Polecat Bench is a raised area of land that is situated to the north of Powell, WY that covers about 28,000 acres. According to geologists, this feature is a river terrace that was shaped long ago by the Shoshone River, which now runs 7 miles to the southeast of the Bench. Its long extended southern tip is a very prominent feature as seen from Powell, and this area is a popular spot with the locals for hiking and mountain biking. As recently as the 1970's, the Bench was still considered as a possible location for agriculture and farming; this didn't pan out and today the majority of it consists of oilfields (Elk Basin, Silver Tip, and Bearcat) and the Powell Municipal Airport.
The edge of the Bench is controlled by the BLM and is very rich in fossil sites (see the External Links section below). Teepee rings can still be found at Native American camping sites, and wildlife that is typically found in flat Wyoming sagebrush areas can be found here, including antelope, deer, prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and others.
The highest point is found on the southwest end right on the edge where the flat expanse of Badger Basin rises up to meet the Bench. The scenery here is typical of most Wyoming badlands areas, where interesting rock and sandstone formations feature a lot of reddish colors alongside the regular browns.
Getting There and Hiking InformationThe main road that accesses the Bench is found by turning north onto North Absaroka Street from downtown Powell, WY. Continue on this road for about 8 miles and you will be on top with the airport off to your left. This road continues north and eventually runs into a maze of oilfield roads. There are opportunities for hiking on many of the roads that lead off of the highway to either the left or right.
To reach the Polecat Bench summit from Powell, take Division street north for 0.3 miles and turn left on Avenue E. The road will end after 8.2 miles, and then you will turn right onto the highway and travel for about 2 more miles. Turn right off of the highway over the yellow cattle guard and continue on the dirt road, which will turn right and go through a fence after about a half mile. Do not follow the main road, but instead travel straight and slight left; this road is in pretty decent shape, but there are a few spots where a high clearance vehicle is necessary. It is possible to drive up onto the top of the bench from this road, but I would recommend parking at around the spot where the road takes a sharp jog to the right, which is about 1.8 miles from the highway, and scrambling up the side of the Bench. This hike will give you an opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic rock formations that cover the side of the Bench; once you reach the top, keep walking left along the side of the flat area and you will reach the summit after less than a half mile. From here you will have great views of Badger Basin to the west and the rest of the Bench to the north and northeast.
This is an easy Class1/Class 2 hike of around 0.6 miles one way with 350 feet of elevation gain.
Red TapeThere are no fees to use this area; there is some private property on the Bench, and the airport and gas companies may restrict access to certain areas. As always in sage-covered areas in Wyoming, keep an eye and an ear out for rattlesnakes.
CampingThe Bench is a mixture of public and private lands, so make sure to research this area thoroughly before camping out. Most of the land on the perimeter of the Bench where the land drops in elevation is controlled by the BLM, so standard BLM camping regulations would apply here. Much of the top is private property controlled by oil companies.
External LinksInformation about fossils and the geological strata on Polecat Bench:
Quick Facts about the Bench: