over another.
The museum’s permanent exhibits focus on the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains and include dramatically different depictions of American Indian life, as created by Native and non-Native artists.
I particularly enjoyed the section of the Whitney dedicated to the work of illustrator, painter and sculptor Frederic Remington. I was surprised to learn that this artist, whose familiar work is synonymous with the Wild West, was born, lived and worked in New York, my home state. He traveled extensively throughout the region and brought its spirit home to his New Rochelle studio which is recreated in the museum.
This museum showcases a truly mind-boggling number of firearms dating back to the 1400s and follows the evolution of guns through the millennia. I didn’t have time to tour it during my visit, but SheBuysTravel Editor-in Chief Cindy Richards visited and was impressed by the exhibits. “Guns are a huge part of Western American culture and this museum displays more than 4,000 of them,” Richards observed.
“As someone who is not a gun fan, I was pleased to see that the museum doesn’t simply glorify guns. The exhibits include one that talks about the costs of war (an ongoing oral history project is open to veterans who want to share their own experience) and another aimed at CSI fans discusses the science of ballistics.”
2. Ride the Cody Trolley
A trolley tour is a fun and easy way to get your bearings in a new town and find attractions and restaurants you want to revisit and explore in depth. Usually, the informative commentary is interspersed with corny, groan-worthy jokes.
The Cody Trolley tour features an old-fashioned trolley with narrow seats, big windows and a tour leader and driver who trade silly banter. It’s just an hour long, so it’s doable for families with fidgety littles. Tours depart at 11 am and 3 pm from the porch of the Irma Hotel. Additional tours may be added during the summer; advance reservations are highly recommended for this very popular attraction.
3. Swagger Through Old Trail Town
This recreation of the Old West of the 1890s was voted “Best Tourist Attraction and Historical Site” by True West Magazine. The buildings sit on the site of the original Cody, the place where Buffalo Bill first laid out the town in 1895.
The authentic structures and furnishings were found in remote locations in Wyoming and Montana, carefully disassembled, moved and reassembled at Old Trail Town by Western historian Bob Edgar and his friends.
Among the structures is the cabin used by Old West outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a Wyoming saloon frequented by Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and the log cabin home of Curley, a Crow Indian army scout who helped guide Lt Col. George A. Custer to the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.
Channel your inner cowboy/cowgirl and try to rope a wooden calf-like post. Nobody gave this city slicker a chance, but I nailed it on the first try.
4. Go Horseback Riding
Cody’s surrounding area is gorgeous, especially the North Fork Corridor and Shoshone National Forest. A lovely way to take in the spectacular views is to go horseback riding. Head to the Absaroka Mountain Lodge, about 39 miles from Cody in Gunbarrel Canyon for a 2-hour scenic trail ride. I’ve done several trail rides but never one that included water crossings. Feeling my horse test his footing on each step across the swiftly flowing creek was an unforgettable moment.
Experienced guides will get you ready to ride, even if you’ve never mounted a horse before. Three daily ride options are available during the summer season, including the new for 2023 Twilight Evening Ride from 6-8 pm.
5. Raft the Shoshone River
The 100-mile-long Shoshone River is a popular rafting spot. The stretch of the river that passes through Cody has rapids that range from Class 1 – Class III+, depending on water conditions. These conditions are determined not only by rainfall but also by releases from the Buffalo Bill Dam.
Wyoming River Trips is an outfitter with its own access point located a short shuttle ride from its base camp in Cody. This makes it super quick to get geared up and on the water. I hadn’t rafted since I capsized on a cruise excursion in Belize several years ago, so I was nervous. However, our raft guide’s confidence put me at ease, even when we needed to pull over and wait out a surprise lightning storm.
Trip lengths range from 1-hour to full-day excursions with lunch. Private excursions and packrafting trips are options too.
6. Go Wild on an Off-Road Adventure
Get off the beaten path with an adventure vehicle rental from Tread ‘N’ Trails. The company’s Cody location stocks Polaris Side-by-Side UTVs, Slingshots, e-bikes and e-scooters. They’re equipped with pre-mapped GPS-navigated trails that crisscross over 25,000 acres of public lands, administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Indulge your inner pioneer and let loose. Or drive granny-style. Or just tag along as a passenger, like me. This is a judgment-free zone. The sweeping views will blow you away, from broad, grass-filled basins with grazing cattle herds to desert badlands spotted with sagebrush and pronghorn antelope, North America’s fastest land animal. Two of the area’s highlights include the resident wild mustang horses and Native American petroglyphs. Rental durations include 4-hour, 8-hour and multi-day options.
7. Get Spooked in Kirwin
Love a good ghost town? Then a trip to Kirwin belongs on your Cody itinerary. Daylong adventures begin in Meeteetse (pronounced “may tay tay say”), a tiny town (population just over 300) that’s home to a NY Times-profiled artisanal chocolatier.
Rent a vehicle from Kirwin Ghost Town Adventures and follow the one-way in, one-way-out trail to the abandoned mining town. Along the way, you’ll pass the site where aviator Amelia Earhart planned to construct a cabin before she mysteriously disappeared.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You’ll climb from 5,000 feet to over 9,000 on this adventure, so bring layers to add as the temperatures drop.
8. Follow the Cody Sippin’ Trail
If you’ve worked up a powerful thirst exploring Cody, quench it at one of the many bars and restaurants in town participating in the Sippin’ Trail Drink Pass promotion. Download a free app and check-in to earn points you redeem for prizes, including stickers, t-shirts and pint glasses.
Sippin’ Trail locations include:
- Cody Craft Brewing – Owned and operated by husband and wife team Jen and Brian Walker, Cody Craft Brewing offers a wide range of on-premises-brewed bevvies, many using locally sourced ingredients including fan-favorite huckleberries.
- Pat’s Brew House – Once a traditional Irish pub, Pat O’Hara’s is infused with new energy thanks to passionate female owners experimenting with the food and brews. Menu favorites like the Irish eggrolls remain as new items debut. The chicken tacos are fire.
- WYOld West Taproom – Located on a Sheridan Avenue side street, the WYOld West Taproom features a fun, service-yourself tap system. Get a card at the bar to start your tab, then pull your drafts, priced by the size of the pour.
- Millstone Pizza Company – Bar bites and brews, arcade games and entertainment including trivia are what you’ll find in Millstone’s large Cody location.
9. Foot-Stompin’ Fun at the Cody Cattle Company
This is a family-friendly, pre-rodeo dining/entertainment option. A hearty buffet with cowboy favorites like mac and cheese, baked beans, brisket and cornbread is open from 5-7pm. Ryan Martin and the Triple C Cowboys take the stage at 6:30, performing a set that includes traditional cowboy favorites, ‘50s doo-wop and rock classics with a country twist.
The Cody Cattle Company show wraps up in time for you to scoot on over to the rodeo. Ticket options include dinner and a show, show only and a combo dinner, show and rodeo package.
It’s impossible not to hoot, holler and sing along. And don’t bother asking for just one of the decadent chocolate brownies for dessert. You’ll be served two and wish you’d taken a third. They’re that good.
10. Shop Sheridan Avenue
I was expecting cookie-cutter souvenir gift shops in Cody. So I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of stores and galleries in town. I could have lost myself for hours in Legends Bookstore.
Watch the artisans crafting custom drool-worthy boots, belts and saddles in Mercury Leather Works. Or find your cowboy hat or shirt at The Cowboy Palace. That’s where I scored my must-have souvenir – a pair of turquoise toddler cowboy boots.
11. Dine Pioneer-Style
If you’re in Cody on a Tuesday or Saturday, you’re in luck, if you’ve made an advance reservation for a Dutch-oven dinner hosted by 2 Mules Chuckwagon. Husband and wife team Rich and Deb Herman welcome you to the Pow Wow field next to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for an intimate, outdoor dining experience.
Rich’s “kitchen” is an authentic Old West chuck wagon, pots and pans are cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens and the cooking’s done over an open flame. Wine, beer and soft beverages are served by Deb. They’re gracious, loquacious hosts and the meal – steak, beans, coleslaw, sourdough biscuits and berry cobbler – was delish.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Group size is limited to 24 for the Tuesday and Saturday dinners. However, if you are traveling with a larger party, contact the Hermans who may be able to arrange for extra help to accommodate more folks.
12. Have a Cocktail at the Chamberlin Inn
The Chamberlin Inn is a must-see when visiting Cody. This historic boutique hotel dates back to 1900 and has been lovingly restored. Peek into unoccupied guest rooms which are all decorated with different period-appropriate furnishings. Be prepared to explain to the kids what the old-time telephone is. Ernest Hemingway was one of the Chamberlin’s most famous guests. His signature in the guest book is on display in the lobby; his suite’s Room #18.
Spirits is the Inn’s bar and lounge and a great place for a nightcap. Choose the gin-based Death in the Afternoon to channel Hemingway, then head to the courtyard, conservatory or second-floor sunroom to sip away the evening. Live music is a summer season highlight.
13. Whoop it Up at the Cody Nite Rodeo
The Cody Nite Rodeo claims to be the only rodeo in the country with regular nightly performances all summer long. One of the biggest events happens over the Fourth of July. The Cody Stampede starts on July 1 and culminates in a huge July 4th celebration. The locals say the July 4th celebration is so big that it takes four days to pack it all in – five in years when the Stampede starts early with a bull riding event on the last day in June.
The rodeo is weather-dependent so it was canceled during my visit due to heavy rains that made the grounds unsafe for the performers. During a past visit, SheBuysTravel Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards noted that the rodeo is full-on cowboy culture and the rodeo clown who serves as emcee for the event delivers “jokes” that you might find offensive, depending on your political leanings.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you plan to go to the rodeo with kids under 12, dress them in jeans and closed-toe shoes. They will be invited onto the field to chase a young steer to capture a ribbon attached to its tail. The little girls in their cute skirts and sandals were wading gingerly (and unhappily) through the dirt, mud and horse poop.
14. Listen to a Free Audio Guide
A new audio guide to accompany your drive on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway has launched from the free app Travelstorys, a Wyoming-based, woman-owned company.
Once you launch the app, lively narrated segments broadcast as you approach areas of interest, like Heart Mountain, providing context to your journey. The GPS-based guide works without cell service or wifi, both of which are unreliable throughout the Yellowstone area.
It joins other Cody content including tours of downtown Cody, Hemingway in Wyoming and the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway.
15. Tour Heart Mountain World War II Interpretive Center
This museum tells the troubling story of Japanese families who were rounded up and sent to 10 different internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This sad spot was home to 14,000 Japanese – half of them children and two-thirds of them American citizens — during World War II.
Wyoming agreed to allow a camp to be built at Heart Mountain – it was the fourth largest of the 10 camps — on the condition that once the war ended, the Japanese would not be allowed to stay in Wyoming.
This disturbing chapter in our nation’s history is handled with sensitivity at the museum. However, it’s definitely an experience for older children who can better appreciate what it must have been like to be taken from their homes with only one suitcase and crammed into a communal living space.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Download the Heart Mountain AR app and point your phone at the QR codes to see a virtual reality representation of what life would have looked like in the camps.
16. Fire Away at the Cody Firearms Experience
This is the place to go to fire 70 varieties of guns, from a Civil War-era Gatling gun to a Glock just like you see in the movies.
Kids ages 8 and up can shoot here, but pregnant women can’t. That’s because “the fetus can’t wear hearing protectors,” as one shop worker told SheBuysTravel Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards.
Richards, who is not a gun enthusiast, was reluctant to shoot but ended up having a – pardon the pun – blast. She shot an 1873 single-action Colt pistol and an 1861 Springfield flintlock rifle that jammed her shoulder. It made her feel really sorry for the Civil War soldiers who had to use it in the heat of battle.
But the definite highlight for Richards was getting a turn cranking the 1862 replica Gatling gun. There’s no kick, just a crank that shoots two rounds per clockwise rotation on 6 and 12. What a hoot! No surprise it’s a popular choice among the 70 gun options. The place goes through 1,000 rounds a day in the Gatling gun alone.
If you are visiting during the summer, call to make a reservation to ensure you can shoot on the day you want to visit. This is an exceedingly popular thing to do in Cody.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re hard of hearing, ask for electronic ear protectors. It can be really hard to hear the instructions with regular hearing protectors. After all, they’re designed to mute sound!
17. Take the Free Tour of the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center
Visiting the Buffalo Bill Dam is one of the fun free things to do in Cody with kids. Park and take the free golf cart shuttle (tip the driver) to the dam. Walk out and hold on to the kids as they look straight down the 350 feet of the concrete dam.
After you take a family photo, head inside to the dam museum and watch the movie about the extreme hazards of building the dam so you can walk away feeling grateful that you did not have to build it.
Construction of the dam on the Shoshone River began in 1905. Workers toiled in subzero temperatures and working conditions that were so harsh that it led to the first labor strike in Wyoming history. When the dam was completed in 1910 at a cost of $1.4 million, it was the tallest concrete dam in the world at 325 feet. Another 25 feet was added later.
18. Check Out The Irma Hotel
Bill Cody built this hotel to be the most luxurious hotel in the Rocky Mountains, with rooms that rented for the steep sum of $3 per night. Named for his youngest daughter, it’s still an operating hotel, complete with ghost stories and haunted rooms. It sits on Sheridan Avenue and is the centerpiece of downtown Cody.
But the way most visitors experience The Irma is via the nightly buffet dinner that features perfectly cooked and sliced-to-order prime rib. For the kids, there are mashed potatoes and chicken drumsticks.
And don’t miss the bread pudding for dessert. Adults should try the whiskey sauce. It’s strong. Be prepared. For kids, you might want to stick with the vanilla sauce.
Pay special attention to the gorgeous carved wood bar. It was a gift to Buffalo Bill from Victoria, the Queen of England, a huge fan of the Western showman.
In the summer, the hotel does a fun and campy Wild West show in the street outside its front door. The show is free as long as you are willing to stand and watch. Get there by 5:50 pm for the 6pm start. Want a seat? Cody Trolley Tours lets you reserve a folding chair for $3.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The walls of The Irma’s restaurant are filled with mounted heads of buffalo and other animals. Plan ahead if you’re traveling with someone who would be offended by the taxidermy.
19. Sing-a-Long at Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue
This musical review has been a staple of Cody entertainment for 19 years. Dan and his female co-stars offer a lively mix of cowboy music, foot-stomping sing-alongs and fine harmonies six nights a week from Memorial Day through September.
It’s a fun night out for all ages, although some of the jokes might go over kids’ heads. But there is enough sing-along fun to keep kids entertained.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Save a little money by buying the dinner and show deal to get the buffet at The Irma, then head next door to see Dan’s show.
20. Explore Buffalo Bill State Park
The Buffalo Bill Reservoir is the centerpiece of this park. The huge lake created by the dam is filled with ice-cold water and is a beacon for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. The 3,000 acres of parkland are dotted with biking and hiking trails.
In addition, there are two camping areas. Lake Shore Bay Campground has 37 sites, an active day-use area and a boat ramp. North Fork Campground has 62 campsites, a playground and shower facility with flush toilets.
And it’s all surrounded by the stunning views of the Absaroka Range, especially Rattlesnake Mountain and Sheep Mountain.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you want to fish, everyone over the age of 14 needs a license.
21. See the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum
This is just what its name implies: a museum full of guns that have been found or dug up. The proprietor, Hans Kurth, is a carpenter who started the whole thing 40 years ago after finding guns when, for example, he would take down a wall. Now he adds to his fascinating collection when people give or sell him rusted carcasses of guns they find or dig up.
The museum is another of the free things to do in Cody, although he does accept donations.
SheBuysTravel Tip: No photos are allowed here. Hans wants people who are curious to have to come into the museum to see his collection, not be able to see them online.
22. Make a Stop at the Pahaska Tepee
When driving between Cody and Yellowstone’s East Entrance, you can’t help but notice the sign for the Pahaska Tepee, Bill Cody’s original lodge. You still can stay at Pahaska in one of the modern cabins. Or you can just stop in at the Lodgepole Dining Room for a buffalo burger and some Rocky Mountain oysters (chopped, breaded and fried bull testicles) on your way into the park.
Either way, don’t miss a visit to Buffalo Bill’s original 1904 hunting lodge. It’s open for free and is filled with artifacts including a soda machine from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Cody?
Consider giving Cody at least two days before heading into Yellowstone. The town that Buffalo Bill built is an authentic Western destination, not someone’s kitschy representation of the Old West. But when’s the best time to go? Each season has its pros and cons. Here’s a rundown.
Summer’s Busy in Cody
Summer is the prime season for family travel to Cody and Yellowstone. You’ll need to make your plans well in advance to secure lodging. And be prepared for the crowds.
But 2023 is an exception. Following last year’s historic Yellowstone floods, there are vacancies to be found and a last-minute trip’s a definite possibility. Cody was not impacted by the flooding and most of the damage in the park has been fixed, a truly remarkable feat by the National Park Service.
The Joys of Cody in the Fall
Consider pulling the kids out of school for this once-in-a-lifetime trip and visiting in the fall. With smaller crowds, you can explore Cody’s attractions at a more leisurely pace. Accommodations that book up quickly for the summer are available in the fall, at lower prices. The Wyoming weather in the fall is ideal for touring. You’ll enjoy warm days and cool nights.
The area wildlife makes winter preparations in the fall, increasing your viewing opportunities. While the bears are busy prepping for their winter hibernation, male elk are looking to get busy with the ladies. Listen for their bugle mating call.
And you’ll want to be outdoors in fall’s glory to try the region’s famous fly fishing or take a scenic horseback ride.
Just be sure to pack plenty of layers — the weather in and near Yellowstone can be unpredictable in the fall.
Prepare for the Unexpected in Spring
Spring is unpredictable. Winter’s snows may or may not have melted even by the end of May. But the wildlife is abundant and active. If seeing a baby bison is on your bucket list, spring’s the time to go.
Be prepared, though. If you’re renting a vehicle, consider one with 4-wheel drive. And, pack a cooler. You can buy one and fill it at the Cody Walmart before heading into the park. During my late May visit, very few of Yellowstone’s food concessions were open. And those that were had limited menu choices.
Cody’s Gorgeous in Winter
More than one person I spoke with during my trip raved about winter travel to Cody Yellowstone. Although both Yellowstone entrances accessible from Cody are closed to winter motor vehicle traffic, you can access the park by oversnow transport. Oversnow transport means snowmobiles or snow coaches, which are buses mounted on huge treads.
I’m not the rugged outdoors type of person, but I’ve put a return visit to Yellowstone on my bucket list. The steaming, percolating landscape is gorgeous. To see it covered in snow must be magnificent.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Most visitors stay just one night in Cody. They use the town as a launching point for their real destination: the wonders of Yellowstone National Park. But Cody really is worth a visit all on its own. At the very least, carve out time to see the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Cody Fast Facts
- The town’s founder, Buffalo Bill Cody, had the town’s architect lay out extra-wide streets in town because he wanted it to be easy to turn around the wagons of his famous wild west show.
- 10,000 people live in Cody, but the population swells by more than a half million during the summer season
- Actor John Wayne was once the Grand Marshall of Cody’s Fourth of July parade.
- Buffalo Bill got his nickname because he killed 4,000 buffalo.
- William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill’s real name) situated the town so visitors would have to go through Cody to use the East entrance to Yellowstone National Park. He even spent his own money to build the road.
- Although most visitors to Cody arrive by car, there’s a regional airport with daily service to and from Denver on United Express. The airport’s a 5-minute drive from town. Literally.