Bighorn National Forest

The Bighorn National Forest can be found in northern Wyoming, United States and consists of over 1.1 million acres. It was created as a US Forest Reserve in 1897 and is one of the oldest government protected forest lands in the United States. The forest is well east of the continental divide and stretches from the Montana border for a distance of 80 miles along the spine of the Big Horn Mountains, an outlying mountain range separated from the rest of the Rocky Mountains by Bighorn Basin. The elevations range from 5,000 feet along the sagebrush and grass-covered lowlands at the foot of the mountains, to 13,189 feet on top of Cloud Peak, the highest point in the Big Horn Mountains. Around 99 percent of the land exceeds 4,900 feet. The forest gets its name from the Bighorn River, which is partially fed by streams found inside the national forest. While the river and the forest used the name “Bighorn” all in one word, the mountains that are associated with the forest are referred to as the “Big Horns”. Streams in the range are fed mostly by snowmelt and snowmelt mixed with driving rainfall.

In the forest is the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in which no motorized or mechanical equipment is allowed. The only access into the 189,000 acre wilderness is on foot or horseback. There are 1,500 miles of trails inside the forest, in addition to 32 improved campgrounds, lodges, and three scenic vehicular biways. U.S. Highway 14, known also as the Bighorn Scenic Byway, crosses the middle of the 30 mile wide forest. Medicine Wheel Passage crosses in the north passing the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, while the Cloud Peak Skyway crosses the highest pass within the forest and can be found in the southern section of the forest.

It is mostly lodgepole pine, in addition to several species of spruce, fire, and aspen. While grizzly bears have not inhabited the forest since the early 20th century, black bears are very common. Other large mammals including mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and moose can be seen in this forest. A number of lakes are found within the confines of the forest and most of them are naturally stocked with trout and at least 100 other species of fish. Meadowlark Lake is a popular recreation area that was created by the construction of a dam built by Company 841 of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the year 1936. Water quality sampling from the lakes depicts the highest acid rain deposition of any mountain chain within the Rockies.

The headquarters is located in Sheridan, Wyoming. There are local ranger district offices found in Buffalo, Lovell, and Sheridan.

Image Caption: Medicine Wheel, a Native American sacred site and National Historic Landmark in Wyoming. Credit: U.S. Forest Service Photo/Wikipedia