If paddling below towering and majestic cliffs sounds like your type of adventure, then take a trip to Montana’s own natural wonder, the Bighorn Canyon. These cliffs of layered sediment were carved slowly by the erosive power of the Bighorn River. A thick layer of Madison limestone can be seen along the canyon today. The canyon’s well-known red appearance is caused by iron oxide runoff onto the Madison Formation from the overlying Amsden Formation.
This trip launches from Barry’s Landing at river mile 36 and continues to the side canyon formed by the year-round Layout Creek just past river mile 38. As you venture upstream, away from Yellowtail Dam, the cliffs rise higher and higher above you. You’re soon encompassed by a world of stone, one of vibrant color and seemingly paused geologic time. If you have the stretch to yourself, try giving a shout and listen to the sound echo off the canyon walls. Spend extra time on land exploring the side canyon.
Paddling can be very easy if the lake is placid, but keep a watchful eye on the weather. With limited visibility of the sky in the canyon, storms can rapidly approach. High winds can also easily pick up, even on a sunny day.
All watercraft entering the canyon must be checked for aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, quagga mussels, and others. If you'll be travelling from Billings, a boat check station is available in Frannie, a town 2 miles from the Wyoming border.