Places to Visit: Bighorn Mountains

West Yellowstone Montana
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Bighorn Mountains

Driving Through the Bighorn Mountains

East of Yellowstone lie the majestic Bighorn Mountains that rise up between the Bighorn Basin to the west and the Powder River to the east. While the Bighorn Mountains are not as rugged as other mountain ranges in Wyoming, there are many peaks over 9,000 feet. The highest peak being Cloud Peak, towering 13,175 feet.

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The early travelers who crossed the Bighorns were the Native American tribes: Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Shoshone, and Arapaho. They came hunting for big game such as elk, sheep, deer, and bison. The first whites to come in and out of the Bighorns were fur trappers during the 1800s. Today, this scenic mountain range is used for logging, grazing, and outdoor recreation.

Although most people merely drive through the mountains, its spectacular scenery is worth savoring. There are 3 passages through the Bighorns: US HWY 16, and the two more direct routes to Yellowstone, US HWY 14 and US HWY 14A.

US HWY 16 is the Cloud Peak Skyway that connects the towns of Buffalo and Ten Sleep. It is the easiest way to cross the Bighorns and for many years this was the primary route to Yellowstone. This passage offers unparalleled views into the Cloud Peak Wilderness.

US HWY 14 is considered the Bighorn Scenic Byway and is open all year. It connects the cities of Sheridan and Greybull with 45 miles of breathtaking scenery.

US HWY 14A is the Medicine Wheel Passage, and is connected to the Big Horn Scenic Byway (US 14) at Burgess Junction. The climb to the top is very long and steep, but the views you gain are worth it. On the way to Lovell, you pass the historic Medicine Wheel, and descend into the Bighorn Basin through alpine meadows of sage and grass.

The Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel is located 25 miles west of Burgess Junction in US HWY 14 A, and then 3 miles north on a dirt road. The Medicine Wheel is a circle of flat white stones that are about 75 feet in diameter and arranged at the top of a mountain. There are 28 spokes that radiate from the rock pile hub in the center. It is a prehistoric creation that dates back 1,000-10,000 years. Theories as to its intended and original function range from an astronomical calendar, to a celebration site for the native tribes of the area. Historians guess that the Medicine Wheel was made by the same horseless culture that left the petroglyphs of Medicine Lodge. Today, the Medicine Wheel is surrounded by a wire fence on which Indian tribes tie colorful cloths and mementos. Mystery and spirituality continue to surround this ancient wonder.