Scenic Vistas

Scenic Vista at Bighorn Canyon
The Scenic Vistas at Bighorn Canyon offer an unprecedented window in one of the most dramatic landscapes in North America



The first thing Congress mentioned when establishing the National Park Service was conserving the scenery. We must save the absolutely beautiful scenic views of our mountains and canyons. That sounds pretty easy to do. After all, what could possibly make the mountains and canyons go away? Well the mountains and canyons won’t go away, but being able to have the beautiful views of them can be impacted.

Natural And Human Impacts
Some days we just don’t get to see the mountain tops because of the weather. We might get use to that, once we get use to all the rain in Seattle and learn to treasure the days when Mount Rainier is visible. There are a number of parks where the view is impacted by what seems to be the weather and it is easy to be accepting of that.

But when we started to investigate at Grand Canyon we discovered that air pollution was regularly impacting the clarity of the views into and across the canyon. We discovered that processes happening outside our parks could and did affect what was happening inside the parks. Once we identified the problem, it was possible to work towards a solution.

Commercial Impacts
Sometimes the scenery is so beautiful that some people want to make money by controlling access along a road to where the spectacular view can be seen. Yosemite was one example of this. The public doesn’t allow that to go on for long before they make a public outcry. So then those wanting to make money sometimes opt for other types of commercial development.

At one point the development at Niagara Falls was so bad that it became an example of how we could lose our scenic treasures if we were not careful. It led to changes that made a trip to Niagara Falls once again a memorable experience.

Another notable example where a commercial development outside a park visually intruded into the scenic views inside the park was at Gettysburg. A very high observation tower did allow those who bought a ticket to see the whole battlefield, but it also intruded into the view of those trying to enjoy the battlefield and experience that very hallowed ground. To many it just didn’t seem right.

Experiencing our country’s history or enjoying a spectacular view can involve developing an emotional connection that park visitors come to treasure and to associate with the experiences they expect to find in our parks. That tower did come down ultimately because it did intrude too much into people’s sensitivities. We had learned another lesson.

Vistas At Bighorn Canyon
There are days here at Bighorn Canyon when we enjoy not only the view into the canyon, but also clear across the Bighorn Basin to the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains. But those days always seem to be before we start burning off the fields and roadsides and don’t return until after the fire season ends in the fall and the smoke seems to get washed out of the skies. Awareness is perhaps the first step.

Sometimes visitors who have enjoyed the spectacular view of Bighorn Canyon from Devil Canyon Overlook will stop back in the visitor center to share their experience with the park staff and to thank us for the work that the park service does.

The view is most likely the most visited spot in the park because it is reached by road and the view is indeed wonderful. Sometimes they will ask what that is floating down there in this most spectacular view. When informed that it is a floating restroom, the typical reaction is a very crestfallen expression. Yes our sensitivity to our visitors has some lessons yet to be learned about saving the scenery.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Mailing Address:

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Headquarters Office
PO Box 7458

Fort Smith, MT 59035


(307) 548-5406

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