As winter gives way to spring, I start to hear from old friends who are thinking about their summer vacations. Invariably, they ask for my counsel on planning a summer vacation to my slice of paradise. Specifically, they usually want my help visiting Yellowstone National Park and our area.
I am always happy to share my knowledge as well as my recommendations about what to do, where to stay and which cowboy musician is telephone number-worthy.
While each vacation will be different, there are several things I always recommend.
First of all, the best way to appreciate a Yellowstone vacation is to start it in Cody, Wyo., the wildest way in to the world’s first national park.
The first stop I recommend is to go to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and head to the Draper Natural History Museum. At the Draper’s top level, you can look at a floor map of the region that helps you get your bearings and see where Cody, Park County, the park and the whole Yellowstone ecosystem fit together. From that top level are ramps that go down in a counter clockwise pattern with interpretive displays on specific topics such as the area’s wildlife, how forest fires are actually good for the environment, native peoples of the region and the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem.
But don’t just go to the Draper and then leave. Explore all five museums under the Buffalo Bill Center of the West roof. Learn about Buffalo Bill Cody himself in the recently renovated Buffalo Bill Museum and make your way through the Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum and Cody Firearms Museum.
After the BBCW, hop on the Cody Trolley Tour for a one-hour, 22-mile tour that is a great way to get acquainted with the town and travel the first few miles on one of two roads to Yellowstone. This is pure fun with narrators showcasing my town.
You will also learn about the two main roads between Cody and the park.
The road to the East Entrance of Yellowstone is 52 miles and runs along the North Fork of the Shoshone River. From town take Yellowstone Avenue west through a ¾-mile-long tunnel and past the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Buffalo Bill State Park, rock formations and lava flows and through the Shoshone National Forest. Once inside the forest, the highway is designated the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway and is noted for its plentiful wildlife.
The area is also home to a dozen guest ranches offering overnight accommodations, fishing, horseback riding and other activities. The last stop before the entrance to Yellowstone is Pahaska Tepee, the hunting lodge of Buffalo Bill Cody.
The second optioninto the park is just as spectacular with expansive landscapes and even more opportunities to view wildlife, culminating in a drive through “America’s Serengeti,” better known as Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway features sights like the single-span Sunlight Creek Bridge, the highest bridge in Wyoming and Dead Indian Pass overlook area where the Nez Perce tribe outran the U.S. Cavalry for several months in 1877. Consider taking a side trip on the Sunlight Basin Road (a gravel road) to see the Sunlight Ranger Station, a Civilian Conservation Corps structure built in 1936. You will enter Montana and drive through the small towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate before entering the park. It is typical to see bison and elk in this valley and not uncommon to spot wolves, bears, coyote, bighorn sheep, moose and a wide variety of birds.
Many people opt to start and end in Cody and enjoy one road into and the other out of the park. In addition to traveling two breathtaking routes, there’s a good chance that new bands are in town and you get a fresh take on our music scene.
It’s hard to go wrong regardless of which road you choose.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life in Cody, Wyo.