Tensleep Creek in Wyoming

North American Treasures: Bighorn National Recreation Area

The United States offers no shortage of public lands where adventurous recreationists can catch a glimpse of beautiful natural scenes and abundant wildlife. One such area, accessible to the public, is the Bighorn National Recreation Area, located near the border of Wyoming and Montana.

In 1961, the US Bureau of Reclamation began construction on the Yellowtail Dam, a 1,480 ft long concrete arch dam that serves to regulate the flow of the Bighorn River for irrigation and hydroelectric power. Damming the river created the now 60-mile long Bighorn Lake, a popular boating destination that serves as the northern border of Bighorn National Recreation Area.

The Recreation Area itself contains roughly 120,000 acres of land where visitors can boat, fish, ice fish, hike, and camp. Four historic ranches are located throughout the area, including L Slash Heart Ranch, Mason-Lovell Ranch, Cedarville Ranch, and Ewing-Snell Ranch.

Ageless Beauty and Historic Intrigue

For thousands of years, prehistoric indigenous peoples occupied, traversed, and hunted these lands. Within Bighorn National Recreation Area lies an ancient passage called “Bad Pass Trail”. Named by fur trappers and traders, the trail was notoriously rugged. 

Ancient people groups, likely following paths made by migrating game, used this trail to travel south in the Winter to reach caves where they took shelter. When springtime came, they would head northward to vast hunting grounds. Unlike other trails within Bighorn National Recreation Area, Bad Pass Trail is considered a cultural site for Native Americans and is off-limits to travelers in vehicles or on foot.

Sullivan’s Knob Trail is a modern walking path that is accessible to visitors. This trail takes hikers right up to the canyon rim. This section of the trail is famous for a certain spot where one can shout across the canyon and hear a “triple echo” in response.

There are two visitor centers located within the recreational area. The Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center is open to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. To the south, the Cal S. Taggart Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center is located in Lovell, Wyoming. 

The Yellowtail Dam itself is a beloved sightseeing destination. Below the dam is Afterbay Lake, an area perfect for trout fishing and wildlife viewing.

Have you had a chance to visit Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area? How does it stack up to the other magnificent natural destinations this continent has to offer?

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