Bighorn National Forest is located in north-central Wyoming. It is named for the Bighorn River whose headwaters rise within Forest boundaries. The Bighorn Mountains are a sister range of the Rocky Mountains extending approximately 200 miles. Conveniently located halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park, the Bighorns are a great vacation destination in themselves. No region in Wyoming is provided with a more diverse landscape – from grasslands to alpine meadows, clear lakes to glacially-carved valleys and rolling hills to sheer mountain cliffs. Cloud Peak Wilderness, located within the forest, is a favorite for anyone that visits. For 27 miles along the spine of the Bighorn Mountain Range, the 189,039 acre Cloud Peak Wilderness preserves many sharp summits and towering sheer rock faces standing above glacier-carved, U-shaped valleys. The best hikes in Bighorn National Forest described below range from easy to strenuous and offer something for every visitor. Official Website.
|Nearest Metro Area||Billings, MT|
|Area Size||1,115,073 acres|
|Established||February 22, 1897|
|Hiking Trails||1,200 miles|
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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Bighorn National Forest
(*** = Top hikes in Bighorn National Forest)
Bucking Mule Falls National Recreation Trail #053 – 5.2 miles out and back
The trail begins at Bucking Mule Trailhead, elevation about 8,320’, at the end of FSR 14 and goes to an overlook of Devil Canyon and Bucking Mule Falls, elevation about 8,038’. From the junction with the overlook spur, the trail continues approximately 15.5 miles to the Jaws Trailhead. However, most people turn back after the falls and return to the trailhead.
Black Mountain Lookout Trail #011 – 3.8 miles out and back
This trail leads to the retired Black Mountain Fire Lookout. The hike is steep, but the historic building and view from the 9,489’ summit makes the effort worthwhile. Those with an off-road vehicle can drive up 0.9 miles to the shortened trailhead to cut some distance off as well.
Cloud Peak*** – 23.8 miles out and back
This is a strenuous but doable hike to the beautiful 13,167′ summit of Cloud Peak, the highest point in the Bighorn Mountains. Most hikers choose to camp just after Misty Moon Lake before climbing the rest of the 3000′ to the peak. As with any 13k+ summit, weather is always changing and can be cold and windy. The last several miles seem to last forever as you are scrambling over boulder fields and gaining serious elevation. Be smart and plan ahead. The 360 degree views from the top make the difficult challenge well worth it! The climb is best completed in July when most of the snow has melted.
Lost Twin Lakes Trail #065*** – 11.8 miles out and back
Again, beginning at the West Tensleep Lake Trailhead, this is hike travels past Mirror Lake to Lost Twin Lakes in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. You can easily miss Mirror Lake as you have to exit the trail to the northeast over a little rise to find it. The last mile or so is rocky and steep as you approach the lakes.
Misty Moon Trail #063*** – 13.8 miles out and back
This is probably the most popular trail in the Bighorn Mountains and a great option if you aren’t up for summiting Cloud Peak (above). The trail climbs gradually from the West Tensleep Lake Trailhead past Lake Helen and Lake Marion before reaching Misty Moon Lake. After 2 initial creek crossings, the trail is mostly dry leading up to the lakes. There is a good chance that you will see moose in the Cloud Peak Wilderness; keep your distance.
Porcupine Falls Trail – 0.8 miles out and back
Porcupine Falls Trail drops abruptly into Porcupine Creek where the 200 foot thundering, vertical plunge of Porcupine Falls can be viewed and photographed from below and vantage points along the way. The trail is short but steep on your way back up to the trailhead.
Sherd Lake Loop #046 – 9.5 mile loop
This wonderful loop that takes you through riparian areas to rocky slopes and back again all within Cloud Peak Wilderness. Sherd Lake is one of many in the area. Accessed via Circle Park Trailhead. Be on the lookout for moose in the area.
Steamboat Point Trail #630 – 1.6 miles out and back
Quick hike that although steep, should be fairly easy for most hikers. The top of Steamboat Point makes for a beautiful photo-op overlooking Cloud Peak Wilderness. The trail isn’t one that is going to stick in your mind but the views from the top and short distance make this hike well worth it.
Tongue River Canyon Trail #002*** – 7.0 miles out and back
The trail can be used year-round and accesses a beautiful canyon with shear limestone walls. Hiking the entire trail is an extended overnight trip, but a comfortable day hike will take you into Box Canyon, approximately 3.5 miles. The last mile here before you turn back to the trailhead can get a little steep as you climb into an open meadow with sweeping views of the Bighorn Mountains.
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