The Black Mountain Lookout hike in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains is right up at the top with other hikes we’ve done in the West—without the crowds!
The Bighorns in northcentral Wyoming are national forest lands, not national park. Far fewer people travel there compared to neighboring Yellowstone, Tetons, Glacier and the Black Hills.
That might have to do with PR and marketing. Or maybe the surrounding locals are fine with keeping their mountains more of a secret. I don’t know, but we’ve camped in the Bighorns twice now and loved our experience both times.
It was during our second trip there in 2019 that my son, nephew and I decided to tackle the Black Mountain Lookout hike.
Wow, are we glad we did!
What We Loved about the Black Mountain Lookout Hike
Black Mountain isn’t the highest peak in the Bighorns. There are several 11,000-13,000 footers further south in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. But this 9,500-foot summit has a 360º view, making it a prime location for spotting wildfires.
At its summit are the remains of an old fire tower, built in 1939-40 and retired sometime before the turn of the century.
(I read some information about the fire tower somewhere when we were out there, but unfortunately didn’t take a picture of it and now I can’t find anything else online.)
You don’t often find a hike this short with views this fabulous. If you park at the trailhead, it’s 4 miles round trip. If you have a 4-wheel drive and the snow is gone, you can drive up the first mile where there’s a small turn-around area to park, then hike the last mile up.
Short doesn’t mean easy, though. This trail is steep, especially the second half! But oh so rewarding.
The Panoramic Views from the Top
Most of the trail is in the woods, a forest of mostly lodgepole pine. It’s very open, so it’s easy to see among the trees. The best views start within a short distance of the summit.
Once you get to the open area at the top with its huge boulders and rock formations (super cool!) you’ll see the amazing vistas. Follow the rock “stairway” up and continue the trail all the way to the old Fire Tower and you can see for miles in every direction.
(You won’t be able to go onto the tower catwalk itself—it’s now padlocked off.)
Look towards the south for views of the Cloud Peak Wilderness—the snow-capped largest mountains in the Bighorns. You can see over the valley to the east, towards Dayton, Ranchester and Sheridan.
No Grizzly Bears
One of the big plusses of the Bighorns—no grizzlies. It just makes for a more relaxing hike when you don’t have those huge bruins in the back of your mind at all times.
There are still black bears, moose and mountain lions, though, so be aware of your surroundings. We didn’t see anything except birds and rodents on the hike.
I mentioned this already, but it’s worth having it’s own headline 🙂
We literally saw more moose than people on our 3-4 days in the Bighorns! Our campground was almost full that weekend, but since there were less than 20 sites, that’s not saying much.
I can’t remember if we saw any other people on this hike. If we did it was just a handful.
Log Outhouse at 9,450 Feet
It’s not the highest outhouse in America, but it’s certainly surprising to see an outhouse at the top of any mountain! A 2-seater, too:
I imagine it was installed many decades ago for the rangers when the fire tower was still in use. I didn’t look inside, but doubt they keep any TP in there, haha (bring your own if you want to use it!)
What to Know about Hiking Here
Changeable Mountain Weather
Like all mountain ranges, expect quickly-changing weather in the Bighorns. In mid-June the highs were in the 40s and 50s with lows in the upper 20s and mid-30s. Chilly! Our campground was at about 8,200 feet, which is about where this trail starts.
So be prepared for changeable weather. Bring lightweight down jackets, wool socks, sturdy waterproof footwear (for snow patches, little streams and run-off), rain jackets. Dress in layers.
Hiking in High Elevations
If you’re from the Midwest like we are, you’ll notice a big difference hiking at 8,000-9,000 feet. Shortness of breath at the very least. Some people get symptoms of altitude sickness like nausea, headaches and dizziness.
Drink plenty of water, take breaks. If you start getting confused or stumbling more than you should, sit down until you feel better. Then turn around and go back down.
I haven’t looked recently, but back in 2019 when I was looking for a good hike in the Bighorns there was very little info anywhere. Our first trip in 2017 was even worse. I literally could find nothing about hiking trails on the south end of the range (Highway 16).
Up further north (Highway 14), where Black Mountain is, there’s a bit more. I was able to find out about this hike, after all.
But it’s not a hiking destination, for the most part. Lots of fishing, camping, some backpacking down in the Cloud Peak area.
At least we couldn’t find what looked like an official trailhead!
I had sort-of directions from the online article I had read, so we knew we were on the right forest road. But we drove back and forth 2-3 times before we parked at what we thought was the trailhead.
There was a trail and it did lead us to Black Mountain Lookout, so I guess we did ok! But it could be more clear.
How to Get There
We either missed something in our directions or the directions weren’t that good, as we couldn’t find the start of the 4-wheel trail. There were still patches of snow on it anyways, so hiking the entire 4 miles was the way to go for us that June.
You’ll take Highway 14 and look for Forest Road 16 (there’s a sign for Black Mountain. Then head east on Forest Service Road 222 (I think that’s what we missed—but as there’s no cell signal up there, we couldn’t double check our GPS!).
(By the way, is it Bighorns or Big Horns? Read this short article from The Sheridan Press for the answer…)
When I First Started to Seriously Pray about the Weather
A bit of a fun testimony here. It was on this family trip in 2019 to the Bighorns that I first started to pray seriously about the weather.
We had been planning this for a few months. Nick (my husband) and I, plus Nick’s dad, our son and nephew (82, 20 and 15 at the time) were all going. We planned to meet our daughter and her husband in Sheridan during our stay—they were there for a family wedding on his side.
So we were on a schedule and were taking our pop-up camper, with the plan to stay in the Bighorns for three nights as part of this trip.
A few days before we were to leave home, there was snow and rain forecast for the entire weekend up there. We looked at other camping options at a lower elevation and even considered canceling.
In a camper in the snow and rain for three days? And likely cold?
But we stuck with our plans, partly because all of us, except Nick and his dad, were then going on to Glacier afterward. We wanted to do this trip so bad!
I started to pray: “Lord, please give us favor with the weather.” That’s it. Just “Lord, please give us favor with the weather” over and over, whenever I thought about it.
You know what? We ended up with very little rain and no snow! It was chilly—lows in the 30s, which isn’t uncommon for mountain camping in June. But we were able to be outside all day, slept warm and had a great time.
I continued praying that pray throughout the trip, as there was plenty of rain forecast in Glacier, too. It was really wonderful how the Lord was faithful to answer that prayer in unexpected ways.
At first, I was really uncomfortable with it. It seemed selfish. With all the problems in the world, why should the Lord pay attention to this small problem of mine?
But after that first answer in the Bighorns, He got my attention. I felt like He wanted me to ask. There are so many prayer lessons in the Bible that Jesus taught—persevere, don’t give up, keep at it, ask, seek, knock.
Just ask. So I did. And I do.
He doesn’t always answer the way I wish He would. I don’t “name it and claim it” or “speak to the wind.” I just ask…and thank Him for however He chooses to answer.
I’m SO grateful every time He answers with wonderful, beautiful weather for our outdoor adventures. Or even with no rain when there was 100% chance of rain (which has happened).
What It’s Really About
And it’s not about the weather, really. It’s about walking in intimacy with the Lord. Close enough in relationship to feel OK with asking Him for things that seem small in the grand scheme of things, but are big to us.
It’s also about releasing that thing into His hands once I’ve asked. It’s about walking in gratitude, contentment and flexibility even if He doesn’t answer how I would’ve liked.
It’s been a neat season for me in my prayer life that way. And, of course, it’s raised my faith level to ask for other things I ordinarily wouldn’t have.
I think that was the Lord’s plan all along.