Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Barry's Landing at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area surrounds the lake created when the Yellowtail Dam was built on the Bighorn River. The Bighorn River in this area had cut a canyon deep into the rock and made crossing the area almost impossible. Even after the dam was built and the lake filled, cliffs still rise 1,000' and more above the water. But if you can get a boat out on the water, there's huge countryside here to explore (about 68,000 acres inside the park boundaries), and world-class fishing to enjoy.
More than 200,000 people a year come to visit and play at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The NRA offers five different campgrounds with more than 100 campsites between them, most of them free. You need to check to see what's happening, though, because bear activity in the summer sometimes causes campgrounds to be closed.
Bighorn Canyon offers more than 27 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, at least one of which leads into a historic ghost town. Most trails, though, are around the canyon rim and offer some incredible vistas of the canyon and the lake.
The South District of the NRA offers an auto tour that also has great panoramic vistas (especially of Devil Canyon) and leads across wild horse country to visit some of the historic ranches contained on the property. There are also picnic areas available from both ends of the park.
Archaeological evidence found in the area says this canyon has seen human occupation for at least 10,000 years. Artifacts found in the Bad Pass Trail area suggest people were passing through up to 12,000 years ago. The fossilized remains of woolly mammoth, American cheetah, Pleistocene horses, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, dire wolf, bison, short-faced bear and American camel have been found in some of the cave entrances in the limestone walls above the river. Scientists have also found fossils, tracks and bones from the Upper Jurassic Period on the property.
In the Devil Canyon area, Bighorn Canyon is about 1,000 feet deep. At Bull Elk Ridge that depth rises to 2,500 feet. On the Montana side, the Pryor Mountains rise from the canyon rim and run west. About 39,000 acres of those mountains is included in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, about 8,000 acres of that inside the boundaries of the NRA. To the south (in Wyoming) is the 19,000-acre Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area. About half of that WMA is inside the park boundaries.
The Cal S. Taggart Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center in Lovell, Wyoming is open from early December to late March Thursdays through Mondays from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. From late March to late May, the visitor center is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. From late May to Labor Day, the visitor center is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and from Labor Day to early December, the hours drop back to 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. The visitor center is closed for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day, Martin Luther King Day and President's Day.
The Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are two contact stations open also but only in the summer and the hours vary depending on staffing levels.
Ok-A-Beh Marina on Bighorn Lake
Aerial view of the Devil Canyon Overlook
Looking up in Devil Canyon
Rock spires in the Medicine Creek area
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area map
Area map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!