Camping in the Bighorn Mountains

camping in the bighorn mountains

The best thing about camping in the Bighorn Mountains of northcentral Wyoming is you have all the beauty and wildlife with none of the crowds.

Seriously.

Our family has camped here twice now—once in the north half and once in the south half. Both were outstanding camping experiences.

Campgrounds in the Bighorns

There are a few lodges in these mountains, but most of the campgrounds are managed by the National Forest Service. Here’s what we found to be common ground in these campgrounds:

  • They’re small—between five and 30 sites.
  • The campsites are reservable—You’re able to see a photo of each site as well as a map of the campground, which gives you a lay of the land.
  • They’re in very scenic settings—Lodgepole pine forests, mountain creeks, surrounding mountains, our favorite site was on the edge of a large meadow.
  • No frills—vault toilets (not fancy, but clean), no showers, hand pumps for water (which is ice cold and tastes wonderful), no electricity.
  • The sites are large and many are quite private.
  • Campground host on-site—these folks are very helpful and on top of things.
  • The locals take full advantage of them—In fact, I think most of those we met in these campgrounds were from Wyoming.
  • Abundant wildlife—often in or within sight of the campground.

The Two Campgrounds We Used

Sitting Bull Campground

Our first visit to the Bighorns was in 2017. We reserved a site in Sitting Bull Campground, off Highway 16 in the southwest corner of the Bighorn range.

This was our favorite campsite—my husband’s favorite campsite of all time! I think this was because of its setting along the forest on the edge of a large meadow. It was just beautiful!

sitting bull campground
Nick and Jamie relaxing at our campsite—with the Cloud Peak Wilderness on the horizon

A small creek runs through the meadow, and we could see the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in the distance, with its snow-capped peaks.

We saw nine moose in the short time we were there (two nights), three of them while sitting at our campsite the second evening.

Prune Creek Campground

Our second visit was this past June. We chose Prune Creek Campground in the north half, along Highway 14, because we needed to pick up our daughter and son-in-law after a family wedding in Sheridan. And because we were headed north into Montana afterwards.

We didn’t like the location as well—it was literally right next to the highway. While not urban-busy by any means, it’s the main thoroughfare through that part of the range so there was a steady flow of traffic.

prune creek campground
Spacious, private sites in well-maintained Prune Creek Campground

But in every other way, it was a beautiful campground. The South Tongue River borders it on the west and Prune Creek runs through it.

Upon our arrival, a mama moose and her calf were calmly eating across the Tongue, ignoring we campers taking pictures (maybe 30 feet away).

What We Loved about Camping in the Bighorn Mountains

There are No Crowds to Squeeze Through

On both trips, the Bighorns were one stop among several, including very popular national parks. What a difference between the millions at the Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier compared to the dozens in the Bighorns.

(Maybe hundred, but it didn’t feel like more than dozens.)

Moose, Moose and More Moose

We’ve seen our share of moose in northern Minnesota over the years…as well as some in the national parks. But no place we’ve been holds a candle to the number of moose we’ve seen in the Bighorns!

During our latest trip’s “moose hunting” ventures (meaning we drive the roads looking for them), we saw over 50 moose in 2-1/2 days…almost all of them while driving on the highway.

cow and calf moose
This cow and calf were just across the South Tongue River from the campground

We also saw plenty of deer and a couple herds of elk in the north half of the range.

Many Gorgeous Views

There are the mountains—the biggest ones being in the Cloud Peak Wilderness in the southern half of the range.

There are canyons—several of them. We drove through Tensleep Canyon on our first trip and Shell Canyon on our most recent visit. Both are stunning.

Black Mountain Lookout Hike

Not far from Prune Creek Campsite is the trailhead to the Black Mountain hike. This hike is challenging for us Midwesterners with its vertical climb and altitude. The 360º view from the summit is totally worth it. Wow!

view from black mountain, bighorns
The spectacular view from (near) the summit of Black Mountain

One of our favorite mountain hikes.

No Grizzly Bears

There are other big mammals in these mountains—moose, mule deer, mountain lions and black bears. But knowing we wouldn’t meet a grizzly helped us relax a little, especially on our hike.

What We Didn’t Like about the Bighorns

The only downside I can think of is the lack of good day hiking trails on the south side, off Highway 16. There are no maps and hardly any information. Our campground host at Sitting Bull couldn’t tell us about any.

We walked out in “our” meadow by our campsite, and could walk along the dirt roads and ATV trail nearby—but (at least in 2017) no good hikes there on the south side.

What to Know Before You Go

Like I mentioned earlier, the Bighorns are a popular local destination for Wyoming residents—especially on the weekends. If your plans will take you there over a weekend, I highly recommend reserving a site ahead of time. Midweek stays shouldn’t be a problem. Make your reservations through Recreation.gov.

Gas stations and grocery stores are few and far between up there. Stock up on both before heading up.

tensleep canyon, bighorns
Tensleep is one of several canyons in the Bighorns

If you’re pulling a camper like we did, the vertical climb is quite impressive and steep in places, especially up on the north half. Be sure you’re driving a vehicle that can handle the tow—and prepare to drive in low gear a lot on the descents.

Mountain weather can be unpredictable. Prepare for cold nights (the campgrounds are at around 8,000 feet) and bring rain gear. It’s not unheard of to have snow in the summer.

camping in the bighorns

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