The Black Mountain Lookout hike (or Fire Tower Hike) in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains is wonderful—right up there with other hikes we’ve done in the West for both scenic views and altitude.
The Bighorns in north-central Wyoming are a well-kept secret the locals are glad to keep that way. It’s national forest, not a national park, and far fewer people travel there compared to neighboring Yellowstone, Tetons and Glacier.
(By the way, is it Bighorns or Big Horns? Read this short article from The Sheridan Press for the answer…)
There are fewer people there than in the Black Hills,too, although the mountains in the Bighorns are much bigger and wildlife is so abundant.
It might have to do with lack of marketing, I don’t know, but we’ve been to the Bighorns twice now, and have loved our experience both times.
Our family was there in mid-June and had a great experience. While we were there, our son, nephew and I decided to tackle the Black Mountain hike, and are so glad we did!
What’s Great about the Black Mountain Lookout Hike
Black Mountain isn’t the highest peak the Bighorns—several 11,000-13,000 footers are further south in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. But this 9,500-foot summit has a 360º view that made it a prime location for spotting wildfires.
At the top are the remains of an old fire tower, built in 1939-40 and retired some time before the turn of the century. (I read some information about the fire tower somewhere when we were out there, but unfortunately didn’t take a picture of it and now I can’t find anything else online.)
You don’t often find a hike this short with views this great. It’s 4 miles round trip if you park at the trailhead. If you have a 4-wheel drive and if the snow is gone, you can drive up the first mile where there’s a small turn-around area to park, then hike the last mile up.
Short doesn’t mean easy, though. This trail is steep, especially the second half! But it’s a very doable challenge, and so rewarding!
The Views at the Top
Most of the trail is in the woods, a forest of mostly lodgepole pine. It’s a very open forest, so it’s easy to see among the trees. The best views start within a short distance of the summit.
Once you arrive at the open area at the top—huge boulders and rock formations that are super cool—you the amazing vistas. Follow the rock “stairway” up and continue the trail all the way to the Fire Tower and you can see for miles in every direction.
(You won’t be able to go onto the tower catwalk itself—it’s now padlocked off.)
Look towards the south for views of the Cloud Peak Wilderness—the snow-capped largest mountains in the Bighorns. You can see over the valley to the east, towards Dayton, Ranchester and Sheridan.
No Grizzly Bears
One of the big plusses of the Bighorns—no grizzlies. It just makes for a more relaxing hike when you don’t have those huge bruins in the back of your mind. There are still black bears, moose and mountain lions, though, so be aware of your surroundings.
Log Outhouse at 9,450 Feet or So
It’s not the highest outhouse in America, but it’s certainly surprising to see an outhouse at the top of any mountain! A 2-seater, too 🙂
Is it for hikers or was it built for the former fire tower look-outs? I don’t know, but it’s a conversation piece! (I forgot to check if there’s TP in it—we didn’t use it!)
What to Know about Hiking Here
Changeable Mountain Weather
Like all mountain ranges, expect quickly changing weather in the Bighorns. In mid-June the highs were in the 40s and 50s with lows in the upper 20s and mid-30s. Chilly! Our campground was at about 8,200 feet, which is about where this trail starts.
A bit of a fun testimony here: there was snow and rain forecast for the entire weekend. We started looking at other camping options at a lower elevation, and even considered cancelling.
But we stuck with our plans and I just kept praying: “Lord, please give us favor with the weather.” That’s it. Just “Lord, please give us favor with the weather” over and over, whenever I thought about it.
We ended up with very little rain and no snow! We were so thankful!
But…be prepared for changeable weather. Bring lightweight down jackets, wool socks, waterproof boots or shoes (for snow patches and little streams and run-off), rain jacket. Dress in layers.
Hiking in High Elevations
If you’re from the Midwest like we are, you’ll notice a big difference hiking at 8,000-9,000 feet. Shortness of breath at the very least. Some people get symptoms of altitude sickness like nausea, headaches and dizziness.
Drink plenty of water, take breaks. If you start getting confused or stumbling more than you should, turn around and go back down.
How to Get There
We must’ve missed something in our directions, as we couldn’t seem to find the start of the 4-wheel trail. There were still patches of snow on it anyways, so hiking the entire 4 miles was the way to go.
You’ll take Highway 14 and look for Forest Road 16 (there’s a sign for Black Mountain. Then head east on Forest Service Road 222 (I think that’s what we missed—but as there’s no cell signal up there, we couldn’t double check our GPS!).
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Sharon is the founder and administrator of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other blog, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails and other marketing tools for clients.