Arch 2 Arch: Day Seven – Northern Wyoming

The night hadn’t been as cold as we had anticipated, and that worked in our favor as we performed our morning ritual of packing up the car. Breaking camp was easy. The light rain we had received the prior evening had dried up, so we didn’t have to stuff wet tents and gear. We had a long day ahead of us. The mileage wasn’t too bad, but the two-lane mountain roads would slow us considerably. With a final farewell to our last Yellowstone campsite, we hit the road and began our journey across northern Wyoming.

Canyon Village, Wyoming to Devils Tower, Wyoming = 404 miles

The first step was getting out of the park. We were slowed significantly as we drove through the Yellowstone valley by a large herd of bison walking across – and stopping in the middle of – the road. Traffic was backed up, but the wait wasn’t too long. This proved to be the last of our authentic Yellowstone experience. Once we got back to Fishing Bridge, we hung a left and headed out the park’s east entrance.


Our last Yellowstone bison

One thing I didn’t expect as we left was that the drive from Yellowstone Lake up to Sylvan Pass would gain almost 1,000 feet. Then the road dropped 1,500 feet before we reached the East entrance of the park. Once out of the park, U.S. 20 continues to lose elevation all the way to the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

Of the entire trip, this section of highway was one of my favorites. The road follows the North Fork of the Shoshoni River. The Absaroka mountains tower over the road; many of which already had a good dusting of snow. The long drive ahead (and ominous-looking clouds) prevented us from getting out and moseying around a bit. Just a beautiful place, and I felt it was much more scenic than the west entrance to the park.


Stampede Park in Cody, Wyoming

We stopped for gas and food in Cody. I made a quick announced stop in the Cody Rodeo parking lot, where I had once chased a greased pig as a boy. I needed a photo of the place to keep that memory fresh.

We also needed to strategize here. In about seventy miles, we would find ourselves at the base of the Bighorn mountains. They stood majestically between us and the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. There are three routes over that range: a northern, a southern, and a middle. All were a similar distance and would require drives of just over three hours. We ended up settling on the middle route because it looked like the most direct of the three.


Cody, Wyoming | Sheridan, Wyoming | Moorcroft, Wyoming


Driving from Cody to Greybull was monotonous, although near the end we were able to see the mountains rising up in the distance. And as we got even closer, we were able to predict which of the wide canyons we believed U.S. 14 would ascend.  And ascend it did.  The small village of Shell sits at the base of the Bighorns at 4,200’. The high point of the road was Granite Pass at 9,033’. As you can see, we were headed uphill for quite some time. The views were nice, with large rocks slabs lining the canyon walls. As we drove higher, the highway turned out of the canyon and meanders along a large flat area on top of the mountains. There were many farms and fields up there, interspersed with forest. For almost 15 miles we drove on this high plateau, before arrived at Burgess Junction, which was more of an intersection.

What goes up, must come down. We started our descent at Burgess Junction’s 8,082’, and we wouldn’t end until Dayton at 4,000’. It was somewhere on this steep downhill where I learned how to put the car in trailer mode, which lower the gears and took less of a toll on my brakes. That relieved a lot of my downhill driving anxiety. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure we choose the steepest and most curvy of the three alternative routes. The Bighorns are a really pretty range. I’d like to go back sometime and explore them a little.


The views from the base of Devils Tower is fantastic

Once out of the mountains, we were able to hop on to Interstate 90. From here on, most of our driving would be on Interstates. We’d be quicker and cover a lot more ground. I-90 through northern Wyoming was no exception. We covered the the 150 miles from Ranchester to Moorcroft in just over two hours – and that included a lunch stop in Sheridan. Once in Moorcorft, we had to stop for gas again. We also grabbed some food and drinks for the evening, then we headed towards Devil’s Tower National Monument.

U.S. 14 is a pretty drive, dotted with ranches and farms. As we got closer to the monument and further from Keyhole Reservoir, the scenery began to more closely resemble the Black Hills than farmland. Finally, the tower came into view from a few miles away.


Amateur climbers


Yellowstone National Park | Shoshone National Forest | Bighorn National Forest | Devil’s Tower National Monument

As we turned into Devils Tower, we took note of the KOA campground there. We planned to get a site there for the night once we finished sightseeing. I had never been to Devil’s Tower, which sits on a small elevated natural pedestal above the surrounding Belle Fourche river valley. The stopped in the visitor’s center to get our passport stamps, then made our way outside and began hiking around the tower.

A paved trail circles the entire thing. Once you hike up to it, the path is a fairly easy walk. There are no bad views of the tower. In fact, each side is mesmerizing in its own way. At certain points, the trail offers excellent overviews of the surrounding valley and distant Black Hills. The kids enjoyed boulder hopping on the giant rocks at the base of the tower. Native American prayer flags serve as a reminder of the importance of Devils Tower to the area’s original inhabitants.


Stopping at prairie dog towns is a guilty pleasure

We played tourists for as long as possible at the monument before we decided we had better go find a campsite for the night. On the way out, we stopped to get some shots at the photogenic prairie dog town in the valley below the tower. The KOA welcomed us to camp in their sprawling tent area. As a KOA, there were many amenities, including a pool and playground. And a nightly screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the deck.


A few deer wandered through the campground

We skipped most of those offerings and made camp. After getting a few sunset shots of Devils Tower, we retired to our tents. Almost immediately, a rather noisy thunderstorm rolled through that dumped rain and kept us awake for a bit. It was really the only rain we had to contend with all week, and that itself was miraculous. Nothing leaked, and it finally passed and allowed for a good night’s sleep – our last in the tents.

Arch 2 Arch: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Days 8 & 9

3 Responses to “Arch 2 Arch: Day Seven – Northern Wyoming

  • I love rain for sleeping, not so much for packing up

  • I always think of the movie, Close Encounters when I see the devils Tower. I need to take a trip there, looks beautiful!

    • MissouriHowell
      12 months ago

      It was a lot cooler than I thought it would be. I’d like to go back and take a day to hike some of the trails there.

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