The Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area is a rugged, isolated location on the western slopes of the Bighorn Mountain Range in Wyoming. Managed by the BLM, the focal point of the seven thousand, two-hundred acres of public land is the Trapper Creek Canyon. Carved over millennia by the running waters of Trapper Creek, the canyon displays multiple layers of different colored rock across the entire height of its towering cliff sides. The wilderness lays along the western border of the Bighorn National Forest. To the south is another interesting BLM managed property, the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite.
Inside the boundaries of the Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area is one of the United States' largest and deepest karst caves, the Great Expectations Cave. There are miles of underground passages for spelunkers to explore - as long as they acquire the correct permit first.
The cliffs and rock formations of the wilderness are also favorites with climbers and boulderers who prefer to go up rather than head underground. Topside, hikers can enjoy some great backcountry hiking while keeping an eye on the sky for some of the many species of raptor that inhabit the area. Fly fishing for trout in Trapper Creek is a popular pastime too and so is angling for catfish in the nearby Big Horn River south of Shell. For those who want to admire the scenery through their vehicle window, there are three fantastic scenic drives close to the wilderness: the Bighorn Scenic Byway, the Medicine Wheel Passage and the Cloud Peak Skyway.
All motorized access to the Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area is restricted and the only camping permitted in the wilderness is dispersed tent camping. The closest campground to the wilderness study area suitable for pitching up in an RV is the Shell Creek Campground in the Bighorn National Forest.
Anyone motoring to the Trapper Creek Wilderness should take care not to accidentally stray onto private property. The BLM manages the one access road into the wilderness even though this roadway also runs directly through privately-owned terrains. The roadway, Trapper Creek Road, can be found just outside of the rural community of Shell on the southbound US 14. The Trapper Creek Road leads to the south-west boundary of the wilderness or, if you continue on to where the road forks with the Akali Road, you'll get to the south-east boundary. The roads are only suitable for four by fours or high clearance vehicles.
If you've been spending time RV camping in the Yellowstone National Park, you can join the US 14 eastbound in the town of Lake. From there you'll have a straight run across state to Shell which will take you about three hours. If you're heading to the wilderness from the Helena National Forest in Montana, once you're through Helena and can join the I 90 eastbound Three Forks, you'll have around three more hours of driving in front of you. It's a great drive that'll take you along the northern border of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
While RV camping isn't allowed in the Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area, pitch camp in the Bighorn National Forest at the Shell Creek Campground and you won't be far away. The campground sits on the mid-western border of the forest less than a twenty-mile drive from Shell. The campground is open from the end of May to the end of September. This is classed as peak season so reservations should be made prior to arriving. Reservations can be made on the recreation.gov website.
There are twelve campsites at the Shell Creek Campground, some of which can accommodate RVs up to seventy feet in length. All of the campsites are ADA accessible and have paved pathways running from the concrete-surfaced pads to each individual pitch's picnic spot which are furnished with a table, grill and fire ring. All the campsites are standard non-electric and there are no water or sewer hook-ups either. The closest dump station is located in Burgess Junction about twenty miles from the campground.
On-site amenities at the campground are basic but good. There are accessible vault toilets, a spigot for drinking water and a garbage collection service. It's a scenic campground surrounded by trees and the perfect place to pitch up for visiting the Trapper Creek WSA.
The Great Expectations Cave, or Great X as it's also known, is located in the Trapper Creek Wilderness Area. The cave ranks third on the list of the United State's deepest caves and is high up on a mountainside where there are several more explorable caves.
The immense cavern, called the Great Hall, measures around two-thousand feet long and there are around eight miles of mapped passageways. The cave is the private property of the National Speleological Society and permission to access the cave must be authorized by them.
If after exploring some of the Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area, you want to take a drive around to enjoy some less rocky scenery, start off with the Bighorn Scenic Byway. The byway winds for fifty-eight miles through some amazing landscapes. Join the byway near the town of Greybull - it's the US 14 eastbound - and follow it right over the top of the Bighorn Mountains. It's a drive that will take your breath away.
The Medicine Wheel Passage is a twenty-seven-mile long route along the US 14A. You can join it from off the Bighorn Scenic Byway at Burgess Junction in the mountains or in the small town of Lovell to the north of Shell. It's not a drive to plan for the winter as snow often closes the road.
The Cloud Peak Skyway is a forty-seven-mile drive between Ten Sleep and Buffalo. The byway cuts through the Bighorn National Forest and the Powder River Pass. Do all three drives and you can easily say you've seen the best of Wyoming.
At the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite you can trek through terrains where dinosaurs once plodded and left their footprints to prove it. The tracksite is managed by the BLM who have installed walkways and viewing platforms throughout the terrains where the fossilized tramplings can be seen.
There's also plenty of interpretive signage to inform you about the footprints and fossils you'll be spotting. It's a weird sensation walking through land once inhabited by the earth's largest known creatures and having proof of their past existence before your eyes.
Trapper Creek is a great place for fly fishermen to cast their lures on the water in expectation of hooking up some trout. The creek has a good population of rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout.
If you're an angler who prefers to fish from a boat or with tackle not related to fly fishing, head to the Bighorn River and you'll soon be hooking up a record-size catfish or carp.
The Museum of Flight & Aerial Firefighting is an outdoor museum located in the town of Greybull. The museum exhibits planes, many on loan from the US Forest Service, that have served as firefighters, fire bombers and smoke jumpers. As the museum is outside, it is only open from mid-May through to the end of September.
For anyone interested in the history of the Wild West, Cody is one town that's a must-visit while in the region of the Trapper Creek Wilderness Study Area. Founded by the legendary Buffalo Bill back in the late 1800s, there are several museums dedicated to him and the history of the West in the town.
Known as the home of the rodeo, Cody hosts one of the US's biggest rodeo events over four days at the beginning of July every year. That's something not to be missed.