Wyoming Trip 2021 | Days 4 & 5 | Bighorn National Forest | Park Reservoir | Hiking Black Mountain
The day after our big hike, we allowed ourselves to sleep in and take it easy. This felt like such a treat because whenever we camp, we usually have the next day planned out and we want to be up and on the road or trail as early as we can. When we felt well rested, we started to plan out the next few days of this trip. While we had absolutely loved our hike in the Cloud Peak wilderness, we saw that our options in this area were to either go for very short walks that would not yield any views like what we had seen the day before, or we would have to hike at least 12 miles (or more) to reach other lakes. Backpacking for a night or two was also a consideration, but we ultimately decided we were satisfied with our time here for now — next time we return to the Cloud Peak wilderness, we’ll definitely come ready to backpack!
We decided to move up to the North side of the Bighorn Mountains because we knew of several shorter hikes we could do, letterboxes Curtis could find, and drive-by attractions to visit along the way. We packed up our tent and said goodbye to our campsite — this one was definitely a good find, we had plenty of space and there were no other campers in sight. We didn’t see any wildlife, but we heard coyotes and possibly moose in the distance at night. We drove back to US-16 and continued heading further West.
As we drove, we noticed that the air seemed much more hazy than the previous two days. This was from the Crater Ridge fire in the Northern end of the Bighorns, near the Wyoming/Montana border. Thankfully the fire wouldn’t affect our plans, and we learned from a ranger that the fire was mostly contained and was being allowed to burn an area that needed it.
We drove to Worland, and made a stop here to see Wyoming’s Whispering Giant statue where US-16 and US-20 intersected, also conveniently in front of the county courthouse. Curtis was also able to find the letterbox (it’s always fun to look through the logbook and see that we happen to know most of the other finders) and Charlotte squeezed in a short nap in the grass. We decided to grab some Taco Johns on our way out of town, and knew it was meant to be when they had a special on our go-to order, the six pack and a pound. We were now fueled and ready to continue our adventure.
We took US-20 North to Greybull (stopping for the courthouse in Basin) and then went East on US-14, retracing our drive from just over a month prior when we drove across Wyoming with my parents. We stopped at the Shell Creek Falls scenic lookout, and enjoyed the waterfall and watching the raw power of the water rushing through the small canyon. However, this spot was busier than we expected, and we started to wonder if finding a campsite for the night could be an issue.
Since this was a “lazy day” and we weren’t wanting to make Charlotte walk too much, we decided to go find a campsite in the national forest. We saw there were several campsites down one forest road, and that there was also a reservoir a ways South where we could kayak. We began driving, passing some campgrounds that had open sites. We hoped to be closer to the reservoir than these, so we kept going.
We continued driving for about 30 miles, which took an hour on the gravel forest roads. We finally reached the reservoir, and started looking for a dispersed campsite on the North side of the lake. Right away, we found this area to be packed with RVs, most probably staying long term, and were rather disappointed. We didn’t drive all this way to be sandwiched between RVs and listen to generators all night! Instead, we started driving South along the reservoir. The road started to become more rough, but shortly after we found another dispersed camping area that was more remote and had no one else in sight. We parked and pitched our tent in a site that stood high above the reservoir with a view over the water, and also with a nearby trail that we could take to go down to the water’s edge and put in our kayak. It was quite literally the most perfect campsite. We joked about how we paid $30 to camp in Ohio last month, only to be sandwiched between RVs and have our site turn into a flowing creek because of rain in the night, and now here we had this beautiful spot all to ourselves for free.
We went for a short walk along the water with Charlotte, then went for a paddle around the reservoir. Even with the haze, the mountain views were beautiful and the setting was so serene.
Back at the campsite, we made soup for dinner, then sat on the edge of our little cliff, and Curtis read while I journaled. I took some pictures of the hazy sunset, then started to go get settled into the tent when Curtis called to me. I walked back over to him and saw a moose in the distance, wading in the water! Even from a distance, she looked so big, and we were thankful to have so much space between us and her. I commented on how fun it’d be to see her swim across the reservoir, and shortly after she started to do just that! We couldn’t believe how fast she was going either — I definitely wouldn’t want to be in our little kayak in the water in this scenario. She swam across in no time at all, and then we watched as she got out, shook herself off, climbed up the hill and disappeared into the trees. Now we were convinced this was the perfect campsite — it even gave us a private showing of a moose! We settled in to our tent and slept very soundly that night.
As ideal as the site was though, it was still an hour’s drive even from the highway, and we didn’t want to spend hours driving back and forth for the next couple days. So the next morning, we packed up and left this site for the next lucky people to enjoy. We drove an hour back up the long gravel road, then made our way to a trailhead for our hike. Today’s hike would be up Black Mountain, a 9,500 foot peak with a lookout tower at the top. Curtis had actually saved the clues for a letterbox here 4 years ago thinking that we’d drive through this area during our Moving to Hawaii road trip, but we ended up going North through Montana instead. I guess you could say that this random hike was a long time coming for us!
We started driving up the forest road to the trailhead, but found it to be narrow, rutted, and having giant puddles along the way. We made it as far as we felt comfortable, then parked in a pull out and began walking the rest of the way to the trailhead. This added just under a mile to our hike each way — but in the end, we realized that the mileage we had for this hike was about 5 miles round trip and that was starting at the base of this forest road before it became more rough, so our hike was actually shorter than we expected. The forest road had a nice gradual elevation gain and was mostly in the shade, and in no time we were at the trailhead and ready to continue hiking up to the peak.
The trail gained consistent elevation the whole way up, but the trail was in great condition making the hike enjoyable. I found myself out of breath several times but seeing Charlotte hike up like it was nothing was the motivation I needed to keep going. In the 2 miles from our car to the peak, we gained 1300 feet of elevation (most of that being in the second mile).
Once we came out of the forest near the top, we saw the bald summit standing high above us. This part was rockier, and we had to make our way up a more narrow trail over giant boulders to reach the lookout tower. Charlotte did just fine climbing up most of the way, but as soon as she was in the final stretch only a few yards away from the tower, she turned around and tried to bolt in the opposite direction. We’re not sure if she was afraid of something, but we sat down with her on the rocks just before the tower and encouraged her to relax. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t great because of the haze in the air, but thankfully it didn’t smell like smoke and air quality seemed fine.
After Curtis was finished logging in to the letterbox, we gave in to Charlotte’s wishes to get off the summit and returned to a nice patch of grass in the shade for her to lie in. We allowed her to take a short nap while we enjoyed the breeze and the feeling of accomplishment. We were the only ones at the peak for the whole time we were up there. Just as we were about to leave, another family arrived at the top and Char did her best to solicit belly rubs from other hikers as we were passing by.
The hike down went by quickly, and soon we were back at our car. It was only around noon, but since this trip was more about relaxing and enjoying ourselves than doing the most, we decided to go find a campsite for the next two nights. We drove by some dispersed camping areas along the forest road, but none of them felt right. We ended up driving to Sibley Lake Campground, and ended up finding a spot that “felt right.” While the campground took reservations, the spot we found was first come-first served only because it couldn’t support an RV. It had a longer lane to get back to it, and it was more removed from every other site in the campground. The camp host agreed with us that it was the best site in the lot, so we happily paid for two nights. This would allow us to have a home base so we could continue exploring this area the next day.
The site was right on a lake, but it was quite busy with other people in boats, on paddle boards, and fishing from the side, so we stayed at our campsite for the rest of the afternoon and played games. We attempted to take an evening walk around the lake, but the area was still busy and Charlotte didn’t seem into that idea so we just wandered around wherever she wanted until it was time for dinner. The campground quieted down as the sun set, and we settled in for a quiet night here.