The Bighorn Trail 100 is Wyoming’s signature ultra and well worth the trip out to the uniquely beautiful Bighorn Mountains. The race begins in narrow Tongue River Canyon with weird rock formations above and a river flowing by below. You emerge from the canyon and tackle one of the course’s mammoth climbs into a vast landscape of grassy meadows, tangled wildflowers, rock walls, raging rivers, bighorn sheep and mule deer territory, and stretches of hardwood and coniferous woodlands.
The spectacular scenery never ceases. Even at night your sojourn along the Little Bighorn River with the moon lighting the blue-green water that is cascading off of massive boulders right next to you almost seems magical. The out and back course challenges in the miles leading to and from the turnaround, where you’ll find some shoe-sucking bogs, barriers of snow scattered through the forest, rugged trail and quite a few steep sections. Expect some continuously wet feet through the night.
But if the challenge of this mountainous course is big, so is the outsize Western-style hospitality that is supporting you at every turn. There’s a pre-race pasta social and an award ceremony pancake breakfast. There is medical staff at the major aid stations in easily identified red vests to keep you safe. There is soup, pizza, quesadillas, sandwiches and lots more at the aid stations. You have to work to not gain weight in this race. The drinks are lined up behind neat labels so you don’t have to ask which is the water and which is the sports drink. The course is well marked. Handrails have been built to help you over slippery planks at the stream crossings for heaven’s sake. There are bonfires to keep you warm, and some of the remoter aid stations are there because volunteers packed everything in on horseback and are camping out there just for you. Communication is outstanding and the results get reported with all your split times.
The Bighorn is also an adventure because of the 11:00 am start time. You’ll get to the night less beat up and better able to enjoy running under the stars. The next day you get mixed in with runners doing the simultaneous 50 mile and 50K races which share the same finish line. Their energy sparks you along, and there’s nothing that will jazz you up like matching strides with the “short” distance people on the home stretch to the finish.
Travel: The best bet to get to the race is to fly into Billings, Montana, and make the pleasant 130-mile drive down to Sheridan on Interstate 90. You can fly directly to Sheridan but there are far fewer flight options and they’re costly in comparison. Leave a few extra hours on your way there or back to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which is on your way just off I-90 in Montana.
Where to Stay: Sheridan offers the usual range of low cost motels including a race discount at the Holiday Inn. Dayton and the race start is a quick 20-mile drive out of Sheridan. The final race briefing is at nine in the morning and the race starts at eleven o’clock so getting up super early is not an issue. Nearby Ranchester and a little farther out Burgess Junction may offer you a bit more “way out west” feeling accommodations. Ignore the information on the website about buses to the start; that’s for the 50 mile and 50K racers. After the race briefing, the 100 milers catch a ride with crews for the short 3.5 mile drive from Dayton’s Scott Park into the Tongue River Canyon to the start.
Area Attractions: Sheridan is a hoot and authentic Old West through and through. It was ranked as the number one Top Western Town by True West Magazine in 2006. You won’t believe King’s Saddlery, a tack store in the heart of Sheridan’s Historic Main Street, and the adjoining Don King Western Museum. There’s quality Western art at the Brinton Museum and don’t miss the Landmark Historic Sheridan Inn where Buffalo Bill once auditioned acts or the Mint Bar with its iconic bucking bronco neon sign out front. The surrounding area was also the last great hunting grounds for the Plains Indians so there are sites scattered nearby where Native Americans and the U.S. Calvary clashed. Of course, no trip to Sheridan would be complete without hiking the Bighorn Mountains but the race itself will give you plenty of that.
Bottom Line: Running the Bighorn is like getting a bear hug from an old cowboy, hearty and welcoming, but still tough to endure. Wyoming really shows her soul here. Whole families turn out to help, and you never forget you’re out in the real West. Elsewhere, I’ve run into horseback riders that look like they belong in a Lipizzaner dressage competition. In Wyoming, when you run into riders on the trail, they look like they just wrapped an episode of Bonanza. Giddy up!
The Bighorn Trail 100
June 20-21 (Friday/Saturday)
Dayton, Wyoming (near Sheridan)
Cutoff – 34 hours