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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.

What to Know Before You go

Check what’s open. The only services open in the park right now are service stations and restrooms, so travelers should plan their route and their adventure 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, face coverings for everyone in the vehicle, binoculars, extra layers of clothing, blankets, a flashlight, and phone charging cords. 

Review the park’s safety precautions. Know about rules for safe wildlife watching. Stay on boardwalks and practice social distancing if you encounter other visitors. Wash your hands frequently. 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. World Peaks identifies mountains. The Yellowstone National Park app features interactive maps, geyser eruptions, and road closure alerts.

A Day Trip to Remember

Winding road leads into the mountains of Yellowstone

Now that you’ve planned, you’re ready to hit the road!  

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 Geyser with rainbow

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.

Lower Falls in Yellowstone's Grand Canyon.

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. 

Buffalo Bill Cody Statue

Bonus: Explore the Center of the West

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. 

A Cody Yellowstone adventure is waiting, so start planning your getaway today!