Discover the Best Things to Do in Cody, Wyoming

Written by Teresa Bitler

June 19, 2024
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Find out the must-visit attractions and hidden gems in Cody, WY. Don’t rush through on your way to Yellowstone—enjoy the best things to do in Cody and make your stay unforgettable!

Founded in 1886 by Colonel William F. Cody—better known as Buffalo Bill—the city of Cody, Wyoming, is about 50 miles east of Yellowstone National Park. Like most visitors, I came to explore the park, but I left amazed at all the fun things to do in Cody.

From the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Heart Mountain Interpretative Center to taking a Cody Trolley Tour, going to a Cody Nite Rodeo, and exploring local shops and boutiques, there is something for everyone—and that doesn’t even count the fantastic outdoor activities awaiting when you visit Wyoming. Is Cody, Wyoming, worth visiting? Absolutely! Read on for some of the best tourist attractions in Cody.

What Are the Best Things to Do in Cody, WY?

I now understand why most travelers feel like they should have planned to spend extra time in Cody. There is so much to do that you miss out if you don’t explore it for several days. Here are a few things to add to your list when planning your visit to Cody, WY.

How Close is Cody, WY, to Yellowstone National Park?

Cody makes an excellent base for exploring Yellowstone National Park. You can easily access the park by its East Entrance (52 miles east of the city) or Northeast Entrance (approximately 80 miles from Cody via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and Beartooth Highway).

The East Entrance of Yellowstone opens with mountainous views through the Sylvan Pass to Yellowstone Lake. Following the Yellowstone Lower Loop, you can hit the park’s top sites, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Old Faithful.

I entered through the Northeast Entrance and exited through the East Entrance, which allowed me to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. Since I went in May, I was also treated to baby bison and bear cubs in Laramie Valley.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is not far from the national park’s East Entrance. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Cody’s premier attraction houses five museums in one: the Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum. The $23 ticket price gives you access to all five for two consecutive days, and you can upgrade your visit with a private tour tailored to your interests for an additional fee.

While all of the museums are outstanding, I especially liked the museum about Buffalo Bill Cody, the center’s Western art collection, and the gun museum, which displays 4,200 firearms dating from 650 BC to the present day.

Cody Firearms Experience

One of the highlights during my visit was the Cody Firearms Experience, which gives visitors ages 8 and up the opportunity to fire historic weapons, ranging from an 1861 Springfield rifle to a Thompson “Tommy” submachine gun. You can also try modern guns like a Glock 9mm or an AR-15.

The author, after firing the historic guns at the Cody Firearms Experience. Photo provided by Teresa Bitler

The author, after firing the historic guns at the Cody Firearms Experience. Photo provided by Teresa Bitler

I stuck with the Old West theme by selecting an 1873 Winchester rifle and an 1862 Gatling gun. Before I fired, an expert demonstrated how to use each, walked me through a dry run without ammunition, and loaded the guns. I expected to love firing the Gatling, but I was a little disappointed because I just turned the handle, no aiming required. The Winchester was a blast, though, and I’d jump at the chance to fire it again.

Heart Mountain Interpretative Center

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II, the US government interred 14,025 Americans of Japanese descent in barracks near Heart Mountain, 13 miles outside Cody. Today, Heart Mountain Interpretative Center serves as a reminder of their illegal imprisonment.

The confinement site includes an original barrack, hospital root cellar, replica guard tower, and exhibits depicting internees’ day-to-day life. Special exhibits cover topics like the music inside the camp and the work of animator Bob Kuwahara.

What are Things to Do in Downtown Cody, WY?

From boutique shops to gunfights, Sheridan Avenue in downtown Cody has enough to keep you busy the entire day. Shoppers will find gift stores and boutiques worth popping into. My favorites include the Wyoming Buffalo Company for locally made sausage and jams, Yellowstone Gift Shop for t-shirts and souvenirs, and Legends Bookstore for local guidebooks.

a row of cowboy boots on a shelf

Boots like these are on display at Wayne’s Boot Shop and are a popular purchase in Cody. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Don’t miss the Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill in 1902, or a scoop of huckleberry ice cream at The Bigg Chill. At 6 PM, Monday through Saturday during the summer, gunfighters square off in the streets. Arrive early for the best spots or reserve a seat for $3.

Take a Ride with Cody Trolley Tours

Even if you don’t like guided tours, this 60-minute ride through Cody aboard a San Francisco-style trolley car is a must. Not only will you learn about Buffalo Bill and the city he founded, but the two narrators will point out historic sites, share poster-sized photographs of the city’s early days, and pass around artifacts.

The tour is pet-friendly, and participants receive discounts and coupons for local businesses. Cody Trolley Tours is a great introduction to all there is to do in the area—and a fun way to learn about Buffalo Bill.

Is the Cody Nite Rodeo Worth Attending?

Absolutely! Every night, from June 1 through the end of August, Cody celebrates its Western heritage with its popular Cody Nite Rodeo. The rodeo pits amateurs—many of whom are locals—against professionals needing qualifying points in events like bull and bronc riding, barrel racing, and team roping. Gates open at 7 PM and the events begin at 8 PM.

Compared to other rodeos, this one was well-organized and fast-paced, with little to no downtime between events. I wasn’t ready for it to end, and if I’d had extra time, I might have gone back a second night.

a man riding a bull

Cody hosts Cody Nite Rodeo every night at 8 PM from June 1 through August. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Step Back in Time at Old Trail Town

For a taste of the Old West, head to Old Trail Town, where more than 20 historic log buildings and cabins line a “street” cluttered with Western-era wagons. Highlights include a cabin used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a saloon they frequented, and the grave of mountain man John Johnston, the subject of the 1972 movie, “Jeremiah Johnson.”

I spent about an hour touring the buildings but skipped the museum (due to time constraints), which contains a mix of Old West relics, firearms, and Native American artifacts.

Enjoy Evening Entertainment at Cody Cattle Company

Over the years, I’ve been to several cowboy dinner shows, and in many ways, the Cody Cattle Company is the best. First, the service is exceptional. Staff take drink orders and process payment tableside, and within minutes—literally—your drink arrives from the bar. The food is good, too. Everyone at my table raved about the chicken, but there was also brisket, pulled pork, and salad.

After the staff efficiently clears tables, the lights dim, and the show begins. I don’t mind the campy tunes usually performed by musicians in cowboy outfits, but Cody Cattle Company tries to appeal to everyone with songs ranging from Gene Autry ballads to 80’s pop. It was fun and ended with ample time to walk next door to the rodeo before it began.

Checking out a performance at Cody Cattle Company is one of the best things to do in Cody, WY

Performers at Cody Cattle Company sing songs ranging from Western ballads to pop hits. Photo by Teresa Bitler

By Western Hands

I don’t usually seek out galleries, but I made a point of visiting By Western Hands after seeing a few pieces on display at the Buffalo Bill Center’s gift shop. The downtown Cody gallery features beautifully crafted Western pieces ranging from rugged tables with antler bases to handwoven rugs with Native American-inspired patterns.

Time your visit to attend one of the hands-on workshops making wooden spoons, “old style” dolls, leather pouches, or similar crafts. If your visit doesn’t coincide with a By Western Hands workshop, you might be able to find a class—or your new favorite artwork—at Cody Country Art League instead.

What Outdoor Adventures Are There in Cody, WY?

National and state lands surround Cody, so it’s no surprise that it’s a mecca for outdoor adventures. These adventures can range from mild to wild, but all leave you with a sense of awe as you take in the scenery.

What is the Hiking Like in Cody?

There’s no better way to experience the wild side of Cody than on a hike. (Plus, hiking is one of the best free things to do in Cody.) Some of the area’s greatest hikes cut through the Shoshone National Forest, including the easy, out-and-back Sweetwater River Trail and the paved trail from the Buffalo Bill Dam via the Hayden Arch Bridge.

If striking out on your own makes you uneasy, you can take a trip with Sunlight Trail Guides. The company offers guided hikes for adventurers of all experience levels and points out wildlife along the way.

a forest with trees and fallen trees

Hikes through the backcountry give you a perspective most Cody visitors miss. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Is There Fly Fishing in Cody, WY?

Fly fishing is one of the most popular activities in the Cody area. You can catch rainbow, cutthroat, and other trout on a Cody fly fishing trip, and you are likely to see wildlife like elk and bear. Outfitters like North Fork Anglers, Let’s Go Fishing, and Wyoming Trout Guides organize guided float or walk-and-wade trips, but you can also fish on your own.

You can bring your own gear or rent what you need from Cody fly fishing stores, where you’ll also find the best flies for local waters.

Horseback Riding

Experience the Cody wilderness like Buffalo Bill and other early settlers did—from the back of a horse. Most area dude ranches offer horseback riding, but you can also find roadside outfitters between Cody and the East Entrance of Yellowstone.

For a more immersive experience, I took a horse pack trip with Livingston Outfitting and got a real taste of what the early pioneers would have faced on the trails. I wouldn’t recommend it for inexperienced riders or luxury-loving travelers, but we saw parts of the Shoshone National Forest that few people do. Livingston Outfitting also offers full- and half-day rides.

people riding horses in a grassy field

A horseback ride through the Shoshone National Forest is like traveling back through time. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Rafting on the Shoshone River Near Cody

Rapids combine with epic scenery on the Shoshone River from the beginning of June through September, and you can book a whitewater rafting trip with several companies in Cody. Select a family-friendly rafting experience or get soaked on the Northfork. Either way, expect rougher and colder water early in the season.

Some companies like Wyoming River Trips also rent kayaks or conduct backcountry trips. Some can be intense, so know your limits. For example, Gradient Mountain Sports’ Pack Rafting the North Fork trip starts with a 3-mile hike.

Can We Go Off-roading Near Cody?

Want to explore the backcountry without breaking a sweat (or getting wet)? Book an off-road adventure. With Out West Adventures (RSC Powersports), you can rent a side-by-side and navigate BLM trails on your own. Or you can hire a driver to do the work for you.

a landscape of a mountain range

I enjoyed exploring Cody during an off-road tour. Photo by Teresa Bitler

I went with a group and was a passenger in a side-by-side. We visited petroglyphs, searched for wild horses, and stopped at scenic vistas. Although not the rugged joy ride I expected, it was a great way to see a side of Cody I wouldn’t have otherwise.

What Winter Sports are Popular in Cody, WY?

Cody isn’t just for summer. In the winter, Out West Adventures rents snowmobiles, and you can drive part of the way into Yellowstone National Park from its Northeast Entrance. Ice fishing is also a favorite pastime. Cody Yellowstone recommends angling the icy waters of Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoir, Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Newton Lakes, and Markham Reservoir.

Ice walls along the Southfork of the Shoshone River make the area a top destination for ice climbing from November to early April. Experienced ice climbers can go on their own, but beginners can learn the sport on a climb with Wyoming Mountain Guides.

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How Do I Get to Cody, WY?

The easiest way to get to Cody, Wyoming, is by car, but the city has a small airport, Yellowstone Regional Airport, serviced mainly by United Airlines. Billings Logan International Airport is roughly 90 miles away.

Because access to the national park is limited during the winter and many activities, like the rodeo, are unavailable during the winter, summer is the best time to go. However, it’s also the most crowded. Visit in late May or early June to beat the crowds or after school starts in the fall.

Whenever you visit, you’ll find you don’t have nearly enough time to do and see everything Cody has to offer. If you’re like me, you’ll start planning your next trip before your first one ends. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more to do in Wyoming and other parts of the Rocky Mountain region.

Written by Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Wine Enthusiast, and AAA publications. She’s also the author of two guidebooks (Great Escapes Arizona and Backroads and Byways of Indian Country) and a contributor to Fodors Arizona & The Grand Canyon. While Teresa would never miss a must-see attraction, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York City, her favorite travel experiences are the unexpected ones: KoolAid with a Hopi medicine man, lobster prepared by a local on a Belizean beach, or a ride in a World War II-era bomber.

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