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Exciting views on a Drive through the Bighorn Canyon

Driving through the Bighorn Canyon? Get ready for some epic views and amazing vistas! We went through this area in mid-summer, which broadened our understanding and appreciation for this part of Wyoming & Montana. Check in below and we will review the important points in this unique Western landscape.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Overview

The recreation area itself is huge, with over 120,000 acres (!) stretching along the Bighorn Canyon Lake from the Yellowtail dam in the North down along the river ending at the Yellowtail Reservoir near Lowell. With this expanse you are given an abundance of views and opportunities to enjoy nature.

There are two Bighorn Canyon visitor centers, which separates the recreation into North and South Districts. The main visitor center, Yellowtail Dam, is North of Cody near Fort Smith Montana and is sandwiched into the Crow Indian Reservation. The Carl S. Taggart Visitor Center is in the south district and is just east of Cody, near the town of Lovell. Technically, this visitor center is not in the park. 

One way to think about the districts is, the north district is primarily water related activities, and the southern districts supports land-based offerings.

Is there an entrance fee for Bighorn Canyon NRA?

No! There is currently no entrance fee access Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Note, there are certain fees for camping and other activities within the park.

Carl S. Taggart Visitor Center and the South District

  • Address: 20 US Highway 14A E, Lovell, WY 82431
  • Operating Days: Open seven days a week from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend. Open Tuesday through Saturday; Labor Day Weekend to Memorial Day Weekend
  • Hours of operation: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

Our travels took us by the Visitor Center off Route 14A and over the Bighorn Lake. We got there just before 9am, so just shortly after they opened at 8:30. Only one other group was there, and we basically had the run of the place. It is a simple design, with one large room sectioned off for exhibits, gift shop and the front counter area. 

Interior Visitor Center Bighorn Canyon NRA

To our delight we were able to pick up some Huckelberry syrup. The park ranger was as helpful as ever, and answered a score of questions we had, which we will share below. The simple exhibits were interesting to the kids and helped to provide an understanding to the wildlife in this part of the country. 

National Park Passport Cancellation Stamps

As one of the over 400+ National Park sites, they have the passport stamp. As an added treat they also have a super cool bonus stamp with a bighorn sheep! Absolutely dig bonus stamps! 

Don’t forget to collect your passport stamp when you visit. It is a great (Free!) souvenir that you can use to remember your visit.

Yellowtail Reservoir

Our visit took us along the southern part of the canyon and across the Reservoir along 14A, also known as the Medicine Wheel Passage, and boy what a view!

There are many different activities in the Recreation Area. One could easily spend a week here boating, hiking, camping, exploring the canyon and doing a plethora of water sport activities. 

South District

Going north on Route 37 takes you along the Bighorn Canyon and with it a number of amenities that you can take advantage of during your visit.

  • Horseshoe Bend: First marina and campground off route 37 and the best boat launch on the Wyoming side of the recreation area. Also offers campgrounds and hiking.
  • Barry’s Landing: Another marina with a boat launch, bathrooms and a campground. Also, a good spot for hiking and exploring the area.
  • Medicine Creek: This is a campground only accessible by boat.  Provides a great unique view of the surrounding area.
  • Wild Horse Range:  The Bureau of Land Management manages about 37,000 acres the overlaps part of Custer National Forest and Bighorn Canyon NRA and holds about 120 wild horses.

Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center North District

  • Address: 2222 Access Rd, Fort Smith, MT 59050
  • Operating Days: Open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend.
  • Hours of Operation: Friday through Monday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

You cannot drive directly from the south district to the Yellowtail Dam. To get to the Northern district will require driving around the valley either to the west on route 310 to route 91, or on the east and connect with Route 313. Either way, you will need to drive through Crow Reservation land.

  • Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center:  The National Park Service visitor center that provides information about the dam’s construction, the history of Bighorn Canyon and the Crow Tribe. Opened seasonally (Memorial Day to Labor Day)
  • Ok-A-Beh: The main marina for Yellowtail lake above the dam that offers access for boat launching, boat rentals, stores to provide supplies.
  • Afterbay Reservoir:  Below the dam, this area provides a boat launch and is an excellent place for trout fishing. There are campgrounds in this area as well.
  • Three Mile River Access: The tribiutary of the bighorn river which is known for its trout fishing.

Where is Bighorn Canyon Located?

The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area stretches across the border of Wyoming and Montana into the Crow Indian Reservation. Norh of Cody, Wyoming and southeast of Bozeman Montana.

Map sign of Bighorn Canyon exterior

Bighorn National Forest

If you are in the southern area and visiting during the summer, a great drive is east along 14A into Bighorn National Forest. This route takes you over the mountains and near little Bald Mountain, an elevation of almost 10,000 feet! 

Note, the road is very curvy, and has steep inclines and declines. Be prepared for some chilly temperatures if you plan to step out at the observations point. Temperatures at this elevation can get into the 50s, even in the summer.

As you drive down the other side of the mountain you will drop from 10,000 ft down to less than 5,000 along some twisty roads. Taking this road on a cold, wintery night would be a challenge! Makes sense that they close this section of route 14 during the winter months.

If you want to explore this area, the entire are over 192,000 acres of wilderness and over 1,200 miles of trails for hiking and biking, plus numerous campground opportunities. Check out the Forest Service information page for more information.

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