Cody Country Road Trip: See the Beauty of Northwestern Wyoming

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

Route Details

Length: About 60 miles.

When to go: Summer has the best driving conditions, but the colder months are good for snow sports. Winters close Rte. 14A.

Nearby attraction: Hot Springs State Park, site of the world’s largest mineral hot spring, near Thermopolis, about 50 miles south of Greybull via Rte. 20.

Further information: Wyoming Travel & Tourism, I-25 at College Dr., Cheyenne, WY 82002; tel. 800-225-5996, www.wyomingtourism.org.

By no means an isolated island of natural splendor, Yellowstone National Park is surrounded by remarkable wilds. This drive, following Rtes. 14 and 14A, offers an ideal encore, leaving the fabled preserve for points east, where an ever-changing realm runs the gamut from shadowy forests to wide-open grasslands. Between these extremes are lazy rivers, waterfalls, rolling fields, tall mountains, and deep canyons—a monumental mosaic of scenic grandeur that carries the visitor back in time and memory to the Wild West.

1. Pahaska
In the early 1900s many visitors to Yellowstone savored their last taste of civilization at Pahaska, where William F. Cody, alias Buffalo Bill, had built a hunting lodge known as the Pahaska Tepee. The lodge can still be toured in summer, and the resort still serves as a jumping-off point for excursions into the backcountry. Pahaska attracts outdoor enthusiasts, who come not only to enjoy the bounties of Yellowstone but also those of Shoshone National Forest, where more than 2 million acres encompass wilderness areas, rushing streams, granite peaks, and meadows abounding with wildflowers.

2. Wapiti Ranger Station
Rte. 14, which overlaps here with Rtes. 16 and 20, winds eastward along the north fork of the Shoshone River. Dotted with lodges and resorts, this stretch of highway passes through an amazing landscape forged by volcanic fires. Appearing one after another are hundreds of dramatic rock formations—multicolored spires, towering pinnacles, and layered columns, some of which are identified by roadside signs.

The national forest’s Wapiti Ranger Station, erected in 1903, lies just off Rte. 14 and is a good place to relax and enjoy the sights. Open in the summer months, a visitor center at the station offers an informative video on grizzlies, the undisputed king of these woods. On the way out of the forest, the drive slips between Signal and Flag peaks, two mountains cresting at the preserve’s eastern boundary.

3. Buffalo Bill State Park
As the road winds down from the mountains, the vegetation also changes, with dense forests yielding to open expanses of sagebrush and scrubby juniper. This arid landscape is not without its oases, however, for cottonwoods and willows flourish along the banks of the gradually widening Shoshone River. Then, a few miles farther along, the road skirts the shores of Buffalo Bill Reservoir, the centerpiece of Buffalo Bill State Park and an irresistible mecca for campers, windsurfers, and boaters.

The town of Cody, east of the reservoir, also recalls the popular scout and showman, who lent his magnetic name in the hope of attracting crowds. The plan was a success. today nearly 750,000 visitors come each year. One of the town’s most popular attractions, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, boasts a superb collection of western art and memorabilia. Come Independence Day, the Wild West also springs to life during the Cody Stampede, an entertaining show complete with parades and rodeos that marks the high point of Cody’s summer festivities.

As it leaves town, the drive switches onto Rte. 14A, which heads toward Bighorn National Forest. Locals say the A stands for adventure, and once under way, you’ll soon find out why. The route angles northeast through the Big Horn Basin, a broad, windswept valley. Far-reaching views of grassy rangelands are the norm in summer, but winter is another story. the snow, blowing unimpeded, accumulates in deep drifts that close the road from mid-November to mid-May.

4. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Passing through flat grazing lands and fields of sugar beets, the drive enters Lovell, a small town nicknamed the City of Roses. Beyond Lovell the earth begins to rumple, and rolling badlands dominate the scene. Take heart, though, for just ahead you’ll come to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, where a dam on the Bighorn River has formed a reservoir 70 miles long. Hemmed in by lofty peaks and multicolored cliffs, the lengthy man-made lake extends north well into Montana.

To enjoy the sights, follow Rte. 37, which curves atop Bighorn Canyon’s western plateau and parallels the Bad Pass Trail, an ancient footpath worn by native Americans and, centuries later, by fur trappers. This neck of the woods is also the site of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, a large sanctuary where more than 100 mustangs roam the countryside. Though they tend to stay out of sight, the horses, whose Crow name means “wind drinkers,” have bold markings in an array of colors.

Rte. 37 will also take you to the overlook at Devil Canyon, just across the Montana border, where the earth drops off below your feet, and the view looks down 1,000 feet into the water-filled canyon. Far below, the boats and sails on the lake’s surface resemble toys floating in a faraway bathtub.

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