11 Best Hikes & Trails in Bighorn National Forest (WY)

Bighorn National Forest Overview

Bighorn National Forest is located in north-central Wyoming near the Montana state border. 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, Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains 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. With over 1200 miles of trails to offer, the best hikes in Bighorn National Forest described below range from easy to strenuous and offer something for every visitor.

Nearest Metro AreaBillings, MT
Area Size1,115,073 acres
EstablishedFebruary 22, 1897
Miles of Trails1,200 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Bighorn National Forest

(*** = best 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 Bucking Mule Falls and return to the trailhead.

Black Mountain Lookout Trail #011 – 3.8 miles out and back

This short hike 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
Cloud Peak Glacier, Photo by B14709

This is a strenuous but doable hike to the beautiful 13,167′ summit of Cloud Peak in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, 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

Beginning at the West Tensleep Lake Trailhead, this 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
Mistymoon Lake Reflection 1
Misty Moon Lake Reflection, Photo by Manny Moss

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. Lake Helen on the roundtrip journey would make for a great spot to stop for lunch – the distance makes it more of a hidden gem than it should be. The entire trail is absolutely gorgeous and an absolute must for any nature lover. 

Paradise Falls – 2.6 miles out and back***

The short hike to Paradise Falls on the west side of Bighorn National Forest is not officially mandated by the Forest Service but should not be passed up! Most of the trail is an easy hike as you follow cascades of falls to small pools of chilly water. This is one of the great hikes in Wyoming that most people may not know about. 

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. This is a short hike but steep on your way back up to the trailhead.

Shell Falls – 0.3 mile loop
Shell Falls
Shell Falls, Photo by joannapoe

This easy hike loops around to the beautiful overlook of Shell Falls. The short trail is entirely paved and easily accessible. Located off of US Highway 14, Shell Falls is a great place to pool over while driving through Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains.

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
Steamboat Point, Bighorn Mountains, Photo by hakkun

Short 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.

Nearby Bighorn National Forest

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Photo by Anne

Located about an hour west of Bighorn National Forest, the 120,000 acre Bighorn National Recreation Area is a great place to visit nearby. The area is managed by the National Park Service and offers amazing recreation opportunities. The overlooks into the canyon are reminiscent of those that you would see in Arizona and there are also approximately 17 miles of trails to hike. Most trails are easy hikes that lead to overlooks of Bighorn River – Lower Layout Creek Trail and Devil Canyon Overlook Trail are highly recommended. 

Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark

Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark or Medicine Wheel National HIstoric Landmark is a large limestone structure of historical and cultural significance. Though no Native American people have claimed to have built the wheel, the Crow tribe claim that it was already built when they came into the area. 

Other National Forests and National Parks

Black Hills National Forest is located about 3 hours east near the South Dakota state-border; Badlands National Park is just east of that. 

Shoshone National Forest, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park are all within a 3 hour drive west of Bighorn National Forest. 

Featured Image: The Bighorns, Photo by Ttharp

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2 Responses

  1. Bob Cochran

    So who is in charge of this post? And did I Bob Cochran give you permission to use my photo of the cow moose licking the baby moose in your Bighorn section?

    • Trailhead Traveler

      Bob, thank you for reaching out! Absolutely no discredit was intended. I found the image on Wikipedia which removes all copyright/licensing restrictions and have it on here for non-commercial use. I am more than happy to add your name as credit if you will allow or if you prefer, I can have it removed from the page entirely.