Thousands of visitors annually enjoy the diverse trail opportunities on the Bighorn National Forest. But how many of those visitors think about why the trail was put in that particular location? How many are amazed by the precise rock work hidden just over the edge? How often do visitors think of earlier peoples who may have traveled this very same trail in the past?
Archaeological evidence shows human occupation of the Bighorn Mountains going back around 10,000 years.
Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies annually moved from the lower elevations and back down following food sources such as elk, deer and bison. The mountain was a resource for stone tools, edible plants and spiritual pursuits.
These people accessed the high country through openings in the natural topography such as canyons, gentle slopes and ridgelines.
Historic accounts record the arrival of European-Americans to the area around 1802, primarily looking to participate in the fur trade. As the decades passed, the Bighorn Mountains saw the arrival of gold prospectors, the military and the livestock and timber industries.
Trails that had long been established by Native Americans to access the high country were now the logical route to drive stock, look for timber and access mining or logging communities.
During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps improved portions of the existing Tongue River Canyon trail by constructing a bridge and rock retaining walls. The keen observer can still see their handiwork expertly holding up against the passage of time.
Officially, the Little Horn Trail was not constructed until the early 1920s (Sheridan Post, March 25, 1925). However, it is thought to have been used by people leaving after their victory at the Battle of the Little Horn.
It was later used as a mail delivery route during the gold mining operations at Bald Mountain City from 1891-1892.
Later, it was heavily used as a cattle drive to reach the high summer meadows by local ranchers.
To this day, it is annually used to move cattle up and down the mountain and is popular hiking, mountain biking, and running trail.
The Wolf Creek trail was constructed in 1911 (Sheridan Post, July 2, 1912) and may have been used to trail cattle up the mountain. It is probably best known to dudes riding in the Bighorn National Forest to hunt, fish and picnic from one of the early dude ranches beginning around 1904. The trail is also well-used by horseback riders, hunters, and hikers from local communities.
The Bighorn National Forest’s unique composition of open grasslands and forested plant communities, abundant wildlife and breath-taking scenery offer a variety of trail experiences to forest visitors. The next time you’re out on the trail take time to notice the handiwork of those who have gone before you. For trail information please contact the Sheridan Forest Service Office at 307-674-2600 or see our website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/bighorn/home.
Sara Evans Kirol is the acting Bighorn National Forest public affairs specialist.