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The East Gate to Yellowstone National Park, 52 miles west of downtown Cody, is now open. Park officials recently announced that travelers entering from the East can explore the entire Lower Loop of the Grand Loop Road. And even with most services, including lodges and restaurants, in the park still closed, there are plenty of things for day-trippers to do. Here’s a plan for a full-day adventure. Get a good night’s sleep before you go. It’s going to be a long, fun, eventful day.

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park has very distinctive seasons, from cold winters to pleasantly warm summers. Each season in Yellowstone is unique and special. However, travelers will find some advantages and disadvantages of visiting Yellowstone in each season.

Spring in Yellowstone runs from April until May. This is a transitional period and probably the most unpredictable time to visit the area. During a typical winter, the park gets several inches of snow, which means that the spring is characteristically muddy as the snow melts away. There’s also still a chance of snow during these months, so be prepared and flexible for any eventualities. Late May is when most roads, lodges, and seasonal businesses open.

Yellowstone in the summer is the most popular time for tourists to visit. The summer season in Yellowstone starts in June and ends in late August. All roads in Yellowstone are open in June, July, and August, but make sure to check the park’s safety precautions before you get on the road, as there might be road closures for maintenance or other eventualities.

If you want to experience Yellowstone without the usual crowds, September and October are your best times to visit. Autumn in the park is one of the best times to visit the area. The weather is still mild, the roads and accommodations are still open and more affordable, and the number of people is lower. Plus, you’ll experience the change of leaves in a beautiful setting. The only shortcoming of the fall season in Yellowstone is that it tends to be short-lived, and before you know it, winter has made its way. Plan for a late September or early October getaway to avoid any early winter weather.

November to March is winter in Yellowstone National Park. While it can be a challenging season to travel, the park does become a winter wonderland unlike anywhere else in the United States, and it’s worth the visit for those brave enough to face the cold temperatures! Because of the intense amounts of snow the park receives during the winter months, only small parts of Yellowstone are accessible by car, the North and the Northeast entrances of Yellowstone are the only entrance open to cars during this time, so make sure to plan and pack accordingly.

What to Know Before You go

  • Check what’s open: Depending on the season you visit, some service stations, restrooms, roads, lodges, accommodations and restaurants might be closed. Make sure to plan and map out your route accordingly.
  • Pack with purpose: Visit a Cody grocery store and stock up on water, picnic food, and hygiene items. Pack a bag with a first aid kit, binoculars, extra layers of clothing, blankets, a flashlight, and phone charging cords. 
  • Review the park’s safety precautions: Know the rules for safe wildlife watching. Stay on boardwalks, drive responsibly, and be ready for road closures and sudden traffic stops.
  • Download apps to enhance the experience: TravelStorysGPS features an audio tour of the drive from Cody to Yellowstone. AR AlpineGuide identifies mountains. The Yellowstone National Park app features interactive maps, geyser eruptions, and road closure alerts.

Day Trip from Cody, Wyoming, to Yellowstone Park

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Cody Yellowstone is a beautiful place to set up camp while visiting Yellowstone National Park because of its central location relative to the park’s entrance, plus all of the fantastic restaurants, accommodations and sights nearby. On your way to the park, make sure to stop and visit the Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center to marvel at what was once the tallest dam in the world when it was completed in 1910. You’ll also have the opportunity to stop and stretch your legs at the Old Trail Town. This family-friendly tourist attraction preserves the lifestyle and history of the Frontier West through a collection of preserved authentic structures and furnishings.

Yellowstone Day Adventures: What to See in One Day

So, you’ve identified the best season for you and your party to visit Cody and Yellowstone National Park. You’ve packed and planned accordingly, and after exploring the beautiful sights of Cody, Wyoming, you’re ready to hit the road and explore America’s first National Park.

Breakfast – Get up early and grab a box breakfast to go from one of Cody’s many restaurants. 

8 a.m. – Open the TravelStorysGPS tour and head west on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway. Watch for wildlife like elk roaming the Wapiti Valley and bighorn sheep wandering the dramatic red rock formations – called hoodoos – that dot the landscape. This is also a popular spot to see bison out for a walk. Take your time and stop at pull-outs to appreciate the landscape that inspired Buffalo Bill Cody to establish his namesake town. 

9:15 a.m. – Stop at Pahaska Tepee to stretch your legs and use the restroom. Pahaska Tepee was Buffalo Bill Cody’s hunting lodge where he used to host visitors and tell tales of his Wild West Show adventures. 

9:30 a.m. – Enter the East Gate and drive over Sylvan Pass for your first dramatic views of the park. Use that World Peaks app to identify some of the park’s most dramatic mountains, such as Top Notch Peak, Grizzly Peak, and Avalanche Peak. 

10:30 a.m. – Arrive at Fishing Bridge and head south towards Yellowstone Lake. Be prepared for road construction delays. Take the Yellowstone Lake spur road leading to the Lake Butte Overlook and enjoy your first views of the massive lake. Head back to the main road and look for Steamboat Springs, a hot spring remnant on a line of faults.

11:00 a.m. – Continue to West Thumb for a restroom break and stroll along the boardwalk. 

old faithful with a rainbow overhead

11:30 a.m. – Continue driving to the Upper Geyser Basin. You’ll cross the Continental Divide two times during this spur. Stop for a quick photo at the Continental Divide sign. When you arrive at the Upper Geyser Basin, check the app for the next eruption of Old Faithful Geyser and find a spot to watch an eruption. Continue to walk the boardwalk and look for a bench or picnic table to enjoy a picnic lunch.

1 p.m. Continue to the Lower Geyser Basin and walk to the boardwalk loop, passing the always-entertaining Fountain Paint Pots.

1:30 p.m. – Drive along the Firehole River to Madison Junction for a restroom break before turning east. Stop at Norris Geyser Basin and walk the boardwalk to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser.

old faithful with a rainbow overhead

2:30 p.m. – Drive 12 miles to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and enjoy the dramatic view of the Lower Falls from the Artist Point overlook.

3:30 p.m. – Hit the road again and drive south along the Yellowstone River through Hayden Valley. Watch for wildlife. Stop at Mud Volcano to see a variety of thermal features and LeHardys Rapids, three miles north of Fishing Bridge.

4:30 p.m. – Drive to Fishing Bridge and turn east towards the East Gate and downtown Cody.

6:30 p.m. – Arrive back in Cody, tired, happy and hungry. Treat yourself to a leisurely dinner at one of Cody’s many restaurants. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll along Sheridan Avenue in downtown Cody before heading back to your hotel or campground. 

Get a good night’s sleep. You earned it. 

Bonus: Explore the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

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If you arrive ahead of schedule or have another day in Cody, you can’t go wrong visiting the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a Smithsonian-affiliated attraction with five museums under one roof. The Draper Natural History Museum, which features exhibits showcasing the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, is an incredibly fun way to spend a day. The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 

The Journey to Adventure

No matter what your journey to Yellowstone National Park looks like, it’s bound to be an adventure filled with wonders like you’ve never seen before, like Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring! Start planning your Cody Yellowstone experience by requesting your free Vacation Guide! It’s chock full of tips and tricks, travel ideas and information on the best places to stay, eat, and see — Get your free copy right now: A Cody Yellowstone adventure is waiting, so start planning your getaway today!