Cody to Yellowstone: Most beautiful 50 miles in America
Buffalo Bill Cody Dam near Cody, Wyoming.
Traveling along Highway 20 between Cody, Wyoming and the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
The best part of our August visit to Yellowstone National Park, was not the park but the drive from Cody to the park’s east entrance.
The nation’s largest bison herd is in Yellowstone National Park. Last count estimated over 5,000 head.
Damage from recent forest fires in this photo taken near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Highway 20 is called the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway and made famous by some very important people, including President Theodore Roosevelt who famously named it the “fifty most beautiful miles in America.” Also known as the Wapiti Valley Road, the highway cuts through a spectacular valley and follows the Shoshone River for many miles. This wilderness is full of history and scenery, most of which Cody popularized in the late 19th century with private hunting trips for bear and other wildlife for political and industrial notables.
We are in Cody, Wyoming and headed back to Florida, where we left in May and traveled with Canadian RV friends to Alaska. So far, we have spent 89 nights on the road. Visitors to this blog can click on “Alaska Bound” and follow our posts from the trip’s beginning.
Visitors on this Buffalo Bill Scenic Highway will first pass the huge Buffalo Bill Dam/Reservoir and Buffalo Bill State Park. If it seems everything, including the largest town in this part of Wyoming, is named for the bigger than life western hero, that’s because it is.
The reservoir created by the Buffalo Bill Dam provides water for irrigating farms and crops in the Bighorn Basin in addition to a power plant that generates electricity for communities in the region. We stopped numerous times along the Scenic Byway for many quick photo opps, all point and shoot stuff, and even managed to photograph a deer through the car windshield as it ran across the highway and leaped into the brush.
On the day of our travels, the highway was virtually deserted since most Yellowstone visitors enter the park from the north, south or more popular west side. Only visitors from Cody use this highway to visit the park. The lack of highway traffic gave us plenty of time to slow down and soak up the canyons, huge red rock cliffs and wilderness.
Driving into Yellowstone, the scenery was still remarkable, but unfortunately, the crowds of tourists filled the more popular sites, and even finding a parking spot was difficult and sometimes impossible. We stood in line to peer over the Yellowstone River Falls for a quick picture while being jostled from behind from people anxious to see one of the park’s most spectacular views.
A deer passes in front of our car on the road near Buffalo Bill State Park.
Heading toward Canyon Village, we joined hundreds of rubber-neckers stopping in the middle of the roadway to take pictures out the car windows of bison, which were grazing nearby. Some motorists exited their cars and walked within a dozen or so feet of the big animals. Some bison were simply walking casually on the road, only feet from gawking tourists. We had lunch at Canyon Village and then drove to the North Rim and took a long switchback walkway down the canyon wall to the upper and lower falls. Crowds were awful—just too many people to enjoy the scenery.
In an effort to escape some of the crowd, we continued to Tower Falls near the Roosevelt Lodge. The road is windy with switchbacks and many drop offs. The crowds here were just as bad. One quick picture and we were in the car and headed back to Cody.
Seeing the Bill Cody Scenic Byway from west to east was just as spectacular as the drive into the park.
Again, we promised to visit the more popular national parks in spring or fall to avoid the summer rush.
Back in Cody, we dined at Irma’s Cafe, a hotel and restaurant Buffalo Bill Cody built in 1902 and named for his daughter. He said it was the “sweetest hotel there ever was.”
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 89
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 9,936
GALLONS OF GASOLINE: 1,213
COST OF FUEL: $3,720