A one-day trip in Yellowstone National Park doesn’t have to limit itself to the Park’s boundaries.
Indeed, part of the fun in a Yellowstone vacation is being able to visit cities in the area, whether they are gateway cities (like Gardiner, MT and West Yellowstone, MT) or places slightly more far flung (like Bozeman, MT or Jackson, WY).
This itinerary covers the eastern half of the Park as well as Cody, WY, which is the gateway city to the East Entrance and houses a sprawling museum complex: the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
The Buffalo Bill Tour: Start in Grant Village, Head to Cody, Head Back to Lake Yellowstone
Suggested Starting Time: 8 a.m.
Cody, WY is roughly 80 miles away from Lake Hotel; driving through mountain passes and along winding roads means your travel time will be slowed as well. Plus, there are things to do along the road between Grant Village and Lake.
There are a few different options for breakfast in Grant Village. Both restaurants (the Grant Village Dining Room and the Grant Village Lake House) offer breakfast. The Dining Room offers both breakfast and a buffet and opens at 6:30 a.m. while the Lake House opens at 7 a.m.
Otherwise, if you want something quick so you can get on the road, you should pick up something à la carte from the General Store.
Between Grant and Lake
The road between Grant and Lake is 21 miles long, offering gorgeous lake views to your right as you head north.
West Thumb (optional)
West Thumb Geyser Basin is a charming area full of hydrothermal pools whose clarity is contrasted with the wide expanse of Lake Yellowstone. It’s arguably the most peaceful basin in Yellowstone National Park and well worth visiting on a cool morning. However, if you’re in a hurry to get to Cody, it can be skipped.
Natural Bridge (optional)
Located a mile off the road, just south of Bridge Bay Campground, Natural Bridge was eroded slowly out of rhyolite. Travel is easy: you can even bike up to it. You cannot walk across it, however, due to its fragility. This is the sort of feature where, if you have the time and energy to visit it, you should. Otherwise, onwards and upwards.
Gull Point Drive
A short drive close to the Bridge Bay area, this road offers a little scenic detour. Well, even more scenic detour, as it takes you closer to the Lake.
The site of the oldest hotel still standing in Yellowstone National Park, Lake is the other major lodging area besides Old Faithful.
Named for the fact that people used to fish en masse where it crossed. These days, Fishing Bridge is just for travel—no fishing allowed.
Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
An underrated center in the Park, Fishing Bridge is a charming study in parkitecture: wood and roughly hewn stone, surrounded by coniferous trees. The interior exhibits—more taxidermy animals than you can shake a finger at, as well as bone and antler chandeliers—also make this a worthwhile stop.
A small pool near Lake Yellowstone, this pool, along with nearby Mary Bay, were created by hydrothermal explosions.
A superb picnic point, offering stunning vistas of the lake. The 1871 Hayden Geological Survey named it for the puffing of a nearby thermal area, which was called Steamboat Springs.
Sylvan Lake/Eleanor Lake
Keep an eye out for wildlife in these small alpine lakes. They also offer charming, off-the-beaten-path picnic areas.
The Sylvan Pass takes you in and out of Yellowstone, offering astounding mountain views as you drive along.
Lunch: Cody, WY
Depending on your tastes, you can either scrounge up some fast food or drive through town looking for a place to eat. Lots of good places, such as Millstone Pizza Company & Brewery, Rocky Mountain MoJoe, Adriano’s Italian, and Peter’s Cafe & Bakery are located on or just off Sheridan Avenue. Otherwise, there’s a cafeteria-style restaurant at the Buffalo Bill Center.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
As much myth as man, Buffalo Bill (born William F. Cody) was a swaggering figure in 19th century America, between his with his internationally renowned Wild West shows and his electrifying charisma.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West began as one building but today encompasses five separate museums: the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Natural History Museum.
Meant to exemplify the many facets of Cody’s persona/personality, each museum has a unique layout and unique pleasures. In particular, the Draper Museum walks you through different mountain ecosystems, moving you through the different altitudes species/communities are found in. The Whitney Museum, besides its extensive holdings in Western painting and sculpture, also offers visitors a chance to see Frederic Remington’s reconstructed studio.
It is terribly easy to spend an entire afternoon enjoying this museum.
Heading Back To Lake
There aren’t many new surprises to be found on the return trip to Lake Village. Just remember that it’s going to take about two hours to get there, barring any traffic, accidents, road construction, or any stops you choose to make.
Depending on your mood, there are multiple dining options in Lake. For upscale, your best bet will be the Lake Hotel Dining Room. Reservations are highly recommended. Otherwise, Lake Lodge has a fun, extensive cafeteria-style dining area. It feels just like summer camp.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for something quicker, you can always go to the Lake Hotel Deli or find something to eat in the Lake General Store, which has a malt-shop style food counter.