The Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway begins in the town of Shoshoni at milepost 100. Following U.S. 20 north through Wind River Canyon and the Wind River Indian Reservation, the route ends just north of the city of Thermopolis at milepost 134. Without stopping, the total drive time is about 40 minutes.
Along the Way
As you travel north from Shoshoni into BoysenState Park, you come face to face with the windswept west. You can see the bare yellow and red rock of the Owl Creek Mountains stretching off to forever, and the deep blue of Boysen Reservoir rippling in contrast. You might even think, with the water skiing and swimming and the walleye and trout fisheries, that you’ve come to the high point of the Byway. But then you drive into Wind River Canyon. Spectacular rock walls rise 2,500 vertical feet on either side to the ridge tops. You can crane your neck and see some of the oldest rock formations in the world, dating back to the Precambrian period, (more that 2.9 billion years ago) visible right from the highway, their black and pink cliffs protruding to the sky. The geology of every layer is marked by interpretive signage, making the drive a geology lesson and a trip through time.
The Wind River itself flows north through the canyon. Wind River Canyon Whitewater & Flyfishing Outfitter, a Native American-owned business, is the only outfitter permitted to raft/fish in the Indian Reservation portion of the canyon. With fallen rocks and boulders jutting from the riverbed, the unique water hydraulics make for some spectacular white water indeed.
Before it leaves the canyon, the river changes names. At the “Wedding of the Waters,” the Wind River becomes the Rocky Mountain Bighorn River, named for the mountain sheep indigenous to the area. Keep an eye out for these wooly cliff dwellers as you drive. 1995 saw 43 bighorns “transplanted” along the canyon rim. After making the trip from Dubois, WY in horse trailers, the sheep were then loaded onto flatcars by Burlington-Northern Railroad before traveling the final 7 miles by railroad. They were released in the canyon, bolstering today’s population to an estimated 100 sheep in Wind River Canyon.
The byway ends just north of Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest mineral hot spring in Hot Springs State Park. Needless to say, this town is worth a stop. Here you can enjoy hot springs facilities, cooling ponds, a swinging foot bridge across the Big Horn River, hiking paths and a chance to see wild buffalo.