At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, we are grateful to be located in the “Rodeo Capital of the World.” Every summer night after the museum has shut its doors, our cowboy and cowgirl friends down the road prepare to ride bucking bulls and swift steeds. We hope to rope you into going to this incredi-bull display of grit during your Cody visit. Pull out the chaps and saddle up because we have compiled some tips for visiting the country’s only nightly rodeo.
Before You Go
Gates open at 7 p.m. every night but you can buy your tickets ahead of time. While visiting the Center of the West, purchase your tickets at the front desk. This will save you time as you avoid the herd of people buying them at the rodeo grounds ticket windows at night.
Once you have secured your ticket, you will need to figure out how to mosey on down there. The rodeo grounds are on the road to the east entrance of Yellowstone. There is ample parking, but it can be hard to escape the largest traffic jam in Wyoming once the rodeo is over. That can be avoided by taking the Cody Nite Rodeo Bus. For $5 per adult and $3 per child, the bus will pick you up from one of many convenient locations around town and drop you back off at the end of the night.
At the Arena
Once you find yourself inside, you will need to scout out a good seat. I highly recommend trotting around the stadium to the Buzzard Roost. These seats are directly over the chutes and will give you the best view of all the rodeo action.
There is a decent selection of food and beverage available in the arena, but they only take cash. There is an ATM inside, but it is sometimes out of order so be prepared.
Once 8:00 p.m. hits, the action begins. The lineup varies from night to night, but it always consists of a combination of timed and rough stock events. Below are general overviews of the two; check out this link for a deeper dive into the rules.
Timed Events- Timed events at the Cody Nite Rodeo usually include team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, and break away roping. In a race against the clock, the contestant’s goal is to post the fastest time in his or her event.
In the roping events, calves and steers are allowed a head start. To make sure no one has an unfair advantage, a rope barrier is stretched across the opening and is tied to the calf or steer with a breakaway loop. Once the calf or steer reaches the head-start point, the barrier is released, and the contestant can begin the chase. If they break that barrier, a 10-second penalty is added which can destroy a contestant’s chance at placing first.
Roughstock- Roughstock events include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. A contestant must stay on the animal for a minimum of 8 seconds to receive a score. The score is based on how the contestant and animal perform. A perfect score for a roughstock event is 100 points.
The Cody Nite Rodeo usually starts with saddle bronc and bareback riding and finishes with bull riding. You never know what will happen during these events. You will be glued to your seat as you see cowboy after cowboy thrown out of theirs.
Beyond the Events
Coming from someone who watched his first bull rider this June, trust me, you do not have to understand all the rules of the events to enjoy your first rodeo. The interactions between the animals and cowboys are incredible in themselves. A lot of the fun comes from watching the bull fighters get chased around by 2,000 lbs. of beef. Be warned that extremely corny jokes and ridiculous antics are peppered throughout the night from the announcer and rodeo clown.
If you are travelling with small children, make sure to send them down for the calf scramble. They might steal the show and who knows, they may even come home with some free Texas Chapstick.
After the Show
There is no reason to be in a rush to leave after the last bull rider hits the ground. I personally like walking around the animal pens after the show. If you stay long enough, you may get to watch extra calf roping and barrel racing once the stands empty out. I find this far preferable to sitting in a car waiting in traffic. As you exit the stadium, test your skills on a mechanical bull or stop by the rodeo clown table to grab an autograph and photo.
The Cody Nite Rodeo must be part of any Cody vacation. Visiting the Center of the West during the day and heading over to the Cody Nite Rodeo at night makes for one legendary experience in the Wild West. If you’re crazy enough, it may just inspire you to pull on some chaps and hop on a bull. If you realize that is a horrible idea, we hope your visit to the “Rodeo Capital of the World” stirs feelings of admiration for the animal and human athletes of rodeo.