Peaceful Cody, Wyoming is the Eastern Gateway to Yellowstone National Park and Draws Retirees Seeking Rugged Mountain Scenery, Sunny Skies and a Rich Western Heritage
Cost of Living: Meets National Average
The name Cody, Wyoming rustles up images of a place and time far removed from the hectic pace of modern city life. Hidden away in Wyoming's rugged northwestern corner, it is a peaceful place named after Buffalo Bill Cody, the "Wild West" showman who helped found the town as a business investment in the late-1800s. One of the last places settled in the United States, even today it has a definite "Old West" feeling about it. In the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains, Cody is the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. In the summer the nearby peaks shimmer in greens and blues, and in the winter, they sparkle with snow. To some people, Cody may feel like the ends of the earth, but its scenic setting and down to earth way of life continue to attract newcomers, including retirees.
In fact, Cody (population 10,000) has grown by 5% during the last 10 years. Forty-one percent of residents are age 45 or better, and 32% of them hold at least a four year college degree. The crime rate is below the national average. Racial diversity is but a concept. The cost of living meets the national average.
The median home price is $275,000. Many properties in town are modest ranch ramblers, but there are also exclusive neighborhoods with large brick homes on expansive lots. To the east of Cody, ranchettes, small farms and sprawling working ranches dot the landscapge. Dwellings with horses, corrals and stables are common throughout the area. Some properties abut national forest land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns a good deal of the acreage around Cody, and much of it is leased by ranchers.
Thanks to state revenues collected from energy exploration and mineral extraction contracts, Wyoming is a very tax friendly place for retirees. There is no state personal income tax, and so Social Security is not taxed. In fact, no retirement income is taxed. Real estate is assessed at just 9.5%, and a property tax deferral program lets homeowners delay paying 50% of their taxes if they are at least age 62 and have a limited income. i The annual tax on a $275,000 home is approximately $1,600. The state sales tax is just 4%.
With Yellowstone just 50 miles to the west, Cody attracts a lot of visitors, primarily during the summer months. The town works hard to cultivate and promote its Western heritage for the benefit of tourists, but it is also the real deal. Residents are independent-minded and practical. Cowboys and ranchers in Stetsons mingle with vacationers, and cattle auctions attract lively crowds. The "Cody Stampede," one of the largest rodeos in the nation, takes place in early July and brings in ranchers and performers from around the West.
For city slicker visitors, Cody presents a rodeo every single night from June through August. A nightly, somewhat hokey re-enactment of a wild west shootout in the street next to the Irma Hotel, the establishment built by Buffalo Bill for his daughter, always draws a crowd. The Irma is worth a visit in its own right, too. It remains a popular restaurant and bar, and its focal point is the famous, massive cherry wood bar that England's Queen Victoria gave to Buffalo Bill.
Laid out on a grid, Cody was designed with wide streets so that horse-drawn wagons could turn around easily. Sheridan Avenue, the town's main drag, is lined with western apparel shops, comfort food restaurants, art galleries, furniture stores and souvenir boutiques. The avenue heads west over the Shoshone River toward Yellowstone's east entrance and into some truly stunning high country scenery. Town streets can become clogged during tourist season as vacationers come not just to experience Yellowstone National Park but also to soak up Cody's authentic Western mythology.
A unexpected but pleasant surprise is the extraordinary Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a gorgeous, $75 million world-class facility that covers seven acres. It houses the Buffalo Bill Museum (the most complete depository for items related to the life and times of Buffalo Bill), the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Firearms Museum and the Draper Museum of Natural History. And just down the street, the less lofty but nevertheless interesting Dug Up Gun Museum has more than 800 jammed and rusted pistols displayed in the dirt in which they were found.
The Cody Library, a branch of the Park County Library System, is more than 100 yeas old but is in a modern building. It has public computers with Internet access and free wi-fi for laptop users. A book/film series, discussions, free concerts and downloadable books are just a few library highlights.
The Cody Council on Aging operates the Cody Senior Citizen Center and provides nutrition services (noon meals five days a week and home-delivered meals), public transportation with lift-equipped vehicles, a blood pressure clinic, assistance with insurance forms and claims, legal assistance, senior companions, outreach as needed, free notary services and more, including a number of support groups. Meals on Wheels is also active.
Shopping and services meet most needs. There are grocery stores, automobile dealers, discount stores, including Walmart, and the like. Many residents do, however, make regular forays to Billings, Montana (100 miles north) to stock up on supplies.
West Park Hospital has 25 beds and is award-winning for pulmonary care and spine surgery. It is not accredited by the Joint Commission, but 71% of patients would recommend it to a friend or family member, a rate that slightly exceeds the national average. Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, the closest VA hospital is in Sheridan, 105 miles away. Powell, 25 miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic.
Outdoor recreation is very much a way of life here, and fishing in particular is exceptional. The many nearby lakes, rivers and streams are loaded with native trout, mackinaw and other species of fish. A number of the lakes are at high elevations, though, so accessing them is often only possible during summer months. Wildlife viewing west of town, even before entering Yellowstone National Park, is excellent.
Cody sits at 5,100 feet above sea level and has four seasons. Winters usually bring temperatures in the 20s and 30s with 40 inches of snow (the surrounding peaks receive more). Summer temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, and rainfall is about 10 inches. The humidity is practically nil, and on the comport index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Cody ranks well above the national average. The sun shines 215 days of the year. There are no tornados, hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.
For all if its Western appeal, retirement in Cody has some drawbacks. It has been transitioning from a working ranch and farm community into a resort destination and not always to the delight of long-time locals. Public transportation is limited to a summertime bus/van. The city is remote and takes time to reach (although it does have a small, busy airport with flights to Denver, Salt Lake City and other western destinations). Winters are quiet and can feel isolated.
Despite its drawbacks, Cody has a certain mystique about it. It is the West personified and a place where the sky stretches for miles. At night, stars blanket the sky and coyotes howl in the distance. The hustle and bustle of the modern world feels far away. Buffalo Bill loved this town, and it is easy to understand why today's Cody retirees do, too.
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