Bighorn Lake ~ The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area!
A few articles about western travel destinations that offer relief from the heat have been published in this website this summer. As anybody in the Desert Southwest knows, the only way to escape the extreme heat of summer is to head for the mountains or head north. Vacation destinations, like Utah, Colorado and Wyoming only take a day or two to get to from the Southwest. These western states offer plenty of wide open spaces and the summer time temperatures are comfortable.
Wyoming is a land of extremes. The western end of the state is laden with volcanic activity and geysers. The High Plains of South Central Wyoming stretch out forever and the land is as flat as a pancake. Summertime temperatures can be in the high 80ºs in the vast lush valleys of North Central Wyoming, while the high Bighorn Mountain elevations can see light snow as early as mid August.
There are many micro climate environments in the Bighorn National Forest Region. The Bighorn Mountains have towering peaks that are over two miles high and the temperatures are icy cold. The mile high lush mountain meadows and forests in the Bighorn offer comfortable daytime temperatures and chilly cold nights, even in late August. The western face of the Bighorn Mountains have a harsh barren high desert climate, while the eastern slopes of the mountains are lush and green. The low valley elevations surrounding the Bighorn are either dry high plains or lush farmland. There is even a large lake on the edge of the Bighorn National Forest that stretches out over 70 miles north into Montana. As one can see, the Bighorn National Forest is about as diverse as it gets.
Bighorn Lake is located on U.S. Highway 14A at the base of the northwestern edge of the Bighorn Mountains. The lake was formed by a dam about 70 miles north near Fort Smith, Montana. The Yellowtail Dam backed up the Bighorn River and filled most of the vast Bighorn Canyon. Parts of Bighorn Lake are wide enough to stretch out to the horizon, while other parts of the lake are only a few hundred feet wide where the steep canyon walls climb up to the sky.
The temperature of Bighorn Lake is at a peak in late summer, but the water is still cold enough to keep the swimming time short. Even so, all is not lost, because Bighorn Lake is a boater's paradise. There are plenty of boat launches around Bighorn Lake, but most are located on dirt roads. The fish are active during summer season and there are plenty of hidden coves in the Bighorn Canyon that offer great fly fishing. The wide part of the lake offers unobstructed water skiing territory and plenty of room for house boats. Taking a week vacation on a house boat on this lake somewhere in the long Bighorn Canyon is just about the ultimate way to get some peace and quiet, because relatively few people visit this National Recreation Area even on a holiday weekend.
If camping or boating on a lake in a vast wilderness area that offers relatively cool summer temperatures sounds like a good idea, then Bighorn Lake belongs on the lifetime travel destination bucket list! In places like the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, visitors are pretty much on their own and it can be many hours or even days before help arrives. So by all means, carefully go over the camping or boating gear checklist before setting off for Bighorn Lake, because the closest big town is quite a ways on down the road.