The Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming

The Bighorn Mountains
The Bighorn Mountains viewed from Bighorn Medicine Wheel

The Bighorn Mountains, just east of Yellowstone National Park and just north of Grand Teton National Park (at least “just” by Wyoming standards) are a spectacular mountain range that are worthy of a visit on their own. The Bighorn National Forest alone encompasses 189,000 acres of wilderness with 1,200 miles of trails.

The Cloud Peak Scenic Byway runs along US Highway 16 between Buffalo to the east and Ten Sleep to the west. This route offers spectacular scenery that ranges from forested mountains to breathtaking canyons. A number of Forest Service recreation sites can be found along the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway, including campgrounds and hiking trails.

The Bighorn Scenic Byway to the north follows US Highway 14 between the small town of Dayton (population 757) to the east and the tiny town of Shell (population 83) to the west. This route offers breathtaking views from mountain vistas throughout the western section. The eastern portion of the Bighorn Scenic Byway passes through a canyon that can only be described as stunning. (The only problem with driving through the canyon is the views are so spectacular that you want to take a photo every few feet - and there are few places to pull off the road.)

Shell Falls is worth the stop as you drive along the Bighorn Scenic Byway. Shell Falls is located on the north side of Highway 14, closer to Shell than Dayton. The parking area is paved and has room for several RVs or buses. A visitor center is located near the parking area.

Viewing of the falls is available via observation decks, but does require walking down and up a long flight of stairs. The stairway is maintained nicely though, and the steps are not steep. Visitors who are mobility impaired may have difficulty with the stairs.

An average of 3,600 gallons of water spills over Shell Falls each second before plunging 75 feet to the bottom of the canyon where it continues on its path.

Plan on an entire day to drive the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway and Bighorn Scenic Byway loop. It is a lot of miles, and while the posted speed limit is 65 in many places, there are also steep grades where traffic moves closer to 30 mph. You will probably also want to stop plenty to appreciate the scenery and take photos.

US Highway 14-Alt provides another option for touring the Bighorn Mountains. Highway 14-Alt connects with the Bighorn Scenic Byway and runs to the west. The scenery along Highway 14-Alt is also beyond what words can describe and needs to be experienced in order to be appreciated.

There are plenty of motels, RV parks, and campgrounds throughout this area so visitors have choices for lodging. The Bighorn Mountains may not have the popularity of Yellowstone or Grand Teton, but are definitely worth visiting, whether as a destination or on the way through to another location.