RV Destination: Bighorn Canyon

Bighorn Lake at Bighorn National Recreation Area
Bighorn Lake at Bighorn National Recreation Area

People who’ve never heard of Bighorn Canyon have no idea how much they’re missing. Bighorn Canyon is a little-known treasure waiting to be discovered.

The Yellowtail Dam near Ft. Smith, Montana, creates the 71-mile long Bighorn Lake encased by the 1000- to 2500-foot cliffs of Bighorn Canyon. Peregrine falcons, Pryor Mountain wild horses, and bighorn sheep make their homes on the nearly vertical canyon walls.

Nothing can beat the sensation of water lapping against the boat in the evening as canyon walls begin to block the sun or of sliding the kayak onto the lake as the sun rises to meet water clear as glass.

Water is the focal point that draws most people to Bighorn Canyon. It has been drawing and challenging area visitors for hundreds of years. Many stories are told about the adventures of early explorers and settlers who navigated theBighorn River.

In 1825, Jim Bridger, Bighorn Canyon’s first recorded boater, built a driftwood raft and set out on the untamed Bighorn River. Three days later, he emerged from the mouth of the canyon, fifty miles downstream, unscathed by the wild river’s rapids. On May 31, 1913, Claude St. John and a neighbor, Bert Smith, left from Barry’s Landing headed to New Orleans in a sixteen-foot, motorized boat. They reached their destination on August 1st. Many others would follow, mostly to brag that they had challenged the rapids of the Canyon.

The Yellowtail Dam has since transformed the once dangerous, foaming Bighorn River into Bighorn Lake, but visitors can still trace the path of Jim Bridger and Claude St. John.

For those who don’t get on the water, hiking trails and historic sites offer interesting ways to connect with the park.

Four historic ranches let visitors experience the lives, challenges, perils, and stories of 19th and early 20th century settlers in the region. Men like Anthony Mason and Henry Clay Lovell who in 1883 brought cattle into the Bighorn Basin only to see most of them killed during the harsh winter of 1886-87. And, women like adventure writer Caroline Lockhart who in 1926 came to the Dryhead Creek area at age 55 to recreate her life as the Cattle Queen of Montana. These and other colorful characters enliven the history of Bighorn Canyon.

Fourteen hiking trails wind through the canyon, offering tranquil settings, off-the-beaten-path views, and great opportunities for wildlife viewing. The newest, the Two Eagles Interpretive Trail, leads visitors back in time to learn about the indigenous and nomadic people who traveled through Bighorn Canyon. Wayside markers provide insight into the tipi rings left behind and the drive lines used by ancient hunters.

If archeology doesn’t inspire you, the solitude of the Sullivan’s Knob Trail just might. Here’s the ironic part: to hear a triple echo you have to break the silence.

Get away from it all with a visit to Bighorn Canyon, where you can immerse in the natural word and soak in the wonders of this extraordinary place.

RV Camping

Horseshoe Bend Campground
Horseshoe Bend Campground at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Afterbay Campground

Open All Year!
Near Fort Smith, Montana, on the south shore of the Afterbay
28 RV and tent sites are located around a line of nice shade trees
Composting vault toilets, RV dump station, and drinking water available.
There are no RV hookups.
Additional 12 sites without water, available on north shore of Afterbay.

Horseshoe Bend Campground

Open All Year – Utilities are shut off between Oct. and May
Uphill from the Horseshoe Bend Marina boat docks
Swim beach and picnic area, nestled in sagebrush
48 campsites overlook the lake and the red sandstone cliffs of Sykes Mountain
The campground is 14 miles north of Lovell, Wyoming via WY Hwy 37
Modern restrooms, RV dump station and drinking water are available
19 sites have been remodeled to accommodate larger RVs and boats
There are 3 pull through sites
A utility fee will be charged at Horseshoe Bend to recover the cost of electricity at the improved sites.
Please see the Horseshoe Bend Campground page for more details.

Trail Creek Campground

Open All Year
Primitive campground 27 miles north of Lovell, Wyoming, via WY Hwy 37
10 RV sites for small RVs 16 tent sites 4 RV sites just off Barry’s Landing parking lot
There is no drinking water or RV hookups
Most of the sites are small

All camping in Bighorn Canyon is on a first come first serve basis. No reservations will be taken.

Lake levels and seasonal weather can affect the proximity of the boat moorings to campsites at Black Canyon Camprground and Medicine Creek Campground. Docks to these campsites are removed in the winter.



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