The night skies over the Bighorn Mountains are some of the darkest in the Lower 48, and if you thought that you had Sheridan County all to yourself during the day, just wait until you go wandering under a canopy of a trillion brilliant stars. There’s little to no light pollution even when you’re as few as five miles from town, and on clear nights you can see distant stars, planets, nebulae, and even entire galaxies – all with the naked eye.
You could look up in wonder at just about anyplace in Sheridan County, but for an immersive experience, and an opportunity to see some of our most beautiful locations bathed in starlight, check out the following destinations.
Tongue River Canyon
A popular recreation area known for excellent fly fishing and rock climbing, Tongue River Canyon serves up spectacular night sky views against a backdrop of sheer rock walls and delicate keyhole. Bring a camera with a wide-angle lens to capture the Tongue River, the canyon, and the skies above – and don’t forget your flashlight, as the trail is narrow in sections, and the drops are steep.
A great spot to swim and fish during the day, Sibley Lake is all yours at night. Catch the reflection of the Milky Way over the calm water, or dip your toes in and watch the ripples create havoc among the stars. Sibley is easily accessed off Highway 14/Bighorn Scenic Byway.
This iconic monolith, rising some 700 feet and towering above its surroundings on the Bighorn Scenic Byway, is a great place to stargaze; not only is there a convenient parking lot at the base, directly off of Highway 14/Bighorn Scenic Byway, but there’s plenty of space to frame photos to include the night sky and Steamboat itself.
Skylab at Fort Phil Kearny
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site, roughly 25 miles south of Sheridan, is home to a skylab that features LX200 Meade 16″ scope, a brilliant piece of equipment that can gaze deep into space. Fort Phil hosts special star gazing events throughout the summer; keep an eye on www.fortphilkearny.com for more information.
Solitude Loop Trail
This magnificent 60-mile loop is not for the faint of heart, as it typically takes between 4-6 days to complete and traverses some truly rugged high country. But for some of the most stunning views in Wyoming, and the clearest night skies you could possibly imagine, consider jumping onto the loop from one of the many trailheads that enter the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark
First, please understand that the Medicine Wheel is not open for visitation during the night. However, it should feature on any daytime visit dedicated to the sky above, as Medicine Mountain, a centuries-old sacred ceremonial site, has deep astronomical significance to the people of the Greater Yellowstone Region. For one, the spokes on the wheel align with stars like Rigel, Aldebaran and Sirius. “The wheel has 28 spokes, which could tie to the 28-day lunar cycle, while the spokes and moon serve as a kind of night clock that can chart with precision the passage of time as the heavens appear to swirl with the earth’s rotation,” according to research from Ivy Merriot, a Bozeman, Montana-based writer focused on indigenous astronomy. For a fascinating story on the Medicine Wheel, click here.
Red Grade Trails
Night biking is an exhilarating way to see trails in an entirely new light – if you’ve got one strapped to your handlebars. Red Grade Trails are open 24/7, and you can catch a great view of the Milky Way on a clear night from the top of Bear Knuckle, which is accessible from the Poverty Flat and Bear Gulch East Trailheads. Look towards the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Also, many of the gravel bike routes, especially the East 52 Route east of Sheridan, offer opportunities where you can experience some of that Big Dark Sky Magic. Check out the Sheridan Community Land Trust’s gravel ride guide here.