Sitting on the border of Wyoming and Montana, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area covers 120,296 scenic acres. Most of the park sits in Montana and shares the tribal lands of the Crow Indian Reservation. The park is divided into two units, North Unit and South Unit. There are no direct, drivable routes from the Horseshoe Bend Ranger Station in Wyoming (North Unit) through the park, to the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center in Montana (South Unit).
The park was created in 1966 after the Bureau of Land Reclamation finished work on the Yellowtail Dam. The dam created the 60-mile long Bighorn Lake, which stretches southward from the dam through spectacular Bighorn Canyon. The park is best known for its scenic beauty and is best enjoyed by boat.
The South Unit, located just outside of Lovell, Wyoming offers the most overall activity in the park. The South Unit is where the widest section of Bighorn Lake is found, over two miles across at its widest and almost nine miles long. The lake is a popular spot for sailing where locals take advantage of the relentless prairie winds. The South Unit offers the most flexibility for visitors; only the eastern shore on the Montana side sits on the Crow Indian Reservation, so roads, campsites and hiking trails are available.
There aren't a lot of trails available at Bighorn Canyon, but of the two, the South Unit offers more hiking opportunities. The Barry's Island Loop/Medicine Creek Loop trail is three miles long, and offers another 1.8-mile long spur trail on the way. The Barry's Landing trailhead is located at the northern most end of the park road on the Wyoming side. The road starts out as a four-wheel drive jeep track for the first mile, before fading into a hiking trail. The trail is surrounded by an oxbow in the river that is slowly carving its way through the land. Eventually the river will break through, and the small peninsula will become an island. The surrounding terrain is uninspiring with low prairie and scrub brush dominating the view.
The 1.8-mile one-way spur trail leads to the Medicine Creek backcountry campsite, the only improved backcountry site in the park you can access by land. The campground is also accessible by boat, located at dayboard number 32, and sits along medicine creek. The campground is open throughout the year and is equipped with vault toilets, boat docks, eight campsites with picnic tables and grills. There isn't any potable water at the campsite, but you can boil, chemically treat, and/or filter the water from Medicine Creek or Bighorn Lake. The scenery of the canyon is incredible and the campground offers solitude at almost any time of the year.
If you are feeling more adventuresome, you can bounce your car another 2.5 miles north, past Barry's Landing down a rough dirt road to the Lockhart Ranch Trailhead. This 1/2 mile long trail heads out to the remains of the historic ranch. There is an interpretive exhibit and picnic tables at the end. If you want to extend the hike, consider walking the 2.5 miles to the trailhead from Barry's Landing. Additional short hiking trails can be found at Layout Creek.
If you are looking for more civil camping arrangements you will find the largest campground in the South Unit at Horseshoe Bend. Located between dayboard 58 and 60, the lakeside campground offers 128 sites for recreational vehicles or tent campers. There aren't any hookups available or showers. Each open campsite has grills and picnic tables and 54 have shelters. A small grocery store, flush toilets, potable water, dump station, boat ramp, marina, fuel service, ice, a limited restaurant, and firewood are available. Swimming in the lake, boat rentals ranging from canoes to speedboats, as well as lake tours are available.
The South Unit also offers the best auto touring opportunities. The highlight of an auto tour through the South Unit is stopping at the Devil Canyon Overlook. Devil Canyon is one of two major side canyons along the Bighorn. The Canyon's base is over 1,000 feet below, and the deep red rocks bare a slight resemblance to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
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