Little Bighorn River - Segment No. 1


Little Big Horn



Recommended flows are designed to maintain 1) habitat for brown trout spawning in the fall, 2) over-winter survival of all ages of trout, 3) habitat for rainbow trout spawning in the spring and 4) habitat for growth and survival of adult and juvenile trout in the summer.
Official records are scant, but based on what we know of nearby streams like the Tongue River, it’s a near certainty the Little Bighorn historically supported a healthy population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Small populations of genetically pure Yellowstone cutts still reside in a few of the small tributaries of the Little Horn today, but the main stem reflects the influence of early day fish stocking efforts by private individuals who spread brook rainbow and brown trout wherever suitable habitat seemed to exist. As in many mountain streams, browns tend to be more abundant lower down, while rainbows are more populous up high. In the very upper end of the river above Dayton Gulch, brook trout are common. In recent years, the department reintroduced native cutts and they seem to be holding their own.
From the confluence with Dry Fork down to the boundary of the Kerns WHMA.
To reach the upper end of the river, go about 18 miles west of Burgess Junction on Highway 14A and turn north on Forest Road 14 (if you’re coming from the west, this is about 2 ½ miles east of the Medicine Wheel turnout). Take the first right (about ½ mile from the blacktop) onto Forest Road 125 and follow it to Half Ounce Meadows. After leaving Highway 14A, the road is a reasonably good 2-track when it’s dry. It grows progressively less sedan-friendly as you go, before dead-ending after several miles. To access the bottom end of the river take exit 9 on Interstate 25 at Ranchester. Just before reaching town (less than a mile) take highway 345 north to Parkman. Look for a sign along the road about 2 ½ miles north of the town that directs you to turn left to the WGF Kerns Big Game Winter Range. Follow this good gravel road about 16 miles (go past the Kerns Unit) until you reach a bridge over the Little Horn. You’ll actually be in Montana here but turn left just before the bridge and follow the very rough 2-track road until it dead ends at the trailhead on state land – in Wyoming. The foot trail parallels the entire length of the river and offers many great places to drop off and start fishing. There are no developed campgrounds but backpackers have found numerous places to pitch their tents as they work up or down the river.
Centuries ago, high atop the Bighorn Mountains near the headwaters of the Little Bighorn River, Native Americans were so inspired by the landscape, they laid out a Medicine Wheel – an important religious site where they sought guidance and spiritual enrichment. The lower portion of the river is witness to significant events too. Notably George Custer’s infamous encounter with overwhelming numbers of Native Americans occurred along the Little Bighorn River in 1876 a few short miles into Montana. Today, you can still see why the state’s first residents found spiritual enlightenment here and fought so fiercely for the lands and waters of this part of the world. The Little Horn, as locals call it, passes through some of the most ruggedly picturesque mountains in the entire West. It’s without question one of the riverine treasures of the state and is as wild and scenic today as ever. In fact, portions of the river are still being considered for designation as a wild and scenic river under the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.