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Each spring as a kid we’d head to Cody from Moran, Wyoming, where my dad and other volunteer firefighters would spend a few days at the Cody Fire School for annual training. During these road trips my face was always stuck to the glass of the window as we passed through Yellowstone, the shortest route. We’d pass by the odd grizzly family stumbling out of a winter’s sleep, top out on Sylvan Pass with snow banks towering over the road, and descend into the deep valley cut by the Shoshone River.
As you cross over the park boundary and into the Shoshone National Forest, the Wapiti Valley opens up and welcomes you to a warmer, drier climate. The highway winds into town along the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, which Teddy Roosevelt dubbed, “the most scenic 50 miles in the world.” Passing by class V whitewater rapids on the Shoshone and the snowcapped peaks of the Absaroka range contrasted by red sandstone cliffs, you might agree with him.
Not far from the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway you’ll find access to one of the most remote places in the Lower 48, The Thorofare. It’s here that the rugged Absaroka range relents, allowing elk, moose, deer, grizzlies, and wolves to pass through on their migratory routes. With over 20 miles in any direction from a road, a week long backpacking trip here would be an appropriate introduction to the surrounding backcountry. Much longer would still just be scratching the surface.
When Colonel William F. Cody, the town’s namesake who’s better known as Buffalo Bill, rolled into the Bighorn Basin in the late 1800s, he was looking for the same thing most visitors here seek today — opportunities to explore the outdoors, close proximity to Yellowstone, and a few creature comforts for good measure. He established the Irma Hotel, named after his daughter, shortly after the town’s incorporation in 1901.
Driving through Yellowstone during peak season can be a lesson in patience and give you the impression that the area is overcrowded. Nothing could be further from the truth; escaping the din of motorhomes and minivans requires little more than getting off the main tourist track. Using Cody as a home base, you’re within striking distance of pristine wilderness areas skirting the eastern edge of the park. While the crowds tend to stay within park boundaries, wildlife roams all across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. A two to three-day trip could land you at the top of 12,224’ Trout Peak in the Northern Absaroka Wilderness bordering the park, where you’re likely to encounter more grizzlies than people. For a peak-bagging experience inside the park, Avalanche peak lies just inside the east entrance for a solid day trip from town.
Between adventures, you can check out the Cody Nite Rodeo, which runs nightly from June through August. And if you can’t get Yellowstone off your mind, you have to see the Draper Natural History Museum in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which goes into depth on all the natural wonders of Yellowstone and how they got there.
Cody is flanked by Yellowstone to the west, surrounded by the Bighorn and Absaroka ranges, spliced by Shoshone Canyon, and has tons to explore in town. The hardest part of visiting will be finding time to take a break.