Here we go, off to the races!
Figuratively, of course. Not literally. The Wyoming Highway Patrol would frown upon us racing any of these country roads.
Anyway, we are back with another road trip episode because that is what we like to do out here in the summer and fall. We like to get up and go, to hit the open road, and to explore places we have never seen before. And given that Bighorn Mountain Country stretches over a sizable chunk of Wyoming, there is plenty to see.
We begin near home base, the perpetually buzzing City of Sheridan, with a visit to a purveyor of golden, fried delight, the Sheridan Donut Co. With a sack full of wonder in our greedy paws, we set a course for the southern reaches of our mountain range, our sights set on Crazy Woman Canyon, home to myths and legends of Wyoming’s past, and known today as a mecca for rock climbing (you’ll see in an upcoming episode that rock climbing in a place like Crazy Woman Canyon is just a little out of our league). All along the winding dirt road we are treated to awesome views of the towering canyon walls, massive crags and cutouts carved by millions of years of river action. It is a special place, a great glimpse at the rugged country the Bighorns are known for.
By the time we pop out of the canyon and on to US Highway 16 – the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway – we are ready to really stretch our legs and hit a hiking trail. With more than 1,500 miles of trails, the Bighorns offer plenty of choice, but on this day, given our tight, arbitrarily defined schedule, we want to kick up a little dirt quickly. We decided to hike up to the James T. Saban Fire Lookout Tower, where we are rewarded with endless high-country views. If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit one of the old Bighorn fire towers, we encourage you to click here to learn more from our friends at the Forest Service
Out here in the woods, we stumble upon some surprises that we will have to make time for on the next trip – there is a small chapel in the woods that advertises a warm welcome to all, well-maintained trails that spider off from the area near the fire lookout, and some fantastic views of the wilderness.
Further along the road, we pour out of the massive Tensleep Canyon into the quaint town of Tensleep, a place quickly becoming an outdoor recreation mecca. We grab a bite to eat, make a note to visit the Castle Gardens someday soon – check them out by clicking here – then cut off the main road with the intent of visiting the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site as well as the Red Gulch Dinosaur Track Site, where, according to the Bureau of Land Management, visitors can “imagine walking along an ocean shoreline 167 million years ago with dozens of dinosaurs, who were looking to pick up a bite of lunch from what washed up on the last high tide. The sandy ground is soft, and your feet sink down in the thick ooze, leaving a clear footprint with every step you take.” Bonafide dino tracks in wildly remote Wyoming? Sign. Us. Up!
We continue exploring Big Horn County before turning our attention back to the north, and the Bighorn Scenic Byway, otherwise known as US Highway 14. We cruise on to Shell Falls, because you have to visit Shell Falls when you drive over the mountains, stare in awe at massive herds of elk grazing in the evening, catch a few sun rays at Steamboat Point, and finally wrap our adventure in tongue River Canyon.
This trip happens to be so epic that it spills over from one day into the next. Honestly, it would not be a stretch to spend a full day exploring some of these spots, like Sibley Lake, a popular spot for hiking, fishing, and in the winter, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. Then there’s the always-stunning Tongue River Canyon, just outside of beautiful Dayton, Wyoming. Dayton itself is chock full of frontier history, outstanding shops, cafes, restaurants, and galleries, and serves as a great basecamp for exploration on the northern Bighorns.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Access to the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway, or US 16, is granted directly via the city of Buffalo. The Bighorn Scenic Byway, or US 14, can be accessed by traveling through Ranchester and Dayton. The third of the scenic byways on the Bighorn Mountains (not mentioned here) is The Medicine Wheel Passage. Also known as US 14A, this road can be accessed by exiting US 14 at Burgess Junction.
All three of these routes offer access to hiking trails, natural monuments and attractions, camp sites, mountain lodges, waterfalls, and much more. In fact, it would be impossible to list everything here. For more information on the things to see and do in Bighorn Mountain Country, and across Sheridan County, visit sheridanwyoming.org
ENJOY NATURAL PLACES RESPONSIBILITY
Sheridan County Travel & Tourism, the Wyoming Office of Tourism, the US Forest Service, Sheridan County, and all our local communities hope you have a wonderful experience when you explore Wyoming. We want to encourage you to WY Responsibly, and wish to share these great tips. For more information, please visit https://travelwyoming.com/wy-responsibly
Wyoming’s wide-open spaces make for epic camping and hiking. But before you set out, here are a few things to know.
Avoid overcrowding: Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever right now, causing overcrowding in some of Wyoming’s most beautiful areas. So what do you do if you show up to a trail and the parking lot is packed? Instead of joining the crowd, know what other options are around. Be ready to seek different trails and lesser-known experiences. We have dozens of suggestions on our website.
Keep it clean: Almost half of Wyoming’s 98,000 square miles is publicly owned, including many undeveloped areas that have no bathrooms or garbage facilities. It is up to all of us to do our part in keeping these spaces clean. Take all trash with you when you leave, don’t burn glass and metal in your campfire and bury human waste at least 100 feet from water sources.
Be fire aware: Help prevent human-caused fires by following basic best practices. Respect fire bans in place, choose a campsite with a pre-existing fire ring whenever possible and never leave your fire unattended. Make sure you have plenty of water available to put out your fire; you’ll need to completely extinguish it at night and before you leave camp. And remember, there are strict guidelines on fires in the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
Stick to the trails: Ride, hike or drive only on designated trails to help reduce impacts and protect wildlife. Planning to do some off-roading? The state of Wyoming requires a permit to use trails and roads that are part of Wyoming’s State ORV program. You can find more information on trail etiquette in Wyoming here.
Respect Local History: Tread lightly and take only photographs with you when you leave. You will find ancient historic and ceremonial sites, Indian Wars Battle Sites, and many other iconic locations on your travels our here. Sites like the Medicine Wheel are still in use by native peoples; pictograph and rock art sites are extremely fragile, and should not be touched, defaced, or otherwise disturbed. We appreciate all of the wonderful folks who come to Wyoming to explore responsibly.
Note that professional filming is not allowed within the Cloud Peak Wilderness, and therefore, all of the filming for The Backyard takes place outside of the wilderness boundary, in the Bighorn National Forest. Please remember to practice good leave no trace principals, and leave the wilderness, as well as the forest, in the same condition you found it, so that those who come next may experience it the same way you did.
Click here for more information on wilderness regulations via the US Forest Service.
WHEN TO GO:
You can visit many of the sites and attractions visited in this episode any time of year, as both US 16 and US 14 are maintained and stay open in the winter. Note that US 14A closes for the winter, and opens in late spring or early summer, depending on snow conditions.
We recommend Ken Keffer’s Hiking Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, an outstanding guide to area hikes. We also recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps. Both are available from local bookshops, outfitters, and outdoor shops in Sheridan County.
Consider gearing up at one of our local shops or outfitters to keep Sheridan County’s outdoor industry thriving. Local outposts include Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, The Sports Stop, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Shipton’s, Tractor Supply Co., and Big Horn Trading.
WHERE TO STAY:
Sheridan County has accommodations of every type to suit your Wyoming adventure dreams. Check out our online directory for information on hotels, motels, guest ranches, camp sites, RV parks, and more.
For our full album of photos from this trip, visit our archive here.
For all of our short films, videos, and other film-related content, follow us on YouTube by clicking here.
STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY:
At this time, there are no health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19 along this route. But please note that some retailers, businesses, and attractions in Sheridan have implemented mask requirements (those that do offer masks for guests at the entrance). Observe Forest Service regulations when exploring the Bighorn National Forest. Bars and restaurants currently have limited seating indoors. Click here for up-to-date COVID-19 information and resources.