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Interactive Experiences and Kids

Experience the Kid-Friendly Side of Buffalo Bill Center of the West

By Katie Jackson

In a museum of museums, it would warrant its own wing. It boasts world-class art, natural history exhibits inspired by nearby Yellowstone National Park, the real story of the Plains Indians, more than 7,000 historic firearms and of course, a tribute to one of the Wild West’s most legendary characters. But the Buffalo Bill Center of the West can also wow a much younger and less-cultured crowd including those who are shy of 4-feet-tall, only have a 3rd grade education and whose idea of paradise involves a playground. Despite not having the word “children’s” in its name, the BBCW is surprisingly kid-friendly. In fact, it doesn’t just OK them. It caters to them.

BBCW is for kids

Tell a 10-year-old the BBCW is 30,000 square feet, and they probably won’t be able to grasp the size. Tell a 10-year-old it’s bigger than 5 football fields and watch their eyes grow as big as the owls’ they’ll meet inside. While it’s a huge space, thanks to its strategic 5-point-star layout, the BBCW is easily manageable. Children can only wander so far before they’re back in the main lobby—home to a cozy cafeteria serving every kid’s favorite food—hot dogs—and a gift shop filled with plush animals, puzzles and crafts. Admission is also good for two consecutive days so there’s no need to hurry. You can rush through a room a lot easier than you can rush through an experience. And at the BBCW, it’s all about the experiences.

Passports and raptors

As with most museums, there are hands-off areas, especially for kids. But there are also hands-on areas, especially for kids. At the BBCW entrance they’ll pick up Adventure Passports (which they can stamp themselves as they make their way through all five museums) and can try to high-five the talking Buffalo Bill hologram who personally welcomes them to his museum. And it doesn’t get more hand’s on than in the Draper Natural History Museum where just below the “Do Not Touch” sign by the giant grizzly bear mount (which kids probably won’t want to approach anyway), kids find a plaster cast print where they can compare the size of their “paws” to one of the world’s biggest carnivore’s.

Meet the Raptors

The Draper Natural History Museum—which takes kids on a scavenger hunt through three levels depicting Greater Yellowstone’s different elevations and ecosystems—is home to wildlife mounts that look so realistic you won’t be surprised if they start grazing or growling. But it’s the living, breathing and even airborne raptors in its Raptor Experience stealing the show every day (twice a day if you visit during the summer). Suli, the so-ugly-she’s-cute turkey vulture, is a crowd favorite. But visitors of all ages also leave wanting to adopt the beloved rescued peregrine falcon, Hayabusa. Despite having an injured wing she’s proud to represent the world’s fastest animal and is always delighted to show off, especially if she’s rewarded with treats.

Designed by kids

When it comes to kids, the best reward for good indoor behavior might just be a trip to the playground. And here, you don’t need to go far to find one. Located in the Cashman-Greever Garden, just a stone’s throw from the BBCW and Buffalo Bill’s own childhood home, is a state-of-the-art play area where kids can burn off excess energy while their parents breathe in the fresh Wyoming air. Not only was the playground designed for kids, it was also designed by kids. When the idea of a custom playground was born the BBCW asked kids to send in drawings of their dream playgrounds. The final product incorporates their ideas—all with an American West twist. There’s a sheep wagon, a tepee, a rock climbing wall against a mountain motif and several forest green slides to choose from if you’re coming down from the towering trading fort. For locals, the playground is a destination in itself.

 

One-of-a-kind experiences

The BBCW’s special events are also destinations in themselves. In the summer families can chow down at a chuckwagon dinner hosted by a real life “Cookie”—the endearing word for the person responsible for feeding cowboys back in the day. The menu includes steak, beans, biscuits and cobbler cooked in cast-iron pots buried over hot coals. The BBCW also offers on-site pony rides in its corrals and hour-long horseback rides down to the Shoshone River. New for Summer 2020 will be the escape room where families can work together to free themselves from a mysterious vault. Finally, it’s hard to find a more colorful and culture-filled event than the Plains Indian Museum Powwow hosted annually at the BBCW. Where else can kids dance and drum the day (and night) away?

Learning Experiences

Regardless of when you visit—the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is open year-round—be prepared to be blown away (and not just by the world’s most complete collection of American firearms). Yes, adults will appreciate the original Winchesters in the Cody Firearms Museum and the watercolor masterpieces in the Whitney Western Art Museum. But kids will also encounter fun age-appropriate learning opportunities around every corner, just outside and even in the air if the raptors are flying that day. When it comes to kid-friendly at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the sky is the limit.

Plan your visit to the BBCW this year!