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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area: Top Things To Do In Montana

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 Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Includes Yellowtail Dam, Bighorn Lake and Bighorn River
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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area



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Bighorn Canyon
National Recreation Area
Includes Yellowtail Dam, Bighorn Lake and Bighorn River
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The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area straddles the Montana-Wyoming border in southeast Montana.  Two thirds of the area is located in Montana, and the southern third is found in Wyoming.  This
Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area, Montanamagnificent 120,000 national acre recreation area encompasses the 71 mile long Bighorn Lake, which was created by the damming of the Bighorn River with the Yellowtail Dam in the 1960s.  

55 miles of Bighorn Lake is within the spectacular Bighorn Canyon, which is well known for its towering 1,000 foot red and yellow cliffs on each side of this narrow canyon. These huge walls create a very dramatic landscape that is absolutely stunning and is the hallmark of this amazing national recreation area. From above, Bighorn Lake looks like a twisting ribbon as it flows through these towering cliffs....

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
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.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area was established in 1966, which followed the construction of the Yellowtail Dam by the Bureau of Reclamation.  Named after Robert Yellowtail, a famous Crow chairman, this dam created a vast playground for outdoor enthusiasts. One third of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is within the Crow Indian Reservation, and about 25% of the legendary Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is located within the boundary of the recreation area.

Yellowtail Dam
Yellowtail Dam, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, MontanaYellowtail Dam crosses the Bighorn River in south central Montana, southeast of Billings, Montana, to create the massive Bighorn Lake and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  

Completed in 1967, the Yellowtail Dam was initially constructed for irrigation purposes and to generate hydroelectric power, but it also created one of premier recreation areas in the west.  

Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Yellowtail Dam is 525 feet high and 1,480 feet wide, and contains over 1,500,000 cubic yards of concrete and other materials. Bighorn Lake, which was created by Yellowtail Dam, has the capacity of holding over 1,380,000 acre feet of water.  This massive lake covers 17,300 acres, and extends 71 miles upstream. The Yellowtail Dam has four huge turbines that generate over 510 million KWh annually.



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Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, Montana
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, MontanaTo get to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area from the Montana side, from Billings Montana, take Interstate 90 for about 41 miles east until you reach Hardin, Montana.

Take the Hardin exit onto State Highway 313. Stay on 313 for 41 miles, all the way to the Yellowtail Dam, which is located just beyond Fort Smith and essentially marks the beginning the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area.  Here you will find the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center.  This visitor center is located at the dam itself, and is very much worth taking the time to not only see the amazing view from the dam, but to also learn about the fascinating history of the dam and recreation area. 

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.

Bighorn River:
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, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
Ok-A-Beh Marina near the Yellowtail Dam on Bighorn Lake.

Just beyond the Yellowtail Dam and Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center is Ok-A-
Beh Marina.  This is where your boating adventure begins.  This extremely nice marina, boat dock and boat landing is where all boats enter the Bighorn Canyon from the north.  Boaters enter Bighorn Lake here, and they quickly find themselves in a completely different world as they get deeper and deeper into the Bighorn Canyon to the south.  There are several campgrounds along the canyon shores, but can only accessed via water and are "boat-in" only. Black Canyon Campground is but one of our personal favorite places to camp while we are boating in this amazing 55 mile long canyon.

OK-A-Beh Marina, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area    Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
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.

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!

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
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...

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Montana
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
Pyor Mountain Wild Horse RangeAs 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.  

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.

Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
One quarter of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is within the boundary of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.


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.

Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area    Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Bighorn Sheep, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Bighorn Sheep live in the Bighorn Canyon Area!

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Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Boating Map of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

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Route 37 Access Road
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
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.

Devil Canyon, Bighorn Canyon Recreation AreaSeveral 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 Recreation Area
Horseshoe Bend Area, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Tour boat Belle, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area    Canoers, 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.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
The Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area is a vast playground for boaters and non-boaters alike.

Sunset, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a magical place...inviting you to come and explore!


Things To Do In Montana:
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Map of Montana, Top Things To Do In Montana



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