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    Bighorn Canyon: breathtaking views between Montana and Wyoming

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    In 2017, it was estimated that more than 4 million people visited Yellowstone in just one year. The fame of this national park has thus contributed to obscuring that of many other beautiful areas that can be defined as real hidden pearls. The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area it is part of the latter and, if you are planning a Real America itinerary, I recommend that you take it into consideration to admire the splendid views it offers.


    • Where it is, how to reach it and other useful information
    • To see
      • North District
      • South District
      • Historic Ranches
    • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
    • Where to sleep in the area

    Where it is, how to reach it and other useful information

    The park is actually divided into two distinct sections (or districts) that are not directly connected to each other.

    • North District near Fort Smith in Montana
    • South District nei pressi di Lovell in Wyoming

    In case you want to visit both of them you will have to allow at least three hours by car between one and the other.

    The park is always open every day of the year only some structures inside such as the Visitor Centers observe rest days with specific times. You can access the park without having to pay an entrance ticket.

    Attention! Don't confuse Bighorn Canyon with nearby Bighorn National Forest!

    To see

    For convenience, the two sections of the park have been distinguished, indicating for each the best things they can offer.

    North District

    This is the area that is located near the town of Fort Smith in the state of Montana. If for you a visit to the national park cannot be said to be complete without first passing by its visitor center, in this case you will have to go to the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, from which you can also enjoy a beautiful view of the canyon and the dam. If you are wondering if tours above the facility are available, sadly the answer is no for national security reasons.

    If you want to take a walk and take a walk in the north section, you can only choose between three trails all concentrated in the area near the dam.

    • Beaver Pond Nature Trail
    • Bighorn Head Gate
    • Three Mile Access

    One of the activities that can be done in this area is related to water and the possibility of taking a tour by boat or canoe. The best place to embark on this kind of adventure is definitely there Ok-A-Well Marina. The facilities in this area can only be accessed seasonally from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) until Labor Day (first Monday in September).

    South District

    The South District develops north of the town of Lovell in Wyoming but it also extends across the border to cover an area of ​​the state of Montana. The reference visitor center for this sector is the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center.

    In case you want to take a boat trip, or take a closer look at Bighorn Lake, you can dedicate yourself toHorseshoe Bend Marina, which has the same opening period as the North District Ok-A-Well Marina.

    Do you want to take a perfect souvenir photo? Then you will have to go to the most famous viewpoint: the Devil’s Canyon Overlook one of the best places from which you can enjoy the incredible view of the underlying part of the canyon. The further advantage is that it can be reached very comfortably by car. If you are planning an itinerary that includes a stop in the quaint town of Cody in Wyoming, it will take you about an hour and 20 minutes to reach the viewpoint.

    Unlike the northern district, if you want to go for a walk, here you can choose from 12 trails that can satisfy practically all needs. Most of them are located along the course of Highway 37 and continue until they reach the rim of the Canyon.

    One of the most popular is the Sullivan’s Knob Trail: the start of this trail is located just north of the Devil's Canyon Overlook. Along the way you will find a small parking area that marks the start of the trail. It is recommended for those who want to take a short walk as it involves just over a kilometer and three hundred meters round trip. Once you get to the edge of the canyon you can also experience the echo effect.

    Historic Ranches

    Inside the park you can visit four historic ranches dating back to the early 900s. You can use the walking trails to reach them independently, or, during the summer months, take advantage of the free guided tours that the rangers organize by choosing a different ranch every week

    Mason-Lovell Ranch
    Lockhart Ranch
    • Caroline Lockhart Ranch: this is perhaps the best known ranch because it belonged to the famous journalist Caroline Lockhart. Today it is a real green oasis far from civilization. Today most of the buildings continue to maintain their original appearance.
    • Mason-Lovell Ranch: in the period of greatest activity it is said that this ranch had to manage more than 12.000 head of cattle that were allowed to graze freely in these lands that are lost visibly.
    • Cedarvale Dude Ranch: it is located inside the Ghost Town of Hillsboro which had its heyday in the early 900s when many gold prospectors settled in the area hoping to find their fortune. Once the opportunity to get rich faded, this area continued to have some success as a place to welcome tourists visiting the Bighorn River area.
    • Ewing-Snell Ranch: this ranch was founded in 1896 by Erastus T. Ewing a gold digger who settled in the region to find the precious mineral. Despite some initial progress, however, such a large amount was not discovered as to justify the continuation of the adventure. So he decided to devote himself exclusively to agriculture. The buildings still present are: an old barn, a small school and the large main house (which, however, was destroyed in a fire in 2015).
    Ghost Town Hillsboro
    Ewing-Snell Ranch

    Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

    This national monument is not located inside the park but about an hour and a quarter drive from the town of Fort Smith in Montana (and therefore from the North District). However, I wanted to point it out (as well as for the similarity) because it is still one of the most important historical places in the vicinity.

    In fact, one of the battles that most entered the American and world collective imagination was fought on this great prairie. We are talking about the battle of Little Bighorn of June 25, 1876 in which the Indian tribes of the Lakota, the Arapaho, the Cheyenne and the Dakota defeated the American troops of the 7th cavalry led by "General" Custer.

    Today you can visit the Custer National Cemetery and the Seventh Cavalry Memorial, located on the top of the hill where the last defenses of the American army took place. A white plaque with black writing marks the place where Custer's lifeless body was found.

    Where to sleep in the area

    Unfortunately, with the exception of some campsites, it is not possible to sleep inside the park. The area near the Bighorn Canyon is also not plentiful. For this the advice, if you want to stay as close as possible to the park, is to stay in Lovell, or opt for the town of Cody if you prefer a solution halfway between the Canyon and Yellowstone.

    • Our tips for sleeping in Cody
    • All accommodations in Lovell
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