Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway: Cody, WY to Yellowstone NP
When I set out to drive all the Scenic Byways in Wyoming, I thought to myself that they would all be the same, just a bunch of mountain roads that all looked like each other…nothing could be further from the truth! Each road has a very distinctive impression and flavor and evokes a different feeling. The Beartooth left a feeling of majesty, danger and drama, the Greys River drive felt comforting and inviting and the Chief Joseph drive was a combination of the two. The western half was a wide, pleasant valley and then you come to the climb up Dead Indians Pass which, despite its rugged beauty, was deeply moving with its tragic history. The thought of Chief Joseph leading his small band of old men, women and children straight up that steep mountain fleeing for their lives from the US Army stood as such a vivid contrast to the beauty, love and concern of the Earth to the hatred and evil of men.
Now that I’ve driven the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway, it’s completely different than any of the others. While it’s never spectacularly gorgeous what it does have is a great variety of landscapes. You start in the sagebrush hills near Cody, and follow the Shoshone River as it climbs higher into the heavily forested mountains and rivers of Shoshone National Forest until you end up climbing a long steep hill into Yellowstone NP and end up on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. It’s a very easy climb until you get to that one long steep hill which is between 6-7% for about 5 miles. Heavy vehicles will have to use a lower gear and take it as fast as they can.
Remarkably, it’s beautiful the whole way and each region has its own distinctive beauty. The whole drive combines to leaving you thrilled that you have just seen something very special.
“The Mountains are Calling,
and I Must Go!” ~John Muir
There are two kinds of pictures that I really love, the first you’ve seen a lot of this summer and that’s a group of wildflowers in front of beautiful mountains. There is just something very special about the delicate beauty of wildflowers combined with the dramatic and dangerous power of the mountains. The second picture I am always looking for is a wild river or creek flowing freely and with abandon in front of a beautiful mountain. There is just something about the combination of a timeless, stately and motionless mountain with a madly running river in front of it that appeals to my heart and soul. In this post, you’re going to see a lot of those!
Since humans first stood upright, mountains and rivers have tugged at our heart and called us. Even though “civilized” people have done everything they can to remove everything natural from their lives and hearts, this is one magnetic pull that we can’t get rid of. Whether we like it or not, we belong in the mountains and rivers and we will not be happy without them. If you feel any tug on your heart when you see these pictures, that’s the normal human compulsion toward nature. You resist it at your own great peril!!
What makes this drive very special is that nearly the whole way you are very close to the Shoshone River with mountains in the background and it makes a gorgeous foreground for your pictures. I partly judge a drive’s beauty by how often I feel compelled to pull over and take pictures, and on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway I found myself stopped every mile or two and out taking pictures! That means this one is terrific!
The most difficult thing about this drive is that there is no dispersed camping anywhere along it. Until you get to the National Forest it’s all private property and once you get to the National Forest it has a sign saying “Camp Only in Designated Campgrounds.” The reason is probably that the valley is so narrow you can never get far enough away from the rivers. It also gets a great deal of traffic because it’s the fastest and easiest drive from the east into Yellowstone NP, plus, it goes through Cody, WY with all of it’s great tourist attractions.
Because there is no dispersed camping, it doesn’t make a good base camp to explore Yellowstone, it would be much too long a commute from BLM land near Cody into the Park every day. But Cody, WY is well worth exploring and my campsite on the Reservoir was so wonderful that it’s worth staying there for up to a week, or even more. But the Buffalo Bill Scenic Drive into Yellowstone is probably just a one-time thing; beautiful and well worth doing, but probably only once.
Don’t travel Wyoming with out a Benchmark Atlas! Get one from Amazon here: Wyoming Road & Recreation Atlas by Benchmark Maps
Read about Buffalo Bill in this book: The Ultimate Wild West Collection: Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Or this one: Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Real West