WY: Bighorn National Forest
"Some of the most fun gravel biking I have ever done. You just can't beat the scenery, and the quality and quantity of the roads." ~ Kurt.
"Climbing a mountain on a gravel bike at 49 that it is up to ME to get up ~ it is all incredibly humbling, incredibly empowering, and incredibly inspiring. And incredibly ME. I loved it here." ~ DeAnn
If you enjoy camping, hiking, gravel biking, fly fishing, seeing abundant wildlife, and being off-the-grid ~ Bighorn National Forest is your paradise (as it was for us). This was our first time to the Bighorns and we will definitely be going back.
Our first impressions: Bighorn National Forest is a very healthy ecosystem. Lush, green, healthy trees, green meadows, clear rivers, an abundance of animals. Healthy everything. This was THE perfect place to unwind from a stressful pandemic Spring and Summer and easily live socially distanced as part of nature.
- Day 1: Minneapolis to Blue Mound State Park Campground [Scouting Notes here].
- Day 2: Blue Mound State Park to Keyhole State Park Campground, WY [Scouting Notes here].
- Day 3 - 6: Bighorn National Forest. Tie Flume Campground.
- Day 7: Bighorn National Forest to Black Hills Off-The-Grid Campground (also called Boondocking), SD [Scouting Notes here]
- Day 8: Black Hills, SD to Minneapolis
Scouting Notes Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming:
- Travel time: We split our trip into 3 legs on the way out with one longer day in the middle of two half days. On the way home we split the trip into 2 legs, the second day being the longer day. Use Google to map your route, and know that if you are hauling a camper, your trip will take longer than Google optimistically estimates (because you will not be driving 80mph).
- Wildlife: During our stay we saw so much wildlife. Mule Deer, White Tail Deer, Marmots, Multiple Moose, Brook Trout. We did not see Elk, Big Horn Sheep, or Black Bears ~ but they are there.
The abundance of wildlife, the scary-if-you-encounter-it kind, became abundantly clear on our first morning as we were walking our dogs and saw a bull moose galloping out of the woods 30 feet from us. We looked at the moose, the moose looked RIGHT at us as our heartbeats grew faster (and thankfully the dogs did not bark) with no place to go for cover.
This picture of 'the' moose (one of many we saw during our visit) was taken NOT when we encountered it, but when we saw it later from our car and took the picture out of our car window with a zoom lens. Never approach wildlife, especially to take a picture.
We quickly leashed the dogs (we rarely let our dogs off leash, and this was a good reminder why we shouldn't. DO NOT let your dogs off leash in BHNF!). Then we slowly backed away making sure we were not threatening and gave the moose a clear exit path. Thankfully the moose kept galloping across the road to continue to its feeding spot in the meadow (we saw it there other days during our visit), giving us safe clearance to eventually turn back and return to the campground. PHEW!!! On our way home when we had signal again, we looked up moose safety tips (read them if you go)!
About an hour later on this climb above Tie Flume Campground (notes below), Kurt spooked a bear after we turned onto one of the side roads. Luckily we never saw it and only heard it grunting. Enough to make us turn back and keep climbing.
Map from the reservations site (here).
Tie Flume Campground:
Beautifully situated along the South Tongue River, this campground is scenic and ideally located for multiple activities: for us, fly fishing and biking, even yoga (while your spouse is fishing!). Most importantly, there is endless gravel biking starting right out our camper door.
Our preferred loop is Loop B (there are two loops). Loop B has trees, but is sunnier than Loop A. We stayed in two sites during our stay and Site 18 was definitely our favorite of the two with direct access to the South Tongue River behind our site.
We would recommend 18, 22-26; all on the outer edge of Loop B on the River Side.
Site 23 Yoga (tent) pad with a view!
Site 23 has a GREAT tent pad with a view that would work wonderfully as a place to do yoga for us, but it is a bit close to Site 24. Site 18 had a nice distance between nearby sites. Site 26 might look close to the road in pictures, but the road is a quiet gravel road with very little traffic. *Note: Not all campsites have tent pads.
Avoid Sites 16 & 17.
Site 16's views LOOK great, but in reality that is a bog back there that can be buggy and exceedingly wet when it rains (and it does rain here!).
After a big rain, our neighbors in Site 17 were essentially tent camping on a lake and had a moat around their site ~ definitely the worst site in the campground.
Additional Campground Info:
- Reservations recommended.
- Firewood available at host campsite (entrance to Loop B). $6 for a bundle on our visit (bring cash to tuck in the honor system bucket).
- AWESOME quality, cold and good tasting well water.
- Cell Signal? No. We love being off-the-grid, so consider this a bonus. If you need cell coverage, you will have to wait until your way back down to Sheridan (almost to Dayton).
- Vault Toilets are kept clean and in good condition (thanks to Victor & Kathy our awesome hosts who are taking a year off to travel with their young children).
- Bear proof garbage receptacles.
Dump Station: Located at Burgess Junction, a few miles from Tie Flume and conveniently located on the way back towards Sheridan on our way home. The biggest Dump Station we have ever seen - 4 pull throughs! So glad this was there as we ran off-the-grid for our 4 day stay and our grey/black water was full from after gravel ride showers, etc.
Skeeter Rating: 0-1 Star!!
We did see mosquitos here, mostly at our first campsite (16), but they are wimpy compared to MN mosquitos - smaller with less inclination to bite. We did not see many and were happy to spend time outdoors (even D doing yoga by the river at dusk had no mosquito issues).
We cycled three of the four days we were at Tie Flume and barely scratched the surface of all the gravel and forest service roads in this area. This is a gravel cyclist's dream!
As you are in the mountains, there is a fare amount of climbing, but none of it is crazy steep or too difficult, especially with the right gearing on your bicycle.
The scenery along the roads has amazing views of streams, meadows, valleys, mountains, and wildlife that will keep you distracted from any huffing and puffing you are doing from the elevation (8400 ft starting at Tie Flume), or muscles screaming from the ride. [*Note: Due to high elevations, take it easy, especially on that first ride. Over exertion can lead to altitude sickness if you are not careful, if you need to stop and catch your breath - do it!].
Route Planning: Look at Wyoming ORV or National Forest Maps for the area. [*Note: ORV riding is hugely popular here, but we never found it intrusive and everyone we encountered was friendly and respectful - smile and wave as an ORV approaches.
Route 1: Tie Flume up 16 on Black Mountain
This was a climb route at altitude, no doubt about it. D had to stop a couple of times on the way up to catch her breath. Don't race on this route, just settle in at an achievable climb pace.
We stopped at the top of the climb where it looked like we would be going back down (and then up again) if we kept going. After we turned around to head back to Tie Flume, we barely pedaled - this is downhill all the way back.
Beautiful stream views on the bottom part of the climb.
The only thing we saw on this ride was one ORV rider. The only thing we heard on this ride was possibly a bear (see wildlife notes above).
Route 2: Tie Flume past Dead Swede on Primary Forest Road 26 to 9000 ft
*Favorite Route We loved riding this road, so did it two days in a row.
This is a climb that we rode up to 9000 ft on the first day. It is less of a direct climb than Route 1. More rolling hills while you climb - which makes it seem easier until you hit that last punchy climb to the Splash Dam.
Route 2 Day 1 ride:
Gravel Biking break at the Splash Dam
The Splash Dam
What hitting 9000 ft with your own cycle power looks like!
Keep going around the switch back after the Splash Dam to hit a satisfying 9000 ft on your ride and a downward roll all the way back to Tie Flume!
Route 2 Day 2 ride:
This was a little spur we took down to a 'casual camp' area off the main road.
This was our last day riding and we just nipped it in between rain storms. We road at a more casual pace and took a couple of short detours and basically stopped to smell the 'roses' on this ride.
Although the clouds looked very threatening ~ a reminder to tuck that rain coat into your Gräventyr Bar Bag and in the mountains pay attention to the weather (it changes fast!), we had a GREAT ride and never got rained on. Luckily the sun did pop out towards the end and it did not rain until right when we got back to our site.
Cycling Tips for Bighorn National Forest (and similar mountain areas elsewhere):
- Bring it
- Know how to use it
- Hopefully you will not have to use it
There are thankfully not Grizzly Bears in Bighorn National Forest, but there are Black Bears. Be Bear Aware.
We are long-time users of Spurcycle Bells for our city rides. But it was not until we went on this trip that we realized how great these bells work as bear bells! We were constantly ringing our bells on our rides in Bighorn and whether it worked or not could be debated ~ but we never saw a bear.
Weather can change fast at altitude. It can be hot/cold/ sunny/rainy/hailing all in the space of five minutes. Pack a vest and/or light cycling specific rain jacket in your Gräventyr Bar Bag. Be sure to bring warmers (arm and leg), neck gators, full finger gloves, for cool days and leave all that behind when the sun is out. 68 in the sun at elevation is a whole different ball game than 68 at home.
Things to Do Places to Eat:
Well, you are in a remote wilderness area here, we have pretty much told you about the things to do. ENJOY being disconnected! That said, we would recommend fly fishing if you are so inclined and if you have the time, an afternoon outing down to Shell (Population 84), especially if it is a rainy day (as it was for us).
The South Tongue River that runs by Tie Flume Campground has a good number of small Brook Trout. There are not trophies in the upper river, but the fishing is fun and challenging, and the scenery is amazing. ~ Kurt
- 3 or 4 wight rod.
- Selection of Western wet and dry flies.
- #18 Blak Tenkara wet fly used as a dropper below a PMD (Pale Morning Dun).
The scenery from Tie Flume Campground to Shell changes drastically and is a beautiful drive. Midway down there is a visitor center (closed during our visit during the pandemic) at Shell Falls (which is open).
The Old Shell Store has just opened Spring 2020.
As far as eating ~ there is nowhere to go that we can recommend because we didn't eat out anywhere. We pre-make all of our food for a week off-the-grid. (More to come in an upcoming blog post about planning, meal prep and what we eat for a week off-the-grid).
äventyr gear used:
- Gräventyr Bar Bag in Olive (D) and Smoke prototype (Kurt)
- Seat Rollio in Olive (D) and Smoke (Kurt)
- äventyr Custom Purist Water Bottles
- äventyr custom Borah Teamwear Socks
- Kurt's custom äventyr Borah Teamwear Jersey.
Covid-19 Travel Notes:
We travelled June 20-27, 2020. Some things we did to prepare, and during our travel were helpful in avoiding covid issues during our trip, but this is no guarantee that anyone can avoid covid-19, this was merely our experience.
- HAND SANITIZER!: Bring it. Use it ~ A LOT. It is hard to wash hands during travel. We had bottles of this (peppermint) and this (both smell SO good and are not drying).
- Bathroom Breaks: We brought and used exclusively our own bathroom, including while traveling to destinations. We are lucky to have a toilet in our camper and were aware of dumpstations to use during our trip.
- Visitor Centers/Rest Stops: Not all visitor centers/rest stops are open. Be prepared! The ones that are open are busy. The only rest stop I went in (to get a sticker because we were here last year) was the NE Wyoming Visitor Center which was well marked for social distancing, and the staff I talked to was wearing a face mask (thank you!).
- Gas Stations: We found it a mixed bag if gas stations had plastic mits/gloves to pump gas with. South Dakota not so much, Wyoming more so. Holiday Stations on average have been providing these. One gas station in SD had a bucket with a sponge and bleach at the pump - huh? Not all gas stations have paper towels. Be prepared if pumping gas during the pandemic makes you nervous.
- Face Masks? Are people using them? We were pleasantly surprised, especially in Wyoming that most gas station employees were wearing masks, as were people at small places (like the Old Shell Store we referenced above). Like anywhere, it was a mixed bag - but overall we were pleasantly surprised with the people of Wyoming. We stopped in a grocery store in Gillette that all the isles were one-way.
- We bring our own Face Coverings, keep them on our dashboard for easy access, and use them out of respect to others if we went inside a location (yes, even at gas stations. especially at gas stations.).
- Crowds? We would advise in general avoiding crowded rest stops, busy gas stations, and the worst - The Badlands National Park (parking lots were FULL of people crawling everywhere and long restroom lines), luckily we were just driving through. Pick a location with less attractions and less people where physical distancing is easier.
- Camping during a pandemic. It was EASY for us to physical distance when we camped as that is how it normally is. We did avoid using campground restrooms, showered in our camper, and used hand sanitizer after touching garbage disposal areas and pumping/obtaining water. We always wear gloves at dump stations because ~ dump station obviousness.
This is part of our Bighorn National Forest Scouting Notes. For additional places we stayed, go to: