Riding into Cody, Wyo., from the east or west means rolling through some of America’s finest Wild West territory.
The name of the town itself came courtesy of William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), the legendary trapper, hunter, Pony Express rider, soldier, scout, thespian and entrepreneur. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show had a 30-year run, much of it in Europe, making him arguably the most famous name in the world at the dawn of the 20th century.
Founded in 1896, his namesake city sits in the Big Horn Basin 50 miles east of Yellowstone National Park. There are few non-scenic routes hereabouts, but the best roads are in and around Yellowstone, south into the Tetons and Rockies, and east to the Big Horn Mountains. Expand the radius a bit into Idaho and Montana, and one could easily spend two weeks riding without repeating a route, crossing the Continental Divide a dozen times a day and savoring some of the most spectacular roads and scenery in the country.
Cody makes a good base camp for this kind of trek, offering plenty of low-cost motels and campgrounds — and Buffalo Bill’s own digs, the Irma Hotel, named after his youngest daughter. Built in 1902, the hotel has had several additions over the years, although many of the original rooms (now with bathrooms) remain. Rates run from $100-$160, and the hotel offers the advantage of an antique restaurant/bar, where the dinner special is prime rib and the breakfast hotcakes (regular or beer batter) are enormous. The ornate cherry wood bar, a gift to Bill from Queen Victoria of England, dominates the room, and features the original National cash register — and a case holding a gold-plated Winchester and Colt 45. Cowpokes in period dress stage gunfights at 6 p.m. daily in front of the hotel.
Non-riding time might also be enjoyably spent at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center down the street. The large complex includes the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Draper Museum of Natural History, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art and the Cody Firearms Museum. MC
Where: Northwestern Wyoming, just south of the Montana border.
When: Book ahead in summer; go in May or September to avoid the crowds.
Why: A heady mix of great roads, epic scenery and Wild West lore.
Best kept secret: The grilled chicken salad at The Garden’s-Brew Co., which also features patio seating facing the street and live entertainment. Try the Snake River Lager, brewed down the road in Jackson Hole.
Scenic routes: All of Yellowstone; U.S. Highway 212 through Bear Tooth Pass; U.S. 14 to the Big Horn Mountains, U.S. 16 for the southern loop. Heading west, take the West Yellowstone exit, U.S. 287 to U.S. 191 north to I-90; west to Butte, Mont., south on I-15 to state Highway 43, which becomes U.S. 93 in Idaho, then south along the Salmon River. You won’t be sorry.
Avoid: State trooper D.J. Smith. Although he’ll write you up for 78mph in a 65, he gives a $10 discount for wearing a helmet! He’ll also warn you to watch for the antelope crossing the road at sundown. Western hospitality at its finest.
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