Toying with the idea of a backpacking trip? Looking to venture outside of the Black Hills for hiking experience that you won’t forget? Big Horn National Park is a relatively close landmark that contains hundreds of miles of trails that can keep you entertained for a very long time. Specifically, a hike up to the top of Bomber Mountain is an experience you won’t quickly forget.
This hike takes place in an area of the Bighorns known as the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Not the highest peak in the area, but still, Bomber Mountain sits at over 12,840 feet in elevation. The route we took to get to the top began at the Tensleep Trailhead. Take I90, heading west, from Spearfish, SD. At Buffalo, WY, take exit 58 for US16 towards I90 BUS/Buffalo/Ucross (left). Just after Meadowlark Lake take a right onto Forest Road 432, about 45 minutes on US16. And quickly and slight right onto Forest Road 431. Continue on 431 for about 5 miles where you will come to Forest Road 27, or 10 Sleep Road. Take a right onto 27 and continue to West Tensleep Lake Trailhead on your right. The whole trip is about 3.5 hours from Spearfish.
We did a three day, two night, trip up to Bomber Mountain. There is no charge to leave your vehicle parked at the trailhead and no charge for entrance into the Bighorn National Forest. There is a registration for anyone on the trails at the beginning of the hike that is mandatory. Fires above 9,200 feet are prohibited so carrying a chemical stove for cooking is necessary. The leave no trace mantra is especially important in this wilderness and things like Wag Bags and trash sacks are vital to keep the Bighorns beautiful. Other very important regulations and rules for hiking and backpacking in the Bighorns can be found here.
How Do You Hike To Bomber Mountain?
Here is a great link to a Cloud Peak Wilderness trail map:
It was 22.8 miles total hiking from the Tensleep Trailhead to the top of Bomber Mountain and back to the trailhead. We hiked 6.5 miles the first and third days on the Mistymoon Trail #063. This trail follows along West Tensleep Creek all the way to Mistymoon Lake, passing Lakes West Tensleep, Helen and Marion along the way. We set up camp at Lake Marion. Lake Marion is about at the end of the tree line and we were wanting to camp within the trees. If you aren’t concerned about the tree line, then hiking another mile further to Mistymoon Lake would make the climb up Bomber slightly more enjoyable.
The second day we continued on trail #063 until we came to Mistymoon Lake then turned east (right) onto Solitude Loop Trail, #038. The total distance of hiking on day two was 8.8 miles. You pass several lakes in this stretch, including Mistymoon, Fortress, Gunboat, and eventually Florence Lake which is at the base of Bomber Mountain.
You can summit Bomber Mountain from either the east or the west side. We walked around to the east side of the the mountain. At the eastern edge there is a plaque on the east side of a rock that is a dedication to the soldiers who crashed in the plane that gave Bomber its name. The western climb is supposed to be slightly less steep than the eastern climb, however, it takes quite a bit longer. On the eastern hike, you must get over or through the waterfall, so be prepared. To read the incredible story behind Bomber Mountain click here.
What Is The Trail To Bomber Mountain Like?
The first and third days were fairly easy to moderate hiking. A good portion of the trail was walking through pine and evergreen trees that provided shade. The trail is dirt packed and strewn with pine needles and random tree droppings, such as pine cones and sticks. There are a couple man made wooden bridges and walk ways on this portion of the trail as well. There is a creek early on in the hike that is 12-14 feet across and stepping stones may or may not be available to keep your feet dry.
The second day, the hike to the top of Bomber Mountain, is a very difficult hike. About 3 of the 4.4 miles (one way) that you do on day two is moderate to difficult. It is the same type of trail as day one, only you loose the tree cover and shade. There is also a steady increase in elevation up until Florence Lake. From the lake to the summit, the hike is incredibly difficult. Most of the hike is straight up. The face of the mountain is made up of broken boulders and rocks and you must climb through these to get to the top. You can find the first pieces of the wreckage about 3/4 of the way up the mountain, almost directly up from the northern edge of the lake. You should be able to see pieces of the plane reflecting in the sunlight when standing by the lake.
There are many animals that may or may not be seen when hiking this trail. You often see elk, deer, and moose. The lakes contain rainbow, cutthroat, brook, and German brown trout. A fishing license must be purchased prior to reaching the Bighorns and they are $14 per day. In the evenings we could hear coyotes howling and in the mornings we woke to elk calling. There are herds of mountain sheep wandering around the Bighorns. Black bears are said to be in the area. Make sure you know how to protect yourself and your campsite from any wildlife you may find in the area.
What Backpacking Gear Should I Take?
This hike requires you to pack out what you pack in. If you have never been backpacking before, there are a 3 items that I believe will make or break your overall experience: a good pack, good shoes, and a good sleeping bag.
Most likely you will be packing anywhere from 40-60 pounds of supplies with you so an uncomfortable pack could make that pretty uncomfortable weight. I used the Osprey Ariel 65 and my pack weighed right around 50 pounds. I felt the pack weight was an incredibly comfortable experience. Twenty plus miles of hiking also requires some great hiking boots. Unfortunately, I ended up with a small blister at the end of the second day so I won’t make a recommendation on the shoes I was wearing. Be sure to have a good 8-10 mile hike in your boots under your belt before attempting this hike wearing them. Lastly, the temperature can get very cold up in the mountains at night. We hiked Bomber at the end of July and had night time temperatures that got down to 35 degrees F one evening. After a long day of hiking, tossing and turning in your tent because you are too cold to fall asleep could lead to a very miserable experience. I have the North Face Inferno 0F Regular 850 Down Filled bag which weighs right around 4 pounds. My only negative thought towards it is that its packed size is still about the size of a basketball, which is pretty big in the backpacking world.
There is a product link on the bottom of this page that will show you to these items, as well as other items that I packed with me on this trip. Please don’t hesitate to comment on this post or email me if you want a more detailed description of the items I took along to the Bighorns.
Whether it is your first backpacking trip, or you have been doing it for awhile, this trip will be unforgettable. A weekend in the outdoors, hiking to the top of a really big mountain, camping under the stars, I’m not sure I can come up with a more enjoyable way to spend a few days off.