Yellowstone is one of my favorite natural parks in the world. Especially in autumn.
If you see a fat bear lumbering along the side of the road, it might be fall in Yellowstone Country. If sudden-onset yellow is transforming the towering aspens surrounding the town of Cody, it is probably fall in Yellowstone Country. And if Sheridan Avenue – Cody’s main street – is filled with throngs of people costumed in head-to-toe Western bling, you can be sure of it.
“The arrival of fall brings a change in attitude among our visitors and residents – including our four-legged ones,” said Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council, the tourism marketing arm for Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country. “This is the time of year when we see fewer families and more adults and couples, particularly those who enjoy outdoor and cultural activities.”
Yellowstone Country is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.
Here are 20 reasons to plan a fall visit to the region and the town founded by and named for the Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody:
Style. The most prestigious event of the year, Rendezvous Royale is staged the third week of September. The event includes the nationally known Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale with Western-themed art, a quick-draw event, auction, Western fashion show, seminars, studio tours and a ball. For more about the rendezvous, go online to www.rendezvousroyale.org/.
Bears. Visitors might see them preparing for winter by foraging for nuts and other sources of nutrition so they are ready for the long den-bound winter ahead. Bears are frequently seen along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway – the road to the east entrance to Yellowstone – as well as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which takes travelers to the northeast entrance. Bears are best viewed with binoculars or spotting scopes, and travelers should maintain at least 50 yards between themselves and any bears they see.
Bull elk. Even if travelers don’t see them, they might hear them. Elk mate in the fall, and bull elk get the attention of potential mates – and warn potential competition – by emitting a distinctive bugling sound.
Other wildlife. In addition to the marquee animals – bears and elk – many other wildlife can be viewed preparing for winter or simply enjoying the moderate autumn days. Among them are pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.
Blue-ribbon trout. While seasoned anglers will tackle trout action in the streams in and around Cody on their own, novices might want to hire a fishing guide for their first foray. Fly fishing shops also offer maps and advice.
Art. View fine Western art created by local artists at the Cody Country Art League, which shares a historic building – the original Buffalo Bill Museum – with the Cody Visitor Center. Artists with ties to the community display photography, oil and watercolor paintings, sculptures and more.Brews. Cody has two breweries that fuel hungry and thirsty adventurers. Try an award-winning Sheepeater Saison, a Belgian farmhouse ale with a spicy aroma and flavor and pair it with a plate of buffalo meatloaf or some lamb gyros at the Geyser Brewing Company. Or try some tasty snacks and cold unique brews at Pat O’Hara’s Brewing Company. Coming next year is a family-friendly pizza and brewery restaurant.
Rocks to see. Rock formations along the 52-mile Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway have been dubbed by locals with names like “Old Woman and her Cabin,” “Bishop” and “Chinese Wall.” The road travels along the north fork of the Shoshone River and traverses the Wapiti Valley through the Shoshone National Forest. Viewing the rocks – and wondering how Cody residents named them – is an inexpensive way to spend a fall afternoon.
Rocks to climb. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and other outfitters lead classes and rock-climbing expeditions throughout the Cody region. The region is well-suited to climbing, with porous rock creating drainages and rock formations that appeal to climbers of all abilities. Conditions are typically good for rock climbing through October.
Gliding. Airborne Over Cody offers a new way to see fall color – 30- to 90-minute adventures in “microlight” hang gliders. The trips depart from the Yellowstone Regional Airport, and pilots show their passengers a perspective of Yellowstone Country that few people get to see up close.
Hunting. There are several hunting seasons in the fall – for pronghorn, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Dates for each season vary, and hunters should check for details and hunting regulations at http://gf.state.wy.us/admin/Regs/.
Hiking. A new book, “East of Yellowstone – A Hiker’s Guide to Cody,” features maps, photos and hike specifications such as length, time, difficulty, best season, access and landowner information for 20 regional hikes. The book was authored by JD Tanner and Emily Ressler-Tanner and is available at Sunlight Sports, a long-time Sheridan Avenue shop that provides locals and visitors alike with all of their outdoor adventure needs.
Trolley tours. The Cody Trolley Tour provides a terrific introduction to the destination. This informative one-hour tour covers 22 miles and helps orient visitors to where things are and what they might like to go back to see. The tours are offered two times a day through Sept. 26. Rates are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $13 for children six through 17 and free for younger children.
History. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp offers a glimpse of the lives of some 14,000 Japanese-American citizens who were interned there during World War II. Opened in August 2011, the center explores that difficult period of the country’s history with thoughtful exhibits that encourage visitors to ask the question “Could this happen today?”. The center is open year-round and admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and children under 12 are admitted for free.
History. The storied life of the town’s founder, Colonel William Frederick Cody, is presented in the recently reinstalled Buffalo Bill Museum, one of five museums that comprise the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There are also museums dedicated to firearms, fine Western Art, the Plains Indians of the region and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. For more information visit www.bbhc.org.
And more history. Another popular activity is to walk the town’s main street, Sheridan Avenue, and check out the town’s many historic buildings. The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill himself and named for his daughter. Across the street, the Chamberlin Inn was built and operated by Agnes Chamberlin, an employee of Cody’s newspaper. Farther east, there is Cassie’s, once a house of ill-repute and now a restaurant and supper club with live music and Western dancing.
Room-sized diorama. Tecumseh’s Old West Miniature Village and Museum is a massive diorama that showcases western and Wyoming history and features thousands of American Indian and other historic artifacts. The diorama is free and open year-round, but travelers visiting between November and April should make an appointment first by calling 307-587-5367.
Music. Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue continues its performances of cowboy music, poetry and comedy Monday through Saturday night through the end of September.
Indoor fun. If weather becomes dicey, travelers can visit the Cody Quad Center, a massive complex with an ice arena, basketball and racquet ball courts, walking track, fitness facility and two swimming pools.