Site of Western history is two hours northeast of Cody

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third story in a summer series about interesting places to explore in Cody Country.)

At the northeast edge of the Big Horn Basin one can explore a chapter in Western history that predates the founding mountain man and cowboys lore of Cody Country.

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel has been used in rituals for many centuries by different Native American tribes, but historians say the wheel is 700-1,500 years old – placing it on the prehistoric timeline.

Atop Medicine Mountain at an elevation of 9,642 feet, the wheel consists of rocks and stones arranged around a central cairn with 28 spokes radiating out to a rim that’s 80 feet in diameter and 245 feet in circumference.

According to, the wheel is astronomically aligned with the rising and setting of the sun on the summer solstice. Smaller cairns dotting the rim align with three stars that fade during sunrise: Aldebaran, Rigel and Sirius.

Historians at say there’s evidence prehistoric people were using the land surrounding Medicine Wheel some 7,000 years ago. Some say the wheel was constructed during a period of centuries.

The wheel’s true origin and makers remain shrouded in mystery.

Still, hundreds of visitors each year are drawn to the site hoping for a glimpse into the power and spirit of those who came long before us.

Many people find walking around the wheel – with mountains and trees and vistas in every direction – to be a spiritual experience and leave offerings before they go.

A fence made of rope and wooden posts surrounding the wheel is decorated with ribbons, feathers, necklaces, animal bones, flowers and other poignant gifts left by visitors.

If you want to experience the magic yourself, it’s best to go in later summer or early fall to avoid snow on the steep 1.5-mile walking path from the gravel parking lot maintained by the Forest Service to Medicine Wheel.

The wheel is not open to the public during Summer Solstice or other sacred days on the Native American calendar.

(While you’re in the area, also try fly fishing the famous Tongue River or biking one of many trails in the Big Horn Forest.)

The hike itself may take some time, but is suitable for all fitness levels and beginning hikers. Be sure to bring bear spray and water.

From the path, elk and antelope are visible in the surrounding forest. But if you’re quiet and looking, you’ll also spot pika in the rocky habitat as well as friendly marmots and rock chucks.

When you reach the top, take time to circle the Medicine Wheel in a clockwise rotation before exploring the rest of the plateau.

From the edge of the plateau, much of the northern Big Horn Basin can be seen stretching across Lovell, Powell and Cody to the Beartooth and Absaroka ranges with the McCullough Peaks bubbling up in the center and Carter Mountain off to the side.

And if you look long enough, you might imagine those people who came so long ago – traveling up Medicine Mountain without benefit of a horse or car because they too knew it was a special place.

How to get to Medicine Wheel

Drive east on Wyoming Veterans Memorial Highway (US 14A) to Powell and continue on 14A to Lovell, for a total of about 45 miles.

In Lovell take a right into town, continuing on US 14A, and then a slight left. This highway will turn into switchbacks as it climbs the Big Horn Mountains.

Follow US 14A for about 32 miles into the Big Horn Forest and watch for a Medicine Wheel sign on the left. Turn left onto the marked dirt road and park in the gravel lot.

A 1.5-mile walking path at the edge of the parking lot leads visitors to the mysterious Medicine Wheel plateau.

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