Exploring Cody Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Plan at least the majority of a day to take in Cody, Wyoming‘s Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Dubbed the ‘Smithsonian of the West’, this sprawling center in the heart of Cody is really five museums in one, plus outdoor exhibits and interactive displays.

Plains Indian Museum

Start in the Buffalo Bill Museum, which offers a complete overview of the life of William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, from boyhood to late life. There’s much more to this American icon than just his famous Wild West show: we learned about his earlier days as a scout for the U.S. army, plus his home life and inspiration for his show. Throughout the Buffalo Bill Museum (and elsewhere in the complex), interactive exhibits encourage kids to put themselves into history, try their hand at skills needed for scouting and wilderness survival, and try out saddles, lassos, and the like. There’s even a Buffalo Bill board game circa the 1950’s ready to be played. Allow at least an hour for this museum, if not more.

birds of prey presentation

Next, head to the Plains Indian Museum, where life on the American plains before and after Euro-American migration (aka Manifest Destiny) changed the shape of Native American culture is displayed in dramatic, panoramas and displays. The museum’s high ceilings and excellent lighting and sets paint a perfect backdrop to learning about these distinct tribes. Families will need 1-2 hours to see it all!

By this time, kids (and adults) will likely need lunch: the center’s cafeteria is reasonably priced with a salad bar and make-you-own-sandwich station. It also serves burgers and hot items. There’s plenty of seating indoors and outside in the beautiful grounds garden, and if you don’t need a whole meal, there’s a nice coffee bar, too. Throughout the day, keep an eye on the scheduled presentations displayed on the reader board at the entrance hub of the center, and plan you route through the museums by it: we were glad not to miss the birds of prey show hosted by the natural history museum!

center of the west

After lunch, head to the Draper Natural History Museum for displays on animals and plant life in the Greater Yellowstone area. Again, the dioramas and exhibits here are stunning, dramatic, and very well done. Interactive opportunities for learning abound here once again as well: in particular, our kids loved the ‘field station’ where they could chart geothermal activity and wildlife migration from a bank of computers and quiz stations set up throughout the museum to test their knowledge of the outdoors. This museum is multi-story (as is the Plains Indians one) so once again, allow several hours. Younger kids may not last as long, but school-aged kids would be remiss to skip anything!

Older kids and anyone who loves guns and Western history associated with firearms will want to check out the Cody Firearms Museum. We thought this museum would be smaller than the others, but it’s nearly as large! Even if you’re not a gun fan, a tour through the replica pioneer-era hardware store is worth the visit. I found the gun displays from the 1500s-1800s most interesting, though my teen loved the WWII collection.

buffalo bill's center of the west

Finally, if you’re not spent, the Photography Gallery (hosted by National Geographic) is stunning, and the Whitney Western Art Museum is well worth a tour. At the back of the art museum is a counter banked by windows overlooking the landscape where kids are encouraged to draw their own Western art.

Outside, families should check out Buffalo Bill’s boyhood home, brought to Cody from Kansas, and the Joseph Henry Sharp cabin. Outdoor shows such as the birds of prey presentation are held on the center outdoor grounds as well. At the entrance to the center is also a replica chuck wagon with cook: definitely stop to sample his fare. We ate sourdough biscuits and baked beans authentically cooked over a fire in cast-iron pots, and both were delicious.

Date last visited:

June 2013

Distance from the interstate:

Directly on Highway 20.

Hours of operation:

8 am to 6 pm daily May 1-September 15. Off-season hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily.

Admission:

Expect to pay $25 for adults and under $15 for youth. Kids five and under free. Considering the vast amount of museum space, we found this pricing to be a deal…provided you stay most of the day.

Directions:

The Center of the West is located at 720 Sheridan Ave in Cody. Sheridan Avenue is Cody’s ‘Main Street’, so you can’t miss it coming through town from either direction.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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