Wyoming definitely is a land of extremes. The western end of the state is laden with tall mountains, volcanic activity and geysers. The grassy High Plains of Wyoming stretch out forever and this region is as flat as a pancake. The Bighorn National Forest is a mountainous island in the vast High Plains, which is truly unique. The southeastern end of the state is an arid high desert region that is full of picturesque rock outcrops and tall buttes. Summertime temperatures in this state can be comfortable in the the 70ºF to 80ºF range, while the winters are guaranteed to be brutally cold and windy. There can be blizzard conditions as early as mid August high up in the Bighorn, while visitors in the low elevations are bass fishing in Bighorn Lake at the same time. As can be imagined, an outdoor adventure in Wyoming does require careful planning, because there are many unique environmental conditions to consider on just about any given day of the year.
The Bighorn Mountains have towering peaks that are over two miles high. The western face of the Bighorn Mountains are in a barren high desert environment, while the eastern slopes of the mountains are lush and green. The west side of this mountain range is where Bighorn Lake is located, so this lake looks nothing like the picturesque lakes in the lush green setting of Yellowstone National Park. The arid western Bighorn Canyon environment is comfortable during the summer season, yet when winter rolls around, this recreation area is one of the most desolate unforgiving places on earth.
Bighorn Lake is located on U.S. Highway 14A at the base of the northwestern edge of the Bighorn Mountains. This lake was formed by a dam located about 70 miles north near Fort Smith, Montana, so this is quite a big recreation area to explore! The Yellowtail Dam backed up the Bighorn River and filled the long Bighorn Canyon, which is now part of Bighorn Lake. The southern end of Bighorn Lake near Highway 14A is wide enough to stretch out to the horizon, while parts of the northern end of this lake are only a few hundred feet wide where the steep canyon walls climb up to the sky.
The water temperature of Bighorn Lake peaks in late summer, but the water is still cold enough to limit the swimming time to a short splash. Even so, all is not lost, because Bighorn Lake absolutely is a boater's paradise! There are plenty of boat launches around Bighorn Lake near Highway 14A. The fish are active during the summer season and there are plenty of hidden coves in the Bighorn Canyon that offer great fly fishing opportunities. The navigable deepwater sections of this the lake offer unobstructed water skiing and there is plenty of room for big house boats. Taking a week long vacation on a house boat in the desolate Bighorn Canyon section of Bighorn Lake is the ultimate escape for those who seek some peace and quiet, because relatively few tourists visit this National Recreation Area even on a busy holiday weekend.
Camping or boating at Bighorn Lake does offer a chance to escape to a place that has cool summer temperatures along with plenty of elbow room. As a reminder, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a very remote destination, especially going north from the lake into the canyon section. Visitors are expected to be self reliant, because if the unexpected occurs, it can be many hours or even days before help arrives. For this reason, it pays to carefully go over the camping or boating gear checklist before setting sail and be sure to pack some winter gear because the nights can be icy cold. Bighorn Lake is the easiest part of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area to access, so this is the best spot to start a venture!
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