SHERIDAN — When the weather is hot, locals take to the Bighorn Mountains to cool off. For those seeking solitude in the forest, the less-traveled trail doesn’t have to be hard to find.
The Bighorn National Forest has more than 200 trails covering hundreds of miles, but some are utilized more than others.
According to Sara Evans Kirol, Bighorn National Forest trail coordinator, hotspots for hiking enthusiasts have stayed fairly consistent over the past several years.
Trails off of the West Tensleep Trailhead tend to be among the most utilized trails in the forest. The Circle Park Trailhead on the Buffalo side of the forest also tends to see high foot traffic.
Kirol said more people are beginning to take on the 50-mile Solitude Loop Trail that cuts into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area.
However, the Little Horn Trail in the northern part of the forest near Greybull is a highly underutilized trail, according to Kirol. The trail follows the Little Bighorn Canyon and crosses Wagonbox Creek and Duncun Creek.
“A lot of people outside of the 50- and 100-mile (Bighorn Trail Run) don’t get to see the trail,” Kirol said. “It’s just really amazing country — it’s pretty remote.”
Another underutilized trail, Kirol said, includes the Walker Prairie Trail, located on the Sheridan side of the Bighorns.
Kirol said many trails don’t see a lot of hikers due to their remote access and rugged terrain.
“Sure, there are busy campsites, trailheads and fishing holes here and there, but all it takes is two feet and a heartbeat to get a few miles off the beaten track in order to claim a bit of the mountain for yourself,” said Shawn Parker, Sheridan Travel and Tourism executive director.
While the U.S. Forest Service does not keep hard numbers, officials are in the process of creating data counters to get a better idea of how many people are taking to certain trails.
“It will help us to get an idea of how many people (are using the trail) and what they are doing,” Kirol said.
Recording data would help the USFS make administrative decisions, including maintenance schedules.
The Bighorn National Forest has a four-person trail crew that conducts trail maintenance during the summer. Trails are put on a maintenance cycle based on usage and terrain.
As the summer hiking season heats up, Kirol reminded people to follow trail etiquette. This includes following Leave No Trace principles, checking for fire dangers, following advisories, being considerate of others and doing research before heading out on your summer adventure.