Bighorn National Forest – Wyoming’s Best Kept Secret

by Erica

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Hello from Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming!

 About 3 weeks ago, we wrapped up our loop around the eastern United States after Lockn’ festival in Arrington, Virginia. Following that, we drove straight across the country and stopped in Denver for Labor Day weekend to see Phish!

 

After at quick 5 days in Denver, we headed to towards Bighorn National Forest near Buffalo, Wyoming to visit a friend. Before leaving, we weren’t sure what to expect. Neither of us had ever been to Wyoming or done much research on what the state has to offer other than Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Our first beautiful free campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming

Our first beautiful free campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming

Upon arriving, we were stunned! If you’ve never been to Wyoming, be prepared for an ever-changing landscape and otherworldly beauty. Seriously, we’ve never seen anything like it.

 

Since we were staying with a friend that works at South Fork Lodge within the national forest, we got to experience the area like a local. This is by far our favorite way to explore a new destination. Each and every place we visited this week was cool and worth doing, so I thought I’d share the little slice of heaven that we’ve been exploring.

 

The log cabin that we stayed at during our time at South Fork Lodge in Bighorn National Forest

The log cabin that we stayed at during our time at South Fork Lodge in Bighorn National Forest

Our Route Through The Bighorn National Forest Area

We started our journey into Bighorn National Forest in Buffalo, Wyoming and took highway 16 all the way across the forest to Ten Sleep, Wyoming. This route is also known as the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, and it’s a 47 mile stretch that takes you through the southern part of the forest. If coming from the east, and traveling towards the Wyoming National Parks – Highway 16 is billed as “the most scenic route to Yellowstone”. While there is definitely SO much more to see within Bighorn National Forest – on our trip, we focused on the southern part of the forest.

 

Our friend's Astrovan deep within Crazy Woman Canyon in Bighorn National Forest

Our friend’s Astrovan deep within Crazy Woman Canyon in Bighorn National Forest

Bighorn National Forest Must See: Crazy Woman Canyon 

During our first afternoon in the Big Horn Mountains, our friend drove us through Crazy Woman Canyon. The dirt road drive starts high on an open hilltop, and then descends deep into a lush canyon. At the depth of the canyon, there’s a beautiful river and large boulders stacked upon each other to make up the canyon walls. When we stopped to take a closer look, it seemed inconceivable that a place that seems so delicate could stand the test of time.

 

Around every turn of this drive, there’s a crevice of the canyon worth exploring. If you go at the right time, you may even see some wildlife! During our drive, we didn’t seem much more than deer and pronghorns (similar to antelope) – however, a friend took a drive down after us and spotted several elk and a baby moose!

Tim exploring the river at the bottom of Crazy Woman Canyon in Bighorn National Forest

Tim exploring the river at the bottom of Crazy Woman Canyon in Bighorn National Forest

Also along this canyon road are TONS of really incredible campsites. Since this is located within Bighorn National Forest, free camping is permitted for up to 14 days at a time! (This is true for all national forests in the United States unless otherwise posted)

 

My only disclaimer is that the road is a little rough, so if you have a long camper or low clearance – this road is definitely not for you. We had no issues getting around in our friend’s Chevy Astrovan, but we definitely wouldn’t have brought our Toyota Motorhome on this drive.

 

Our first campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

Our first campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

Bighorn National Forest’s Most Scenic Drive: Old Highway 16

The main highway going through the southern half of Bighorn National Forest is highway 16. It’s a scenic drive – but once you make it over Powder River Pass at 9666 ft and descend into the canyon – there’s an old dirt highway that’s even more scenic and is definitely worth the drive. It runs roughly parallel to the paved state highway but provides even more scenic views as it snakes through the more wild parts of the canyon.

 

Along this road, there are also some incredible free spots to camp. Whether you’re looking for a secluded spot tucked next to a river, or a scenic spot perched atop the crest of a hill, looking down into the canyon – this is the spot for you. (And again – all free for up to 14 days!) 

Just one of many great shots from Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

Just one of many great shots from Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

This road is much less rough than Crazy Woman Canyon and we had no problems getting Yoda down the entire length of the highway. The first night, we camped upon a ridge – which was incredibly beautiful. The following day, we chose to drive further down into the bottom of the canyon and camped next to a river at the bottom .

 

This area is also known for it’s rock climbing. I’m personally know nothing about the sport, but we met quite a few climbers that swear by it. If you’re a rock climber – this area may be worth looking into a little bit more thoroughly.

 

Medicine Lodge cliff face with petroglyphs, located just outside of Bighorn National Forest - near Ten Sleep, Wyoming

Medicine Lodge cliff face with petroglyphs, located just outside of Bighorn National Forest – near Ten Sleep, Wyoming

Archeological Wonder Just Outside of Bighorn National Forest: Medicine Lodge

Another really cool stop we made was just outside of Bighorn National Forest. Medicine Lodge is an archeological site where they discovered petroglyphs from as long as 10,000 years ago. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the word petroglyph: it’s a picture that’s carved into stone instead of painted. Although they can’t be sure, archeologists think that these carvings may have been created as long as 10,000 years ago. 

Petroglyphs at Medicine Lodge near Bighorn National Forest. Located just outside of Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

Petroglyphs at Medicine Lodge near Bighorn National Forest. Located just outside of Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

To see something like that gives you a glimpse into a time long before now. It made us think about the people who may have drawn these, and what their lives may have been like.

 

Aside from the cliff face featuring the ancient petroglyphs – there are some beautiful (and affordable! – under $20) campsites on the property, trails to explore, and a lot of wildlife. It’s located about 45 minutes outside of Ten Sleep, is dog friendly and was free to visit! 

 

A cool mural near of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming. This is the closest town to the southern entrance of Bighorn National Forest.

A cool mural near of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming. This is the closest town to the southern entrance of Bighorn National Forest.

An Authentic & Historic Saloon Near Big Horn National Forest: The Occidental Hotel & Saloon

If you’re looking for western authenticity – the Occidental Hotel & Saloon in Buffalo, Wyoming is the place you want to go. The hotel opened in 1880 and looks like something straight out of an old western movie. The bar is adorned with the heads of many a hunting trophy. Bears, moose, elk, and even a cheetah populate the room – as well as a large crowd of of cowboy hat donning locals.

 

On Thursday night, they host an open jam where local musicians come together to play bluegrass music. It was pretty awesome and everyone was super nice. After seeing so many tourist attractions that boasted “authenticity” – it was cool to experience an authentically western community on a regular night in town.

 

Ten Sleep Brewing Co. which is located in Ten Sleep, Wyoming - just outside of Bighorn National Forest

Ten Sleep Brewing Co. which is located in Ten Sleep, Wyoming – just outside of Bighorn National Forest

Great Beer Near Bighorn National Forest: Ten Sleep Brewing Company

On the other side of Bighorn National Forest is the town of Ten Sleep. It got it’s name because for local Native American Tribes, it would take “10 sleeps” to travel to the area. It was used as a meeting place for all the surrounding tribes. Currently, it’s a town located in the Big Horn Basin that has a population of 260.

 

The place that we were recommended by almost everyone we talked to was Ten Sleep Brewing Company. It’s located in front of a giant, beautiful red rock formation, has a super cool vibe, and is traveler friendly! They offer $3 showers and camping for $4/person. 

 

I tried their lemonade beer (delicious!) and Tim enjoyed both their IPA and their most popular beer, Speed Goat. (a local favorite!) When we visited, Linda’s Fry Bread truck was providing food which was delicious and cheap. Overall, the brewery was a great stop!

 

Another shot from our campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

Another shot from our campsite on Old Highway 16 in Bighorn National Forest

We Love Bighorn National Forest! 

While planning our trip to Bighorn National Forest, we expected it to be beautiful, but didn’t expect the magnificence that we encountered. The landscape was so vast and varied between each place we visited – that I constantly had to lift my jaw off the floor.

 

My favorite thing about this area, however, is the lack of crowds. After spending today fighting hordes of people in Yellowstone (on a Tuesday in September – supposedly a “good time to go”) to catch a glimpse of a few iconic landscapes – I REALLY appreciate how underrated Bighorn National Forest is.

 

For a week, we were afforded the luxury of exploring this magnificent place in near solitude. We experienced nature, the way it should be experienced – quietly, and with awe. And to sweeten the deal, the lack of people meant our sweet Suzy could finally enjoy some off-leash time. Needless to say, the 3 of us were VERY happy during our stay.

 

If you’re planning a trip to Wyoming, I urge you to give Bighorn National Forest a shot. During our trip, we only experienced a fraction of the beauty this area has to offer.

 

Have you ever been to Bighorn National Forest? What did you think?

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2 comments

Adam November 5, 2018 - 12:50 pm

I love Bighorn NF. One of my favorite places out west and its not too far away from Red Lodge either another cool spot. If you ever go back to yellowstone check beer creek campground in Gardiner is a 3 spot campground next to a river down a jacked up dirt road so you’ll have the place all to yourself and literally camping 5 feet from a 3 tiered cascading waterfall and it is RV friendly. Crazy woman canyon is also one of my favorite spots in Bighorn. Glad you got to enjoy it. If you ever get back to the side of the world check out whitefish montana & flathead national forest its gorgeous!

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Erica November 8, 2018 - 9:58 pm

Thanks for the recommendations!! I hope we get back there sometime in the future, Wyoming was amazing!

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