Cody Wyoming as a base camp for a Yellowstone Vacation

What’s it like to head to Yellowstone using Cody, Wyoming, as your base camp? In this post, I’ll share some ways to organize your time to see Yellowstone.


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Getting settled in Cody

Once you decide on your home base, you’ll want to spend at least one day just exploring Cody. The main attractions are:

  • The Buffalo Bill Center of the West – Here you get five museums in one: the Draper Natural History Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Gallery, Firearms Museum, and, of course, the Buffalo Bill Museum. People don’t expect a world-class museum in a gateway community to Yellowstone. It’s often unofficially referred to as the Smithsonian of the West. Your entrance fee covers two days because there’s really that much to see.
  • Cody Nite Rodeo – Every night from June through August (except the days of the Cody Stampede Rodeo the first four days in July), we have a rodeo. This allows competitors to practice every night, gaining tremendous experience. The announcers do a great job of helping those not familiar with rodeos understand what they’re watching. It’s an exciting way to finish out a day. It starts at 8 PM each night, and buses stop at various places in town to pick you up, drop you off when it’s over. Or you can take your own car out to the rodeo grounds.
  • The Irma Hotel – This building is in the heart of downtown Cody and has been a gathering place since it was built. Inside is the famous rosewood bar given to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria. There’s live entertainment on the weekends in the Silver Dollar Saloon. And every night during the summer there’s a western gunfight staged for your entertainment. You can also get dinner at the Irma and a show with Dan Miller Cowboy Music Review that gives more western flair to your vacation.There’s much, much more to do in Cody, and I’ll cover more about the things to do in Cody in future posts.
Old Faithful Geyser in eruption in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin

Planning your days to Yellowstone

Give yourself two days to head into Yellowstone and another if you want to also cover Grand Teton National Park. If you only have one day, you’ll likely need to pick one and come back again to cover more.

DAY ONE – LOWER LOOP

If you only have one day for Yellowstone, I’d suggest you drive the lower loop and give yourself 10-12 hours for this trip. This is the trip with the highest number of stops and amount of walking. Drive in through the East Entrance. On the way in, you’ll pass Sylvan Lake and keep your eyes open for bears all the way to Yellowstone Lake. At Fishing Bridge, you can go either way, but I usually take a left. Possible stops along the road would be:

  • Lake Village to see Lake Hotel
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin
  • Old Faithful Geyser and the Upper Geyser Basin
  • Midway Geyser Basin
  • Lower Geyser Basin
  • Gibbon Falls
  • Beryl Spring
  • Artist Paint Pots
  • Norris Geyser Basin (give lots of time here if you stop)
  • Canyon area to see the Lower Falls
  • Brink of the Upper Falls
  • Hayden Valley (watch for wildlife – bears, wolves, and bison)

Return to Cody via the East Entrance.

Bison grazing next to the Lamar River

DAY TWO – UPPER LOOP

This is the scenic drive and wildlife watching trip with travertine springs at Mammoth. This day you’ll drive more than you stop and walk. Because in 2020 and 2021, the road from Canyon to Tower-Roosevelt is closed for reconstruction. The route for 2020 and 2021 will take you in the NE Entrance, over to Mammoth and back to Cody the same way.

Head north out of Cody toward Billings on Hwy 120. About 20 miles north of town, after dropping down a long hill, you’ll find the turnoff for the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Take a left there, and you’ll find some tremendously gorgeous country. Miles later, when you get to a T in the road, turn left to head to Yellowstone. (Turning right is another potential day trip)

Watch for wildlife all along this route of the northern part of Yellowstone. You’ll travel through the famed Lamar Valley – sometimes referred to as the Serengeti of the West due to the vast size of the area that’s teeming with wildlife. Here you’ll see a good chunk of the bison that live in the park. Wolf packs live here as well as grizzlies, elk, pronghorn (aka antelope) and more.

When the road comes to a T, you’ll turn right at Roosevelt Junction. Sights you might consider stopping along here are:

  • Tower Fall
  • Calcite Springs Overlook
  • Petrified Tree
  • Undine Falls 

The next stop is at Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can stop to see the hot springs and take the one-way loop around the upper terraces. This is also home to the historic Fort Yellowstone. After exploring this area, head back the way you came, keeping your eyes open for more wildlife.

This drive takes six hours with no stops, so give yourself 9 or 10 hours for this day. 

Views along the Beartooth Highway

DAY THREE – Beartooth Highway

This is mainly a driving day that takes up in altitude through stunning scenery. The road usually opens in mid-May and closes in the fall when the early snows set in. Take the same route as you did with the Upper Loop, but at the T in the road near Cooke City, turn right. The twisting road takes you to some absolutely gorgeous country.

On your way down the east side, you can stop at Bear Creek in the evening for the pig races or head on to Red Lodge and explore this delightful extra gateway community.

SnowMoon Photography

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