Bighorn Canyon in Southeastern Montana might be just about the coolest place you never heard of. It’s like a trip on Lake Powell through the Grand Canyon, but with all the beauty and wonder of Montana. Impressive – Yes. Beautiful – Indeed. Do you have to plan a trip there… Keep reading our quick-hitting facts and photo guide and decide for yourself.
1 – Yellowtail Dam
Yellowtail Dam forms Bighorn Lake in Bighorn Canyon. Build in the 1960s; it generates hydroelectric power. Below the dam is one of the best fly fishing spots in Montana, with almost 6000 fish per river mile.
2 – Bighorn Lake
Bighorn Lake forms behind the Yellowtail Dam and has a capacity of 1,381,189 acre-feet of water. Typically the reservoir covers 17,300 acres and extends over 70 miles upstream into Wyoming.
3- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is the first National Recreation Area in the Missouri River Basin. It provides recreational access to thousands of acres of land and water while preserving the scenic beauty, cultural history, and scientific resources.
4 – Bozeman Trail
The Bozeman Trail was home to one of the most isolated outpost in America – Fort Smith. The soldiers there guarded the plains on this rarely used trail. Morale was low as life was equal parts tension, loneliness, and monotony. In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty yielded the Powder River Country to the Lakota and their allies. Fort Smith was abandoned by Presidential decree marking the first war lost in United States history.
5- Ok-A-Beh Marina
The Ok-A-Beh Marina is located near Fort Smith, Montana, at the north entrance to Bighorn Canyon. It is open every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
6 – Pontoon Boat Rental
Looking to go boating on Bighorn Lake? You can rent pontoon boats for a full day (8 AM to 6:30 PM) or a ½ day (8 AM to 1 PM or from 1:30 PM to 6:30 PM). Obtain more boating Bighorn Lake boating information from the park website.
7 – Kayaking on the Bighorn Reservoir
Kayaking is a perfect way to explore the Bighorn Reservoir. During the summer, rangers lead guided trips that cover proper paddling techniques, self-recovery of a capsized kayak, general safety precautions, and fun facts about Bighorn Canyon. These are free of charge and offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so make sure you call ahead and register with Bighorn Canyon National Registration Area.
8 – Wildlife at Bighorn Canyon
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area contains five climatic zones ranging from high desert to alpine, which give homes to a wide variety of animals. From the majestic herds of Pryor Mountain wild horses to the park’s namesake Bighorn sheep, you never know what you’re going to see. This beautiful black bear was just outside of the marina on our boat trip through Bighorn Canyon.
9 – Geology of Bighorn Canyon
Bighorn Canyon was formed over the last 5 million years as the land lifted while the river carved the canyon. Staring up at these walls, you can obverse millions of years of geologic history.
10 – Red Rocks in Bighorn Canyon
The deep red sandstone belongs to the Chugwater Formation, which was deposited in the Mississippian period, about 350 to 320 million years ago.
11 – Black Canyon
Black Canyon is the first major canyon boaters reach heading south out of the Ok-A-Beh Marina. It’s a short 2.8-mile boat ride or about a two-hour paddle out of the marina. It’s one of the most popular spots in the entire Bighorn Canyon NRA.
12 – Black Canyon Boat in Camping
Black Canyon Campground features a dozen sites with bear boxes, fire rings, and picnic tables. This site is in a beautiful cove with crystal clear water, which makes it the most popular campsite in the park. You should also be aware of bears, poison ivy, and difficulty find firewood, but isn’t the view totally worth it?
There you have it, our twelve amazing facts about Bighorn Canyon, and we have only just entered the North District of the recreation area! If your mind isn’t blown yet, know that the river continues for almost seventy more miles until you reach the South District in Lovell, Wyoming. There you’ll find the Cal Taggart Visitor Center, Horseshoe Bend Marina, Devil Canyon Overlook, Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, hiking trails, historic ranches, and even more campgrounds. There’s so much more to explore in Bighorn Canyon, we hope that you enjoyed the trip so far.
Wrapping up Bighorn Canyon
Bighorn Canyon might not get the publicity of the driving loop at Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, or even just hanging out in Whitefish, but it’s an outstanding recreation area not to be missed. The diversity of landscape as you come up from the plains and enter the mountains is beautiful enough. But when you add in blue mountain lakes and red rock canyons, it becomes extraordinary. This park would probably the the crown jewel of the park system in 40 other states, and it’s on the highlight real for any Montana trip.
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Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman aka Coleman Concierge. In a nutshell, we are a Huntsville-based Gen X couple sharing our stories of amazing adventures through activity-driven transformational and experiential travel.