Waterway Safety Information

Two rangers on the water at Medicine Creek
Two rangers on the water at Medicine Creek.

NPS

Weather

Weather related risks can be at least partially mitigated by checking a weather forecast before departure and keeping an eye on the skies. Having this guide with you and knowing where there are places to get off the water will also decrease the chances of getting stuck on the lake in a storm. There are steep canyon sections with no exit. Even on days when the forecast calls for sunny skies there is the possibility of thunderstorm. These storms usually take place between two and four in the afternoon so it may be wise to plan to take a break during this time or to be done for the day by two.

Collisions with motorized craft

Bighorn Lake sees a lot of motorized traffic specifically on Saturday and Sunday. Usually the traffic picks up after 11 a.m. so it is good to get an early start. For the most part motorized users respect non-motorized users and slow down as they pass. However, chances are there will be some wake. Taking these waves head on will help mitigate the risk of rolling over. The main canyon has a number of blind turns which can present an increased chance of collision. Staying close to the canyon walls while paddling around these turns will insure that any oncoming traffic has room to navigate around.

Dehydration

Paddling can be a strenuous exercise especially in the wind. Combined with heat, this exercise can lead to severe dehydration if enough water is not consumed. Plan ahead and bring plenty of water. Another part of staying hydrated is assuring a proper amount of electrolytes in the system. Bringing snacks/meals will help keep salt levels high and reduce the chances of dehydration, water intoxication, and hyponatremia.
 
A mother bear and two cubs at Trail Creek
A mother bear and two cubs at Trail Creek

Josh Scheffler

Bear Safety

There are quite a few black bears in the park. The majority of the sightings take place in the north end of the park. However, there are bears that frequent campgrounds and historic ranches on the south end.

Bear spray has been proven as an effective deterrent, but should only be used if absolutely necessary. Any aggressive bear behavior should be reported to park rangers as soon as possible.

Under no circumstances is it acceptable to feed a bear or any other wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally. It is the duty of all visitors to ensure that food is stored in such a way as to not be reachable by wildlife. There are a number of campsites without bear boxes or a good place to hang food. It is a good idea to purchase a bear canister for overnight stays at these sites.

Do Not Feed the Bears

In the summer of 2013 an adolescent black bear had to be destroyed in the park due to visitors intentionally feeding it. Park staff do not want to see this happen again.

Additional Information

 

Last updated: May 8, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Headquarters Office
PO Box 7458

Fort Smith, MT 59035

Phone:

(307) 548-5406

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