Camping on the Cloud Peak Skyway on US 16–Bighorn NF
In today’s post we’ll start up where I left off at my camp on the Medicine Wheel Scenic Byway. The next day I broke camp and headed off to explore the southern part of the Big Horn National Forest on US Route 16 through the Cloud Peak Wilderness. I stayed on US 14 and dropped off the plateau until I came to Interstate 90 and then turned south on it through typical high plains sagebrush country. Eventually I came to Sheridan, Wyoming where I stopped for lunch and gas and then continued on to Buffalo, Wyoming. There, I got off the Interstate and took US 16 and climbed up into the Bighorn National Forest on the Cloud Peak Skyway. I know my travels through the Bighorn National Forest are confusing, hopefully this map will make it clearer.
The climb was typical of most Rocky Mountain passes, although it struck me as being less steep than most and a little longer. At any rate, nearly any vehicle can comfortably climb it by gearing down and just crawling up it. Once on the top of the plateau it was very similar to the northern part of the Bighorns with a pretty forest and rolling hills.
The one big difference is US 16 passes right by the Cloud Peak Wilderness area, from which it got its name, the Cloud Peak Skyway. It’s a very pretty group of mountains that face nearly due east, and dominate the skyline for many miles around. Because they face due east, the best time to photograph them is first thing in the morning when the sun is hitting them on their face. It was getting late in the day so I decided to camp there for the night and the next morning take my photographs and then continue my journey.
I kept driving along the US 16 but the further I went the worse the view of the mountains were so when I came to a closed Forest Ranger station I stopped on the side of the road into it and let Cody out so he and I could go for a walk. I was lucky and a Ranger just happened to be going into the Station, so I flagged him down and told him my plans and asked where he would recommend dispersed camping so I got the best views of the mountains. I was doubly lucky because he was a very nice guy and loved talking about his Forest so he told me everything I could need to know!
He said that because it was mostly a Wilderness Area none of the roads got very close to the mountains but he told me the one that was the very best and would give me the best photos of the mountain was Forest Road 20, the Circle Park Road. He also told me about a little trail that went off the FR 20 and up a hill and had a fantastic view. When I asked about getting a Verizon cell signal he said it was spotty in this part of the Forest but the road he recommended just happened to have a decent signal. He warned me that it was a popular area so all the campsites might be taken. If they were, he said, I could just pull a little ways over into the grass and camp there for the night.
It was getting late so I headed over to FR 20 and he was right, it had a fantastic view of the mountains! It wasn’t a long road and nearly all the camping spots were taken. I got out my JetPack and Wilson Sleek so I could check for a signal while I drove and I did find a nice campsite with no one nearby but it only had a weak 3g signal so that wouldn’t do. I didn’t find any place with both an available campsite and a good signal so I did what the Ranger had suggested and found a spot with a good signal and pulled over into the grass about 20 feet and called that camp. Of course I parked so my doors open to a view of the mountains and boy, did I enjoy that!
That evening Cody and I walked down the road toward the mountains and took pictures and the next morning we were out early taking pictures again. It was a magical place that we both enjoyed a great deal! The road we were on dead ends at the trailhead of the primary hiking trail to the mountains and if I weren’t in such a rush I would have loved to have hiked part way back to them. My knees will no longer allow me to carry a heavy pack or go for very long hikes, but I could have gone 5 miles or so in hopes to find some better shots. But the mountains are so photogenic that I was happy with what I got.
After I was done shooting we broke camp and headed down off the mountain. We were traveling East to West on 16, so that put us going downhill on the TenSleep Canyon which is the climb up from the West into the Bighorns on 16. It is a very pretty canyon and well-designed because it never gets terribly steep. You are climbing for a long ways but they put in enough switchbacks to make it comfortable. I’m sure you’ll want to stop for some pictures here, I did!
In my next travel post I’ll pick up from there and tell you all about the next leg of my travels south through the Wind River Canyon and then up the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway through Dubois and then into the Grand Tetons NP.
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This is the ladder rack I have on my van and I’ve installed on 5 other vans. It’s only $80 right now! Pro-Series 500 lbs. Capacity Van Rack–Highly Recommended
Reflectix, 4 foot by 10 feet: indispensable in the winter! Reflectix 48-Inch by 10-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation
Weber Go-Anywhere Portable Gas Grill: I love this grill because it gives exceptional flavor to grilled foods. Weber Go-Anywhere Gas Grill
Xantrex 2000 watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter. Runs my microwave with no problem and at $368 is a great deal. I’ve been using it for 3 years now. Xantrex 2000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter