There aren’t many roads lovelier for RVing than the scenic highways and byways around Cody, Wyo. Whichever direction you’re coming from, the drive will be almost as wonderful as the destination.
Consider following one of these routes as a day trip while you’re there -- or as an alternate route as you (reluctantly) leave. These excursions all begin in Cody, but it’s easy to reverse the order.
Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway
The road from Cody to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park shadows the north fork of the Shoshone River for 52 glorious miles. Start on Yellowstone Avenue in town and head west through Shoshone Canyon and a ¾-mile tunnel. Note the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Dam on your left as you exit the tunnel and stop at the visitor’s center to find out all about its history and construction.
The byway travels U.S. Highway 14-16-20 and through the Wapiti Valley -- known for its wildlife and named for the elk who reside there -- and Shoshone National Forest, where you’ll pass rock formations with such whimsical names as Chinese Wall and Laughing Pig Rock.
Guest ranches also dot the route, offering a place to stop and spend a night, ride a horse and/or enjoy a little fishing. The last stop before the park is the Pahaska Tepee, which was Buffalo Bill’s own hunting lodge. This is a great place to stretch the legs and take in a bit of history.
Chief Joseph Scenic Byway/Beartooth Highway
Wyoming Highway 120 north from Cody starts with rolling grasslands and skirts Heart Mountain before it meets the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (and Wyoming Highway 296) about 16 miles north of town. From the Overlook, at the summit of this byway, travelers get a panoramic view of the Wyoming landscape, including canyons and valleys and the Beartooth Plateau.
Continue west over Sunlight Creek and watch for the limestone spires of Cathedral Cliffs just before you arrive at Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River. Stop at the Swamp Lake Botanical Area to observe waterfowl and, just maybe, a moose. Clark’s Fork has carved a 1,200-foot-deep gorge out of the granite of the Beartooth Plateau and the volcanic Absaroka Mountnains -- worth a photo or two.
At the junction of U.S. Highway 212 (called the Beartooth Highway), turn right to traverse what travel commentator Charles Kuralt believed was “the number one scenic highway in the United States.” If time allows, take the dirt road marked for the Clay Butte Fire Lookout (about eight miles), and ascend the tower for stunning views of valleys, peaks and lakes not seen from the main highway. Wildflowers are abundant here.
The Beartooth Highway portion of this drive has been named an “All American Road” by the National Scenic Byways and is a favorite of members of AAA and the American Motorcyclist Association.
After crossing Beartooth Pass, at nearly 11,000 feet altitude, day-trippers will find themselves in another state -- at Red Lodge, Mont.
Bighorn Mountain Loop
Take U.S. Alternate Highway 14 northwest out of Cody, across irrigated farmland, to the towns of Powell and Lovell. Just past Lovell, stop at the solar visitors’ center for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area to learn more about Wyoming’s wildlife and history.
Not far past this point, turn north on Wyoming Highway 37 for a side trip to Bighorn Canyon and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, where it’s possible to catch a glimpse of these wild creatures. About 17 miles from the turnoff, stop at Devils Canyon Overlook for amazing views of the steep, colorful canyon walls anchored by Bighorn Lake. Camping, hiking, fishing and even water-skiing are allowed here.
Now follow U.S. 14A to Burgess Junction; about halfway there, watch for signs directing travelers to the Medicine Wheel, an ancient 74-foot circle with spokes made from rocks and predating the Crow Indians who lived here in the late 1700s.
At Burgess Junction, turn south on U.S. Highway 14 and descend into the town of Greybull, enjoying views of meadows, glimpsing wildlife and planning a stop at Shell Falls.
A multitude of choices
There are more options, side trips and other loops (such as the Beartooth Basin Byway). Some options allow additional mileage to create loops so travelers don’t have to retrace their steps (but if they do, things always look different coming from the other direction). Many of these routes can take an entire day, if visitors want to stop and explore. Some can be shortened. All are interesting and beautiful.
So pick a route, pack a map or GPS (just in case) and head out for a day of adventure. The gas might be pricey, but the scenery and experience are free -- it all evens out.
About Yellowstone Country
Yellowstone Country is composed of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.
The area of Park County is called “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country” because it was the playground of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Buffalo Bill founded the town of Cody in 1896, and the entire region was driven and is still heavily influenced by the vision of the Colonel. Today its broad streets, worldclass museum -- Buffalo Bill Historical Center -- and thriving western culture host more than 1 million visitors annually.
For more information about Cody and the highways and byways mentioned in this article, visit the Park County Travel Council website, www.yellowstonecountry.org or call (800) 393-2639.