porucpine waterfalls off scenic highway 14A

Waterfalls Off Scenic Highway 14A

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US Highway 14A, also known as Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway, travels 98 miles from Cody, Wyoming to Burgess Junction.  It features five waterfalls on the 53 mile stretch between Lovell and Burgess Junction along with a few other interesting stops.  Below are the five waterfalls off Scenic Highway 14A.

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Upper Layout Creek Falls

From Lovell the first waterfall off Scenic Highway 14A you will find is in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  The trailhead to Upper Layout Creek Falls is found at the historic Ewing Snell Ranch.  The park service provides a picnic area, a dirt parking lot, and pit toilets.

A trail sign to the right of the farm equipment points to a dirt road and indicates a 3-mile roundtrip.  From this point AllTrails clocks a 4.42 mile roundtrip. The description on the park website claims the hike is 1.8 miles excluding the road.  I don’t know what the accurate number is, but I know you can drive down the road to a 2-car parking area to shave off 2-miles (according to AllTrails).

However, to get your legs warmed up for an extremely steep hike, I suggest walking the gentle ascent on the road.  Once you cross the creek, prepare for a daunting incline, gaining nearly 1,000 feet in the following mile.  The rocky trail climbs through cacti, sage, and juniper with hardly a switchback creating grades over 50%.

Ultimately, an offshoot trail goes right to the falls which tumbles between the cliffs onto a giant boulder.  The water splits to either side of the boulder into a refreshing pool.  It is quite lovely, though the view is slightly obscured by tree limbs.

Continuing up the path just a bit further rewards hikers with a spring that seeps out of the canyon walls.  The springs spread across the rocks creating a lush vegetation unique to the canyon.  This hike is the most strenuous of this list of hikes to waterfalls off Scenic Highway 14A.

Five Springs Falls

The second waterfall off Scenic Highway 14A is Five Springs Falls.  Five Springs Falls is located next to the Five Springs Campground.  The road to the trailhead, though paved, is steep and narrow.  I wouldn’t recommend an RV or a 5th wheel, but any other car can make it.

There are pit toilets, trash cans, and picnic tables on site.  The hike is only 0.4 miles roundtrip to the lower falls along a well-maintained path.  You can get a glimpse of the upper falls through the trees, but it requires rock scrambling and becomes longer and much more challenging.

five springs waterfalls off scenic highway 14A

Porcupine Falls

Continuing east on Scenic Highway 14A, you climb through steep canyon terrain and high alpine meadows.  The views and wildlife are stunning!  Shortly after the Medicine Wheel National Historical Landmark, you turn off Highway 14A onto Sheep Mountain Road into the Bighorn National Forest to reach both Porcupine Falls and Bucking Mule Falls.  After that, follow the forest signs to Porcupine Falls, as Google has you turn too early on a very rough road.

There is a small dirt parking area at the trailhead for Porcupine Falls.  The 0.8 mile trail to the falls is short, but steep and consists of many stairs. Additionally, it descends first, requiring hikers to gain 360 feet in 0.4 miles on the return.  Consequently, the trail is rated as moderate on AllTrails, though it takes only about 30-45 minutes to complete.

Porcupine Falls are spectacular.  I visited the Porcupine Falls twelve years ago during a year-long road trip across the USA.  I liked them so much, I returned.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark and visited it again too.

Anyway, the falls plummet 200 feet into a teal blue pool deep enough for cliff jumping, I’m told.  During high water years, you will also find water spilling through a hole in the canyon wall to the right.  Stay a while and enjoy the majesty.  Also, on your way back up the stairs, take a rest and enjoy the overlooks.

Bucking Mule Falls

Just a few miles past the turn off to Porcupine Falls is Bucking Mule Falls.  This large parking area for cars and horse trailers has pit toilets.  The trail leaves from the southwest side of the parking area and gradually descends through a damaged forest with intermittent views and wildflower meadows.

It culminates at a rock promontory overlooking Devils Canyon and Bucking Mule Falls in the distance.  The 600-foot falls is one of the West’s tallest cascades.  Definitely bring a snack for this moderate 4.9 mile hike and enjoy it on the overlook while taking in the fantastic views.

While passing through Bighorn National Forest to Porcupine Falls and Bucking Mule Falls, keep an eye out for deer and moose.  I saw both!

Paradise Falls

The final waterfall off Scenic Highway 14A is Paradise Falls.  The turn off is a few miles east of Sheep Mountain Road on the south side of the highway.  There are no signs, so it is easy to miss.  If you ascend to an overlook, you have gone too far.  That said, the Alltrails directions gets you to the road.

In fact, Alltrails indicates the hike starts at the turnoff, but there is a dirt parking area closer to the single-track trail.  Should you wish to hike from the turnoff, the length of the hike is only 2.6 miles.  The dirt road provides lovely meadow views with wildflowers, chipmunks, and marmots. 

Also, there are often two bull moose hanging out in the meadow between the dirt road and the distant overlook. So if you like wildlife and views, you won’t be disappointed with adding mileage to the hike.  Obviously, for a shorter jaunt, drive down the road half a mile and then start down the trail.

Yes, this trail descends first too.  In fact, all but the Five Cave Springs Trail do.  The single track weaves through the forest, crosses an open field of sage and wildflowers, and cuts through the willows to the creek. 

Crossing the creek leads you to the top of the falls which is a series of small cascades and pools.  Many folks come here to cool off in the creek.

Following the Alltrails map, however, you will veer left on a faded trail before the creek which climbs some rock stairs cut into the granite.  Thereafter, the path descends to the bottom of the falls and extends through a meadow to another cascade which sprays down the high canyon walls.

I was so surprised to find this hidden gem.  Take a minute to admire it before turning back and scrambling to the base of Paradise Falls. This moderate hike, with 600 feet of elevation gain, packs in quite a variety in a short time.  It is quite a delight!

Bonus Waterfall Off Scenic Highway 14

While Shell Falls in not a waterfall off Scenic Highway 14A, for anyone driving the scenic loop from Cody, to Burgess Junction, to Shell, and back, Shell Falls is another cascade to visit.  This interpretive site has bathrooms, stairs and viewing platforms.  The raging waterfall is so close to Highway 14 (not 14A), that I wouldn’t even call it a hike, but a waterfall view.  With all the commercialization, it is suited for just about anyone.

shell falls

Anyway, for waterfall lovers like me, you can’t go wrong chasing waterfalls off Scenic Highway 14A! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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