Jul 28

Bighorn Canyon: Always a Surprise

by Martin Kidston

FORT SMITH – The problem with Bighorn Canyon is that it’s not supposed to be here, at least in visitors’ expectations.

If you can picture stumbling across a twisting 1,000-foot chasm by accident, then you can imagine this southeastern Montana landmark.

Everything about Bighorn Canyon is a surprise, from its rich human history to its geologic wonders. More than 570 million years of the Earth’s history is exposed in the canyon’s walls, including sediments laid down
by volcanic forces and large inland seas.

The human history is equally rich. Native peoples have known this area for 12,000 years. Early trappers and traders, including Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith, used an overland route along the canyon to transport
furs to St. Louis.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area offers a variety of options for hikers and sightseers. It can be as wild as it was at the beginning of time. It can also be tame, thanks to paved overlooks and public restrooms offering modern accommodations.

The park offers 27 miles of designated trails and a number of campsites. The popular State Line Trail sits north of the Wyoming border, offering an easy one-mile hike through arid country to the canyon rim.

In contrast, the Two Eagle Trail offers more on the side of history. It circles the remnants of campsites that sheltered indigenous hunters 1,000 years ago.

Old tepee rings reflect a style commonly used by the Crow people who called this area home before the close of the 19th century.

The views throughout the park are spectacular, as is the summer heat. And while the canyon commands attention, there’s plenty here worthy of a visit, regardless of your abilities.

Location: Access to the park is through Fort Smith and Lovell, Wyoming. Trail maps are available at the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center in Lovell.
Distance: Located on the east side of Highway 37 about five miles from the park entrance north of Lovell, the State Line Trail is a 1-mile out-and-back hike through rocks, sage and cactus to the canyon rim.
Difficulty: The hike is easy, though proper footwear and water are recommended.

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