In a state known for its big skies, it should come as no surprise that there are big canyons too. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is more than 120,000 acres and has a diverse ecosystem for wildlife with thousands of years of human history. Guests can enjoy unobstructed views into the canyon, and opportunities for silence and solitude are easy to find.
The remote location creates one of the darkest night skies in the country, and guests enjoy minimal disturbances from modern sounds.
You couldn’t ask for a better environment to explore and adventure, but there are a few things to know before heading to this recreation area. You may even ask, “How deep is the Bighorn Canyon?” You may also be wondering, “Can I fish in it?”
Let’s take a closer look so you can start planning your next Montana adventure.
Where Is Bighorn Canyon, Montana?
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area straddles the Montana-Wyoming border. The visitor center on the Montana side of the border is in Fort Smith, Mont. However, the Wyoming visitor center sits in Lovell, Wyo. The Montana side of the recreation area focuses more on water compared to the more land-based recreation on the Wyoming side.
If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is approximately two hours northeast of the east entrance. If you’re staying in the city of Cody, Wyo., it’s only an hour’s drive to the visitor center in Lovell. It’s worth the trip if you have a day to spare while in the area.
How Deep Is Bighorn Canyon?
Bighorn Canyon reaches 1,000 feet deep at Devil Canyon and 2,500 feet at Bulk Elk Ridge. Standing at the rim provides spectacular views of the Bighorn River as it cuts through the canyon. The vibrant colors of the rocks and vegetation are a photographer’s dream.
If you’re looking to experience the Horseshoe Bend of Montana, you won’t want to miss Devil Canyon. It provides a similar view and experience as the popular canyon in Arizona. It’s worth checking out!
Can You Fish at the Bighorn Canyon?
Fishing is a popular activity at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Anglers can choose to fish from shore or a boat. The surrounding landscapes make it easy to enjoy your time fishing, even if you don’t have much luck.
However, there are plenty of fish swimming in the waters of the canyon.
Three popular spots for fishing in Bighorn Canyon are Bighorn Lake, Afterbay, and Bighorn River. Some popular species of fish from the area include walleye, trout, perch, carp, and catfish. However, 38 different fish species live in the Bighorn River. You never know what you might catch!
Pro Tip: After exploring Bighorn Canyon, spend the night at one of these 6 Best Free Campsites in Montana.
Other Things to Do at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
There is more to do than just see the canyon and fish at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Let’s look at a handful of things you might want to consider doing while visiting the area. Let’s dive in!
Pedal the Ok-A-Beh Road
If you’re into biking, the Ok-A-Beh Road in the park’s northern section is quite challenging for cyclists. This is a 9.37-mile paved road that is an intense workout that will get your heart pumping while you enjoy the incredible views surrounding you. If you’re not an experienced biker, you may want to pass on this one!
Set Up Camp for a Weekend
There are over 100 campsites at five different camping areas throughout Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The great thing is that the campgrounds provide incredible views of the western scenery.
Nearly all the camping in the area is first-come, first-served, so make sure you have a backup plan. However, you can reserve some sites in the south district’s camping area where they can accommodate rigs up to 40 feet long. Prices range from $15 to $30 per night for most campsites, some of which are dry camping sites.
Hike the Miles of Trails
There are over 27 miles of trails throughout the recreation area. You can enjoy outrageous landscapes whether you’re looking for a short, family-friendly hike or a long and challenging hike to get in a workout. The south district offers more land-based activities, so you’ll find most hiking options there.
The north district offers three trails that combine for approximately 5 miles. However, the south district has 12 trails that connect for a maximum of 24.14 miles. Some trails offer shortcuts or extensions to avoid more challenging sections or to cut the route short. Be sure you take plenty of water and watch out for wildlife. Bears and other dangerous wildlife do roam throughout the park.
Visit One of the Four Historic Ranches
If you ever wondered what life was like in the west more than 100 years ago, you can experience it for yourself at the four historic ranches housed in the park. These four ranch houses have been kept in their original state and provide visitors a glimpse into the everyday life of the first settlers to the west.
The residents that occupied these homes came to the area for various reasons, whether it was gold, ranching, or solitude. No matter why they came, if we could talk to them today, we’re sure they’d say living in such a remote area wasn’t always the easiest.
More Big Canyons In the United States
If you’re a fan of big canyons, you’ll be happy to know that there are a few other big canyons in the United States worth visiting. Let’s look at a few others that you might want to add to your travel itinerary for future trips.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is in Arizona and is one of the most well-known canyons in the entire world. The canyon is a mile deep and 18 miles wide at its widest point. Millions of visitors flock to the canyon every year, and 2018 was the park’s busiest year, with 6.3 million visitors. The majority visit the south rim. You can enjoy the views from anywhere along the rim, but a hike down into the canyon provides a unique experience. However, this hike is not for everyone, as hiking back up out of the canyon is not an easy task.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check out these 9 Most Beautiful Areas of the Grand Canyon on your adventure.
Kings Canyon National Park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The park is neighbor to Sequoia National Park, home to huge sequoia trees. Kings Canyon drops 8,200 feet from Spanish Peak down to the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River. This makes it deeper than the Grand Canyon and an impressive sight. Experiencing all that Kings Canyon offers helps you see why famous National Park enthusiast John Muir described the park as “a rival to Yosemite.”
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area hugs the borders between Oregon and Idaho. It’s a 652,488 acre of incredible landscape that provides scenic views into the deepest river gorge in North America. The Snake River carved out Hells Canyon. From its highest to the lowest point, He Devil Mountain to Granite Creek, the canyon drops 7,913 feet. The views here are incredible, and you won’t have to fight the crowds nearly as much compared to some of the more well-known national park units.
Is Visiting Bighorn Canyon, Montana Worth It?
Bighorn Canyon is an incredible place to visit in Montana. With so many people flocking to Yellowstone National Park, it’s a great spot to withdraw from the crowds and traffic chaos. If you’re tired of noisy hikers and busy park roads, Bighorn Canyon can be your secret spot to escape in Montana. However, don’t share too many pictures on social media, or this hidden gem will get out to the masses!
What canyon would you like to explore first? Tell us in the comments!
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