Follow in the footsteps of more than 250,000 emigrants who embarked along the historic California Trail in the mid-19th century, or do a little trekking of your own in and around Elko, northeastern Nevada’s largest town. Set among the backdrop of the Ruby Mountains, there’s easy access to numerous hiking trails, including the 3.6-mile Island Lake Trail, where wildflowers are on full-display come spring.
Back in town, artists from across the West and around the globe are responsible for the brightly painted murals decorating the walkable downtown, while its restaurants—including the family-style dining room of the legendary Star Hotel—showcase the region’s Basque culture. The superb California Trail Interpretive Center highlights the arduous journey through life-size dioramas and audio stories. Visitors can learn more about this authentic Western town and its surroundings at the Northeastern Nevada Museum, home to Shoshone baskets, mining artifacts, and one of the state’s largest taxidermied wild animal collections.
Spring in Yellowstone is a time of newly born bison and bear cubs, cascading waterfalls, and fewer crowds, and Cody—just 55 miles from the park’s east entrance—makes for the perfect base. Legendary showman and Pony Express rider “Buffalo Bill” Cody founded this richly colorful town in the late 19th century, and it’s been attracting visitors since. These days, you can dine on beef brisket and rib-eye sandwiches at the historic Irma Hotel, or peruse the five massive museums that make up the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Here, you’ll find everything from the paintings of “Cowboy Artist” Charlie Russell to a series of Vans sneakers painted by artists from Montana’s St. Labre Indian School on view.
When you’re ready to explore the surrounding area, take the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, which connects Cody and Yellowstone and travels 27.5 miles along the Shoshone River’s north fork and winds its way through forest, canyons, and open valleys. Don’t-miss stops include the steaming fumaroles of Colter’s Hell and Buffalo Bill Dam—considered an engineering marvel upon its 1910 completion.