OverviewSurrounded by a sagebrush basin, Heart Mountain stands alone as the most recognizable feature of northwestern Wyoming's Big Horn Basin. Despite its relatively low elevation of 8,123 feet it ranks 26th on the Wyoming Peaks with 2000 feet of Prominence list.
Heart Mountain's rather unique appearance makes it stand out as well. The eastern block of the mountain consists of a spine of crumbling limestone cliffs on the north and south sides and resembles a shoulder. The central summit block consists of a sheer face of limestone that runs in a semicircle from the north to the south side with a pine forest sloping down the east slope resembling the head. The western block is a mainly forested ridge with a limestone tower which resembles the thumb of an outstretched arm. Takes a little imagination, but with a mountains named Sleeping Giant and Dead Indian and a rock formation named Elephant's Head not too far to the west, visualizing Heart Mountain as someone pointing west is not much of a stretch.
While it's considered part of the Absaroka Range, Heart Mountain is more of a geologic anomaly with its unusual limestone cap. Geologists from around the world have studied it, yet its origin remains a subject of passionate debate. Somehow it became separated from larger masses of similar formations found sixty miles away in Yellowstone National Park. Moreover, older limestone lies atop younger strata, which is "upside down" in relation to how these strata are found elsewhere.
Originally named by the Crow Indians, this mountain is also one of the few identifiable features on the maps Lewis and Clark created.
The easiest way to the summit is via the Class 1 Heart Mountain Trail which approaches from the east and is clearly signed on the route described in the Getting There section. This trail is 7.6 miles round-trip and gains 2,560 vertical feet as measured on my GPS (sources list the trail length at 7.2 miles). There are opportunities to big-wall climb, but the only approach that doesn't cross private property is from the Heart Mountain Trail.
Getting ThereHeart Mountain is situated nearly equidistant from the small cities of Cody and Powell and Highway US14A connects the two. From Powell, travel southbound on US14A for approximately 11 miles and turn right onto Road 19 (if traveling from Cody turn left). Shortly after making the turn you will cross some railroad tracks and pass the remnants of the World War II Japanese Internment Camp which is a State Historical Site.
After 1.5 miles and 90 degree right and left turns respectively, Road 19 becomes Lane 13H. Follow Lane 13H west for 3.2 miles until it intersects Road 22. Turn left to sign in at Heart Mountain Ranch (see red tape section) 0.3 miles from the turn.
Return to Lane 13H and turn west traveling approximately 1 mile until you reach a closed gate. The gate is usually not locked and Heart Mountain Ranch allows vehicles to pass through as long as you close it behind you. Travel another 2 miles until you reach a locked gate where you will have to park. This road is not maintained, but you should not have any troubles unless you are riding in a lowered vehicle. There is ample parking here. Pass through the fence and pick up the road/trail that leads you to the top.
Red TapeThere are no costs or permits required for hiking the Heart Mountain Trail. However, there is a sign-in / sign-out log located at Heart Mountain Ranch which is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Heart Mountain and its flanks are either private property, federally managed or managed by the Nature Conservancy. Please obey the private property owners' rights when visiting. For further information you can contact:
Heart Mountain Ranch
1357 Road 22
Powell, WY 82435
Phone: (307) 754-8446
Maria Sonett and Skip Eastman,
When to ClimbHeart Mountain can be hiked or climbed anytime of year, but you may run into snowy or icy conditions from October through April. The prevailing storm systems travel from the west and thus lose the majority of their moisture to the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain ranges. This creates desert-like conditions in the Big Horn Basin. So it is not uncommon for the slopes of Heart Mountain to be snow-free in the middle of winter.
CampingThe nearest camping is in organized campgrounds in Cody, Wyoming (Camping in Cody, Wyoming). Information on trail camping and bivouacing can be received from Heart Mountain Ranch.
Weather ConditionsCurrent Weather Conditions for Powell
External LinksJackson Hole Mountain Guides actually leads guided daytrips up to the summit. See this website for more information and prices.
Heart Mountain Relocation Center
Nature Conservancy at Heart Mountain Ranch
Flora and FaunaFlora Heart Mountain Ranch supports one of the greatest concentrations of rare plants ever discovered on private property in Wyoming. Of particular interest are several cushion plant communities found on cliffs near its summit. Shoshonea (cushion plant), Howards’ Forget me not, Snake River Cat’s Eye, Aromatic Pussytoes, Absaroka Goldenweed.
Fauna Shoshone Indians called this land “Home of the Birds” because of the large number of bird species living here. Golden eagles and sage thrashers are commonly sighted. Recently, peregrine falcons have been spotted and are believed to be nesting on summit cliffs.
For several years, Wyoming Department of Game & Fish biologists have studied and inventoried a prominent sage grouse lek found on the preserve. Sage grouse—large, flamboyant birds that depend on sagebrush—are at risk.
Many native mammals often are seen here, particularly elk (locals estimate the elk herd at 150), mule deer and antelope. Mountain lion and bobcat are common predators, as is the ubiquitous coyote. Black bears sometimes roam its slopes. Grizzly bears may even visit the area from time to time, given the brushy corridors and rough country connecting Heart Mountain to the nearby Absarokas.