SHERIDAN — When it comes to camping, there’s adventure awaiting everyone.
Whether you plan to stay in a campground with all the amenities, in a camper or tent on a dispersed campsite, or if you’re backpacking in to the Cloud Peak Wilderness, the perfect site is out there. Your first step to the perfect summer adventure will be to find it — and it’s likely you’ll find it somewhere in the 1.1 million acres of national forest land in the Bighorn Mountains. The Bighorns boast multiple reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, four group campgrounds, three scenic byways, 10 picnic areas, eight lodges, many miles of streams, 189,000 acres of Wilderness and 1,200 miles of trails.
“If you don’t know where to look, contact someone with the right knowledge, and they will help point you in the right direction,” said Nick Flores, owner of Bighorn Mountain Guides, whose guides are permitted to lead various climbing, hiking, and mountaineering expeditions within the Bighorn Mountains.
Bighorn National Forest Recreation Staff Officer Dave McKee said that the benefits of camping in a campground primarily include the amenities, like restrooms, trash dumping and the ability to plan with certainty.
“When you reserve the site prior to arriving, you know you will have your site and where it is, so you would not have to worry about contingencies,” McKee said.
Campground sites in the Bighorns must be reserved in advance and cost around $20 per night. There are campground regulations in places designed to preserve the experience for others, including quiet hours after 10 p.m. and a rule requiring all dogs on leashes within the campgrounds.
When it comes to dispersed camping, people may find a favorite spot to return to, or enjoy a secluded area that offers a wilderness feel.
“Even in a dispersed campsite, you should be considerate of your neighbors, because they may be relatively close if not in the immediate vicinity,” McKee said. “You want to practice safety with your campfire, and not leave it unattended, and you want to make sure you maintain a clean campground with all your food and all your drinks contained.”
Users do not have to pay for dispersed camping, though they will need to bring their own water and haul out their trash, McKee said.
“We try to provide a different range of experiences, from the most solitude in the wilderness with the least human intervention, to campgrounds with amenities and everything in between,” McKee said. “I myself have gone from backpacking with only a small tent to a bigger tent, to an even bigger tent with room for a cot as I’ve gotten older. We want to provide a unique experience for all the different users.”
Flores said he considers each individual client’s needs when planning his guided trips.
“If a group has a lot of kids, they might want a site at a campground with all the amenities like access to a bathroom and water,” Flores said. “That group would go up with us for a day adventure, for example.
“But there are a lot of people, especially climbers, that want the free dispersed camping, which is usually in a little bit more of a remote setting where you can do your own thing. If you’re doing backcountry stuff, you don’t have to worry about seeing other people,” Flores said.
He also said, though, that when backpacking or using dispersed campsites, users must be prepared. Campers should be familiar with the fire regulations, have enough water and must be ready for an adventure—which could include packing out your own waste, but, for some, it’s worth it.
“I absolutely love dispersed camping. I’m originally from Minnesota, and we didn’t have a lot of public lands at all. The only way we could camp was if we were in a campground. When I found out about dispersed camping, going out and finding your own campsite and backpacking in … there is something about the solitude of having your own campground that is true beauty to me.”
There are benefits to the campgrounds, of course, especially for new users and tourists, he added.
“We want all people to enjoy the forest, and we try to design the sort of trip to meet each individual’s needs,” Flores said.
And while he appreciates repeat customers, he wants everyone to learn something each and every trip.
“Ultimately, my goal is to give people the skill set to go out and find these adventures on their own,” he said.