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Things to Do at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Mary Piper
December 4, 2020

One of the many reasons to visit Montana is to explore unparalleled natural wonders, which first drew ranchers to the area in the 19th century. One of these places is the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. About an hour and a half outside Billings, there are plenty of things to do at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, making it a great day trip to explore the natural beauty of Montana.

Bighorn Canyon history

The Bighorn Canyon National Recreational Area was founded in 1966, after the construction of the Yellowtail Dam. Named after the famous Native American Crow leader Robert Yellowtail, the dam was built to turn the Bighorn River’s waters into a valuable water source. One-third of the recreation area is located on the Crow Indian Reservation.

The dam created Bighorn Lake, one of the park’s main features. The lake is more than 60 miles wide, stretching between Montana and Wyoming. The recreation area was formed around the dam, lake, and surrounding areas.

Things to do at Bighorn Canyon National Recreational Area

Fishing, hiking, biking, boating, and camping are some of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area activities. There are also 27 miles of hiking trails within the park’s two districts, including short strolls and climbs overlooking beautiful vistas.

Many visitors come to boat and fish in Afterbay Lake and the Bighorn River with plenty of trout fishing spots. Afterbay Lake is below the Yellowtail dam and is one of the most popular places for fishing and wildlife viewing, where visitors can spot ducks, geese, and other wildlife in the area. The Bighorn River is the most fished area in Montana and is a popular trout fishing location.

There are four preserved ranches in the area’s southern district located near Lovell, Wyoming. Visitors can get a glimpse of what dude ranching in the 19th and 20th centuries was really like. These remote lodges were inhabited by ranchers who came to the area to farm, search for gold, and write novels.

The recreation area’s remote location provides minimal light pollution, making it an excellent place for stargazing on select nights if the park stays open past its regular operating hours. Part of the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range is also situated in the recreation area, so visitors may get a chance to see wild horses roaming the pastures and fields around the canyon.

Visiting Bighorn Canyon

The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is divided into two districts, each with its own visitor’s center and entrance. Each district has its unique features and things to do. The northern district is located near Fort Smith, Montana, and is about an hour and a half from Billings. The visitor’s center is open seasonally from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The park itself is open every day of the year. The southern district is located in Wyoming. It takes about three hours to drive between the sections, so it’s essential to plan your visit accordingly.

Natural wonders abound near Billings, MT

There are tons of places to explore the unparalleled natural beauty in the area around Billings, Montana. There are plenty of things to do at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, and it is one of the top places nature lovers should visit when in the area. When you stay at the Dude Rancher Lodge in Billings, Montana, you’ll feel like you were transported back in time when cowboys and ranchers ruled.

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