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National Recreation Area
Includes Yellowtail Dam, Bighorn Lake, Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is located in northern Wyoming, one third of the Bighorn Canyon being in Wyoming, and the two thirds in southern Montana. The Bighorn Canyon National
Recreation Area is home to Bighorn Lake, being 120,000 acres in size and approximately 71 miles long. Created by damming the Bighorn River in the 1960s with the Yellowtail Dam, 55 miles of this huge reservoir lies within the magnificent Bighorn Canyon...which is known for its thousand foot high red and yellow cliffs towering above each side of the narrow reservoir.
The scenery is absolutely magnificent, and is an extremely popular destination for boaters. From the air, Bighorn Lake looks like a twisting ribbon as it meanders northward through the Bighorn Canyon. The bottom line is that the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is definitely one of Wyoming's Top Attractions, and is definitely a destination to enjoy and discover during your Wyoming vacation.
The Bighorn Canyon is over 55 miles long, where 1,000+ foot limestone cliffs tower over the lake on both sides....creating an incredible experience for visitors who are boating through this amazing canyon.
Established in 1966, the Bighorn National Recreation Area was essentially created following the construction of the Yellowtail Dam by the Bureau of Reclamation. The dam was named after the famous Crow chairman Robert Yellowtail, and has become an seemingly endless paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. And an added bonus of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is the legendary Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range overlaps the recreation area. In fact, 25% of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in fact lies inside the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area boundary, providing visitors with fantastic opportunities to see amazing wild horses in their natural environment.
The Yellowtail Dam blocks the Bighorn River to create the 71 mile long Bighorn Lake in south central Montana. This long and narrow reservoir shared by Montana and Wyoming. Completed in 1967, the Yellowtail Dam was originally built for irrigation purposes and to generate hydroelectric power. However this entire area soon became one of the premier recreation areas in the West.
The Yellowtail Dam is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and is 525 feet high and 1,480 feet wide. This massive dam contains over 1.5 million cubic yards of concrete, and is able to hold over 1.3 million acre feet of water. The Yellowtail Dam has four huge turbines that are capable of generating over 510 million KWh on an annual basis.
Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation AreaNORTH DISTRICT (MONTANA)
Boating Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, Montana (North District) from Billings MT
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area can be reached from Billings Montana by taking Interstate 90 for approximately 40 miles eastward until you enter the town of Hardin Montana. Then take the Hardin exit onto State Highway 313. Remain on this road for 41 miles until you reach the sign for Yellowtail Dam, which is found just beyond the town of Fort Smith. This marks the beginning of the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area (North District).
Just past Fort Smith you will find the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, which is an outstanding place to learn all about the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area as well as amazing views.
The Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, and the nearby park headquarters are the centers of information for the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area, and it is here you will get all of your questions answered about where to go and what to do in this vast outdoor playground. Presently (2014) access to Yellowtail Dam and Visitor Center is quite limited due to national security reasons.
A Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery
Downstream from the Yellowtail Dam, the Bighorn River has become one of the highest rated trout streams in the country. The water is crystal clear due to the dam, and because the height of the water can be regulated, this magical section of the fabled Bighorn River is legendary, and is the most fished river in Montana. Fly fisherman from around the world flock to this world class fishery, where there are an upward of 11,000 trout per river mile. Therefore, what was once a muddy stream with poor fishing opportunities, is now one of the top blue ribbon trout streams for brown and rainbow trout in North America.
Ok-A-Beh Marina: Where Your Bighorn Lake Boating Adventure Begins!
Ok-A-Beh Marina near the Yellowtail Dam on Bighorn Lake.
Just past the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center visitors will encounter the Ok-A-Beh Marina. This outstanding marina where you boating adventure begins. The Ok-A-Beh Marina is extremely well done, and offers a boat dock, marina, and a large boat ramp. Shortly after boaters enter the Bighorn Canyon to the south, they will quickly find themselves in a gorgeous canyon with sheer cliffs towering above them on each side. Within the canyon are several designated camping areas along this 55 mile long canyon that can only be accessed by water, such as the Black Canyon Campground.
Ok-A-Beh Marina is where every boating adventure through the fabled Bighorn Canyon begins from the Montana side of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
If you like watersports, you'll love the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Boaters Enter a "Different World"
Very quickly Bighorn Canyon becomes an entirely different world, with towering walls of red and yellow colored cliffs that loom over the water on each side of the Bighorn Canyon. And the further up the canyon you go, the more and more dramatic the landscape becomes. Your jaw will begin to drop as you dive further and further into this surreal place. You are literally surrounded by 1,000 cliffs on both sides of this narrow lake for miles and miles.....It's really unbelievable!
A view of the Bighorn Canyon just upstream from Ok-A-Beh Marina. The further up the canyon you go, the taller the cliffs become...
The further you boat upstream from Ok-A-Beh Marina, the taller the cliffs become.
Into the Wilderness...
You are basically in a vast "wilderness" through the Bighorn Canyon, as there are no roads on either side of the canyon the entire way. The next boat landing and road is about 25 miles to the south of Ok-A-Beh Marina, at Barry's Landing in Wyoming, on the other end of the Bighorn Canyon. So essentially you are completely away from roads and other signs of civilization as you journey through this incredible canyon. It's truly a remarkable feeling!
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range
There are several historic ranches along the way and over 27 miles of hiking trails. You will more than likely also see wild horses as you pass through the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range along your journey up Bighorn Lake.
Nearly a quarter of this vast range is located within the boundary of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, and borders the west side of the lake for many miles. To learn all about the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, Click Here.
One quarter of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is within the boundary of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.As you boat through this amazing canyon, you'll be immersed in a different world, containing deep canyons, mountains, forests, high deserts, broad valleys, prairies and wetlands.
SOUTH DISTRICT (Wyoming)
Directions To South District (Lovell, Wyoming)
From Sheridan Wyoming, take Interstate 90 north for approximately 12 miles, then take a left off exit 9 for Greybull-Lovell/Ranchester-Dayton. From exit 9, take a left onto U.S. Highway 14 westward, following this road for about 33 miles. Then at the Burgess Junction, take a right at U.S. 14 West and take this road for 52 miles. You will see the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center on your left near the outskirts of Lovell Wyoming. Total distance from Sheridan Wyoming is 100 miles.
From Cody Wyoming, take U.S. Alt 14 East for approximately 44 miles, then take a right turn on U.S. 310. Head east for about 3 miles to Lovell Wyoming. After entering Lovell, keep going all the way through the town, and then take a left onto U.S. 14 East. You will see the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center in about 0.2 miles on your right. The Total distance from Cody Wyoming is 47 miles.
Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center, Wyoming
Just beyond the town of Lovell Wyoming on U.S. Highway 310 is the Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center. This marks the beginning of your adventures northward along Bighorn Lake and onward into the remote Bighorn Canyon area from the southern end of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. This visitor center is extremely informative and interesting...and it includes fascinating information on the bighorn sheep that live in this area.
Bighorn Sheep live in the Bighorn Canyon Area!
Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Boating Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Route 37 Access Road
Route 37 parallels the west side of Bighorn Canyon, and allows visitors to see glimpses of this amazing canyon without having to boat through the canyon.
This is the Devil Canyon Overlook along Route 37 in Montana.
Several miles beyond the visitor center on U.S. Highway 14A you will encounter the State Route 37 junction. This road takes visitors northward to several boat landings, historic ranches and campgrounds.
Route 37 is also the best road to access the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Wyoming and Montana. The first marina/campground/boat landing is at Horseshoe Bend, which is just beyond the Crooked Creek Ranger Station. As you take the road further northward you will see the Devil Canyon Overlook which provides an exceptional view of Bighorn Canyon and Bighorn Lake, and beyond the overlook further to the north is Barry's Landing. Barry's Landing marks the end of the road, and the beginning of the vast 25 mile roadless Montana section of the Bighorn Canyon. For boaters, the next boat landing and road is located over 20 miles to the north at Ok-A-Beh Marina in Montana near the Yellowtail Dam.
Horseshoe Bend Area: Where Your Wyoming Boating Adventure Begins
Horseshoe Bend Area, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Excellent Walleye Fishery
Walleye was once a rare species in these parts, but once the Bighorn Lake was created in the 1960s, walleye began to thrive, and today Bighorn Lake has become a mecca for walleye fishermen and women. There are many other species of fish found in this spectacular lake besides walleye, and is an extremely popular destination for fishing enthusiasts.
The Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area is a vast playground for boaters and non-boaters alike.
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a magical place...inviting you to come and explore!
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area