Wyoming is the epitome of big-sky country, and while Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are time-honored escapes, you’ll find more solitude at Bighorn National Forest. This underrated park is brimming with alpine forest, mountains looming over deep valleys, cool meandering streams, and fields of sage and wildflowers. The ideal window during which to visit is brief, mid-June through mid-September, and even then the nights are cold, but this unspoiled countryside is best experienced in good weather. Here are a few highlights.
Black Mountain Fire Lookout, constructed in the 1930s, has one of the best views in the forest at 9,500 feet. It’s a relatively steep climb, but only about a mile from the trailhead. There are no facilities up there, and the altitude might be too high for some people, but it’s so gorgeous you might not want to come down. On a clear day, you can see for miles over the mountaintops and prairies.
Shutts Flats is great for a relaxing, low-impact afternoon. Fly fishing in the river is popular, if you have the patience for that, but these grassy, flowery fields are begging for a long picnic and exploring along the water. You could go for a swim, but even in August that inviting, crystal clear river is frigid, so you might stop at putting your feet in. There are no facilities here either, but that’s part of what keeps this forest nicely undeveloped.
The Medicine Wheel is a sacred Native American ceremonial site, located at the top of Medicine Mountain. The one-mile walk up to the wheel is stunning, with incredible views over the basin below, and as you approach the rocky summit, you’ll see the giant wheel: radial rows of stones (75 feet in diameter) surrounded by ribbons, feathers, and eagle claws. The 360-degree views are inspirational, and there’s a knowledgeable park representative there to answer your questions, though there’s much about this ancient site that isn’t certain. This medicine wheel is particularly important and well-maintained, and there are only about 150 of them in this region of North America. Entry is free and restrooms are available at the parking lot.
How do you take full advantage of Bighorn National Forest?