Bighorn National Forest

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Looking for a wilderness experience in the Bighorn, but not quite ready for an extended stay in the backcountry? Maybe find a less traveled route than Cloud Peak Wilderness and do your bit to ease the strain on this magnificent land?

Then try one of these great "semi-wilderness" experiences in Bighorn, recommended by Cloud Peak Wilderness Watch. These hikes range from a proposed Wild and Scenic river canyon to open parks where if you are lucky, you may see a bull elk in rut!

A few caveats first, of course. These areas are suggestions only. Descriptions may contain inaccuracies and mileages are estimates so check locally for current conditions. All-terrain vehicles or dirt bikes may be encountered on some of the trails. Information is based on that provided in the USFS travel map for the Bighorn National Forest as well as from topographic maps of the area. The Cloud Peak Chapter of Wilderness Watch intends to update this information periodically.

Remember to:

  • Plan and be prepared by practicing LEAVE NO TRACE camping techniques
  • Know your abilities and limitations
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return
  • Take the appropriate topo maps, compass and know how to use them
  • Carry water, food, extra clothes, first aid kit, and essentials to make your outdoor experience a safe and enjoyable one
  • Check with the local Forest Service office for seasonal closures on 4 wheel drive roads are subject to seasonal closures

Little Bighorn River Canyon
A wild canyon with bear, lion, elk, moose, and blue ribbon trout!

This area is recommended for Wild and Scenic River Status by the FS and was held up by a proposed pump storage hydroelectric project that has since been delay by conservation concerns. It is an extremely wild canyon with black bear, mountain lion, elk, moose and blue ribbon trout fishing. A 4WD vehicle is needed to get through the last 3 miles to this trail head.

This area at the north end of the forest, near the Montana state line, has moderate to difficult trails and is recommended for multiple day trips.

Take the US Hwy 14 West exit (Ranchester) off I-90 north of Sheridan. Turn north on WY State Hwy #345 into Montana. (WY Hwy #345 becomes MT Hwy #451) 1/2 mile south of Wyola, MT; turn west on the Little Bighorn River road following it to the Pass Creek Road.

At the Pass Creek and Little Bighorn River road intersection (north of the MT-WY border and south of the Little Bighorn River bridge) continue south-west on the 4WD road for 3 miles to the trailhead. This 4WD road, which crosses private property (with Forest Service Easement), is not recommended for trailers. A signed parking area is available near the end of this road, in the vicinity of the Forest boundary.

Trail #50 proceeds south-west into the Little Bighorn Canyon, paralleling the Little Bighorn River. One-quarter mile from the trailhead, trail #4 (Dry Fork Trail) crosses to the south side of the river at the footbridge. The Dry Fork Trail angles south for 11 miles on the east side of the Dry Fork Canyon. The first mile of moderate hiking traverses forest and meadows. The next section of trail is more challenging, climbing from 5,000 to 7,000 feet elevation in 2 or 3 miles. The Dry Fork Trail ends at the Miller cow camp cabin by Miller Creek. From there 4WD Road #149 leads to FS Road #168.

Trail #50 (Little Bighorn River Canyon Trail) heads south-west along the river on the north side of the canyon, below Boyd Ridge and Leaky Mountain. It turns west up Wagon Box Creek then south along Duncun Creek, past Burnt Mountain, and ends 18 miles later at 4WD Road #135 and FS road #11. One mile above the Little Bighorn River Canyon trailhead, trail #96 leaves the river bottom, angling north-west and west. It passes under Fisher Mountain and ends 5 miles later on Boyd Ridge at 4WD Road #110. 6 1/2 miles above the trailhead, trail #74 crosses to the south side of the river and continues another 4 miles to 4WD Road #125.

Topo Quads Needed: Bull Elk Park, West Pass

Walker Prairie
Spectacular views of the Great Plains, vast parks and rushing streams!

Throughout the Walker Prairie area there are numerous trails for easy to moderate day hikes and moderate to difficult multiple day hikes. Walker Prairie offers spectacular views of the Great Plains, vast parks and rushing streams.

On this trip the hikers could be dropped off and picked up 20 miles later. Start below Steamboat Rock off US Hwy 14. Take FS Road #202 down to the Little Tongue River to trail #5. (From here to Fallen City is an uphill side trip to the east.) Heading south, trail #5 crosses the South Fork of the Little Tongue River and passes the Elephant Foot rock formation. At Sibley Creek take trail #1 across Bear Creek and up Wolf Creek. At Quartz Creek take trail #14 across Walker Prairie past Big Mountain, Little Mountain and Walker Mountain. Trail #3 heads south west than south to just north of Sawmill Lakes. Turning west up Sawmill Creek, trail #9 leads to Sawmill Pass and FS road #26 (Big Goose Road).

It is possible to continue down Walker Creek on trail #14 past She Bear Mountain, crossing Prairie Creek and 1/2 mile later the West Fork of Big Goose at the steel bridge. From this point there are two options: A. Take 4WD Road #312 (Game Creek Tail) out to FS Road #26; or B. Continue on trail #14 to the East Fork of Big Goose. (1/2 mile down stream from this point are the Big Goose Falls.) Trail #14 turns south and heads upstream along the East Fork of Big Goose to 4WD road #296, Big Goose Ranger Station and FS Road #26.

Topo Quads Needed: Dayton South, Walker Mountain, Beckton, Park Reservoir

Bull Elk Natural Area
The wild face of the eastern Bighorns!

This is wild "face country" on the east side of the Bighorn Mountains. Pines and open parks typify the area. Elk frequent the area seasonally. From US Hwy 14-A, turn north on FS Road #15 (Dayton Gulch Road). After 8 miles turn north on 4WD Road #145 then take 4WD Road #147. At the end of 4WD Road #147, trail #76 heads north-east along the ridge between Bear Trap Creek and Lick Creek. Five miles later trail #76 ends at the Bull Elk Natural Area.

Topo Quad Needed: Bull Elk Park

Battle Park/Paint Rock Creek Loop
Rugged west face canyons and wild trout fishery!

Paint Rock Creek is a rugged west face canyon area of the Bighorns with wild trout fishery. This difficult 12-mile loop will briefly access the CPW along Paint Rock Creek. Registration is required whenever you enter the Wilderness.

Turn west off US Hwy 16 at FS Road #27 then take FS Road #24 to Battle Park. From the parking area, take trail #120 north through Long Park to Grace Lake. Just north of Grace Lake is the entrance of CPW. After crossing Paint Rock Creek turn west on trail #62. Trail #62 follows Paint Rock Creek downstream, eventually turning south and exiting the CPW. When crossing Paint Rock Creek again, turn southeast and cross Long Park Creek before returning to the Battle Park parking area.

Topo Quad Needed: Lake Solitude

Devils Canyon/Bucking Mule Falls
A moderate National Recreation Trail

This National Recreation Trail is a moderate 3-mile hike on a well-maintained and scenic trail that is worth the effort.

Turn north on FS Road #14 off US Hwy 14-A. After 3 1/2 miles you will come to a signed intersection. Continue west on FS Road #14, which ends at the trailhead for trail #53 (Bucking Mule Falls Trail).

For a moderate to difficult overnight trip take 4WD road #137 past Porcupine campground on FS Road #13. Follow trail #53 west then north 8 miles to the bottom of Devils Canyon.

Topo Quads Needed: Medicine Wheel, Bald Mountain, Mexican Hat

Cull Watt Park
View the highest peaks in the Bighorns!

An easy "stretch-your-legs" hike off US Hwy 16. Park at the Hospital Hill turnout. Follow 4WD Road #366 north for 2 miles, and you will have a wonderful view of the highest peaks in the Bighorn Mountain Range and an unobstructed view to the east of the Great Plains. There are many excellent picnic sites in the parks along this route.

Topo Quad Needed: Hunter Mesa

Baby Wagon Creek
A meandering riparian environment

Close to Powder River Pass, open park area, high alpine views and this beautiful, meandering riparian area. Excellent fishing here.

From the east, go 3+ miles past Powder River Pass, veer right off US Hwy 16, follow FS Road #422 1/2 mile and turn north on 4WD Road #419; continue 1 1/2 miles to Baby Wagon Creek. Park and walk to creek for #98 north & south are well-marked along the trail for 2 1/2 miles ending at Lake McLain. Or go to trail #69 (running east & west), and continue downstream 2 1/2 miles to FS road to Meadow Lark Lake.

Topo Quads Needed: Meadow Lark Lake, Powder River Pass

Bear Park
Turn west off US Hwy 16 at FS Road #27.

To reach Bear Park from the south, drive north on FS Road #27 to Island Park campground. Take trail #67 across Tensleep Creek, go northeast for 3 miles, then turn north for a mile to Bear Park. For a side trip, take trail #68 east one mile to East Tensleep Lake.

To access Bear Park from the north, continue north on FS Road #27 to Deer Park Campground. Head southeast across Tensleep Creek on trail #67 for 12 1/2 miles to Bear Park. With a little planning it is possible to start at one of these campgrounds and finish at the other.

Topo Quad Needed: Meadowlark Lake

Firebox Park
Dense stands of Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines, frequented by elk

Accessible through the Bud Love Big Game Range (open from May 1 to November 11), this area offers several opportunities for moderate to difficult day and multiple-day outings. The terrain in the Firebox Park area is typical of the east slope of the Bighorn Mountain Range with steep hills, outcroppings, boulder-lined streams and dense stands of Ponderosa and Lodge Pole pines. Elk are frequently seen by the quiet and observant hiker.

To reach the Bud Love turn north on North DeSmet Avenue off Fort Road (US Hwy 16 west) in Buffalo. Follow the French Creek Road northwest for 8 miles to the north entrance of the Bud Love. Through the north entrance follow the dirt road (passable only when dry) to the Taylor Cabin. Vehicles are not permitted beyond this point. From the Taylor Cabin hike west on trail #43 for 3 miles up to Firebox Park.

A 12-mile loop is possible by taking trail #43 along Middle Rock Creek, turning south on trail #10 to South Rock Creek, then north (downstream) on trail #41 back to trail #43 and Firebox Park.

A 6-mile hike to the Balm of Gilead Creek is feasible by taking trail #43 to the confluence of Middle Rock and South Rock Creeks, then turning north on trail #39. Compass and topo maps are recommended. This Rock Creek area was the last hold out on the Wyoming Wilderness Act. Although it didn't make it in, it is still as wild as ever.

Topo Quads Needed: Stone Mountain, Lake DeSmet West, Willow Park

Johnson Park/Cougar Canyon
This is a moderate to difficult 8-mile loop starting at the Taylor cabin (see FIREBOX). Follow trail #43 west across Firebox Park, stay on trail to the southwest out of Firebox Park. Do not go west and down to Middle Rock Creek. Watch for trail #51 about 1/2 mile after entering the trees. Trail #51 climbs steeply to 4WD Road #396. Continue south on this narrow road for 1 1/2 miles to trail #42. Trail #42 goes east and down to Johnson Park. Head east across Johnson Park and down into the Bud Love Big Game Winter Range. After leaving Cougar Canyon go north along the tree line for 2 1/2 miles to the Taylor Cabin.

Topo Quads Needed: Stone Mountain, Lake DeSmet West, Hunter Mesa

This information has been developed and provided by the Cloud Peak Chapter of Wilderness Watch to try to disperse wilderness recreation in the Bighorn Mountains. The Cloud Peak Wilderness Area is being "loved to death" and increasing evidence of overcrowding is impacting the area. We hope you will consider these alternative areas for your mountain recreation experience.

For more information on wilderness protection in Bighorn National Forest, contact the Cloud Peak Chapter in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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