Devil's Canyon, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana

Bighorn Mountains Part 3 – Into the Canyon

After leaving the Bighorn Mountains we headed to Greybull, Wyoming to get a nice warm shower, a bed and go out to eat. This would be the recovery part of the trip.

Devil’s Kitchen

In Greybull, at the hotel we picked up some tourist information in the hotel lobby and saw a photo of Devil’s Kitchen. It was a strange sort of landscape and we thought we’d go look at this local attraction. Well, first of all GPS took us to a small group of houses a few miles east of Greybull. This clearly was not what we were looking for. So we went back into town and talked to the owner of Crazy Woman Trading Post, Lori Harter. The store caught my eye as we went through town and of course I found some good stuff there to bring home with me. Lori pointed us in the direction of Devil’s Kitchen, and it is a unique drive. If you decide to check this out I suggest getting directions from a local. It’s a unique drive. From there, I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Bighorn National Recreation Area

After a good night’s rest we headed from Greybull towards the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. For this vacation, we knew three days in the mountains would be part of the trip, but we wanted to see what else the Bighorns area had to offer. As I googled various words I came across this beautiful picture of a canyon. Digging deeper, I learned Bighorn Canyon is America’s third largest canyon behind the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. I thought, “What? Why haven’t I heard of this?”

We found online that the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area does not have reserved camping but we decided we would just take the chance and see if we could get in. I am so thankful we did. I feel like saying, “Hey, you have got to go check this out,” to everyone I know. It is a hidden gem.

We stopped at the visitor center to learn about the area and figure out where to camp. We chose the Barry’s Landing Campground after hearing from the ranger that it has trees. It’s an arid climate and we were there in August, trees were a must. He told us to fill out the paperwork at the campground box and place our camp and daily visitor fee in the box. Ten dollars a day for camping and five dollars a day for the daily pass (per vehicle) is not bad at all.

A Travel Note: You will want to enter from the Wyoming side side of the recreation area near Lovell and take 37 north into the area which straddles both Wyoming and Montana. That is, if you want to see the attractions I’ll cover in this blog. The road does not go all the way through to the north end of the rec area.

The campground we stayed at is a primitive campground. There is water back at Horseshoe Bend Campground so we filled our five-gallon water jug there. I used a solar show that we brought with and just showered in my swimsuit.

I had scheduled us a 2 pm boat tour of the canyon with Hidden Treasure Charters. The two hour boat ride takes you into the canyon on a good-sized, roofed boat and Captain Mark shares stories of cattle rustlers, Native America residents and fossils that still reside deep in caves of the canyon. It was well worth the money and we got a lot more out of the time visiting because of it.

On the way to the boat launch we stopped at Bighorn Canyon to take a look. There is a nice viewing area to park at and view and take photos of the deep canyon. You’ll notice the water has a greenish hue to it in photos. Actually looking at it, it seems rather creamy in color due to the sediment in the water but when the blue sky reflects on it, it does look rather green. It isn’t mossy, it’s just all of that sediment that continues to make it’s way down the canyon walls with rain and into the water the below.

The Hidden Treasure boat leaves from the Horseshoe Campground area. There is a marina and a swimming beach. They have a small store at the marina, but it has ice cream so that’s a valuable bit of knowledge to have in the heat of the day. From the boat keep an eye out for the Bighorn sheep coming down to the water with their young. Amazingly they take the journey down and then back up three times a day. It’s amazing the kind of terrain they traverse. I have seen it many times and I still watch in awe. I think the canyon boat ride was probably our favorite part time in the canyon.

After the boat ride we returned to camp, made some food, and prepared to go out hiking and looking for the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs as dusk. The Pryor mountains run adjacent of the canyon on the west side and serves as the home to these descendants of Spanish horses. They believe the Native Americans of the area brought them here after interactions with exploring Spaniards. Brian and I had been told evening was a great time to find them and luckily that is exactly what we did. Heading back south near the ancient teepee rings of the Two Eagles Trail we found them grazing. They are gorgeous. We were able to spend quite a bit of time watching them. We also went on a quick hike toward the canyon to see Devil’s Canyon at sunset. That ended up my favorite photo of the trip and the main image for this blog.

Our second day was spent hiking the many trails and visiting the historic ranches. Make sure you pick up the hiking map at the visitor center. One hike we really enjoyed was Barry’s Island Trail. It’s a nice walk with great views and wildlife such as lizards, rabbits and a variety of birds. Oh, and we could see some really large fish down in the shallows of the water. It’s 4.5 mile round trip and great hike.

A Travel Note: Take bear spray with you for these hikes. There was a mother black bear and her two yearling cubs in the area when we visited. The ranger had stopped by the campgrounds during the day to let folks know one of the males had been spotted very near the campground. Always better safe than sorry.

I also recommend a hike back to the Hillsboro Ranch Site. It’s an easy hike and many of the buildings of the old dude ranch still stand today. It’s hard to imagine that wealthy families from places like Chicago would ship their teenage boys to this ranch in Wyoming to learn the ways of a western cattle ranch. For $500 they would get a full summer of mending fences, saddling horses and chopping wood. Take time to read the signs at the historic ranch. I has quite a history.

It’s fascinating to think people ranched in this arid landscape, but many did including the Cattle Queen, Caroline Lockhart who finally sold the ranch in 1955. She controlled over 7,000 acres at the height of the ranch’s operation. Stop by and see the historic ranch and look for the L and the heart symbol in the old chimney.

After two days and two nights visiting the canyon rec area it was time to head home to South Dakota. We took 14A back east into the Bighorn Mountains so we could hike up to the Medicine Wheel. It’s another beautiful hike filled with wildlife to see. Keep your eyes open for the pikas and yellow-bellied marmots.

I hope you get the chance to check out the Bighorn Mountains and Canyon area. It’s a beautiful area that is often overlooked.

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