Bighorn National Forest

Cloud Peak in Bighorn National Forest
Cloud Peak in Bighorn National Forest
Shell Falls
Shell Falls

Bighorn National Forest sits atop the Bighorn Mountains, a sister range of the Rocky Mountains. The forest preserves lush alpine meadows and grasslands, rolling hills and sheer vertical granite walls, glacier-carved valleys and crystal clear lakes. Midway between Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Bighorn Mountains are a complete vacation destination in themselves.

The landform of the bighorns was deep within the Earth's crust until forces began to push the bedrock up around 75 million years ago. Eventually, the peaks rose to about 20,000 feet before erosion set in and reduced them to where they are now. Wind and water were big factors in that but the glaciers, beginning around 250,000 years ago and continuing to about 6,000 years ago, were probably the largest factor in reducing the heights and carving the many U-shaped valleys in the range. The West Moraine, along West Tensleep Creek runs for about 10 miles, making it the longest glacial moraine in the Bighorns.

With three scenic byways, fourteen picnic areas, thirty-two campgrounds, more than 1,500 miles of trails, thousands of miles of fishing streams, hundreds of mountain lakes and more than 189,000 acres of wilderness, Bighorn National Forest is quite the place. As for wildlife, be aware there are elk, moose, deer, bear (including grizzlies), wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep and other mammals. It's good to keep a healthy distance from all of them.

The majority of Forest Service campgrounds are operated and maintained by a private concessionaire. Most campgrounds have drinking water, toilets, trash bins, picnic tables, and fire grates, just pay your fees at the campground entrance. If you need firewood to burn during your stay, just make sure it's already dead and down. During hunting season, any campground that isn't gated is available for use for no, but there are no services available - including dump stations. You'll need to bring your own water and live by "Pack it in, pack it out" rules. Some campgrounds have extended stay sites but most stays are limited to fourteen days in any 30-day period. Most campgrounds are "first come, first served." The developed campgrounds start to open in mid-May and start to close shortly after Labor Day. Camping in undeveloped sites is allowed in most of the Forest, just watch for signs about restricted areas.

Three scenic byways travel in the forest: the Cloud Peak Skyway, the Bighorn Scenic Byway and the Medicine Wheel Passage.

A typical U-shaped valley in the Bighorns, complete with conifer forest and rushing stream below limestone cliffs
Near the top of Ten Sleep Canyon along the Cloud Peak Skyway
Map of Bighorn National Forest
Bighorn National Forest map
Upper and lower photos courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License
Other photos and map courtesy of the US Forest Service
Medicine Wheel National Historic Site, Bighorn National Forest
The Medicine Wheel in Bighorn National Forest