Ten Sleep Preserve, located in central Wyoming, was my first introduction to Wyoming. It’s a wonderful place to hike, camp, and experience some of the state’s lesser known natural wonders. The preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy. Thus, it is part of a system of preserves across the United States and beyond that are meant to protect unique and important ecosystems. It’s possible to visit Tensleep Preserve and support the Nature Conservancy’s work all over the world.
This guide will introduce you to the preserve, lay out how you can check it out yourself, and share some pictures of this beautiful place.
- 1 About Ten Sleep Preserve
- 2 Hiking in TenSleep Preserve
- 3 Respect in Tensleep Preserve
- 4 Staying Safe in Tensleep Preserve
- 5 The Nature Conservancy
- 6 Planning Your Trip to Wyoming?
About Ten Sleep Preserve
Tensleep Preserve is a Nature Conservancy preserve that is located at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. And it is nestled near the small town of Ten Sleep. It is home to beautiful forests and canyons. And it has exceptional views of the arid lands surrounding the western side of the Bighorn. Visiting Tensleep Preserve presents a quite opportunity to hike and enjoy nature in a protected landscape.
How to Visit Tensleep Preserve
Tensleep Preserve is open from May to October, and it has a learning center, tent camp, and a trail system for visitors. The Nature Conservancy website suggests making a call to the preserve before coming by, (307) 366 – 2671. When I visited, I was there with a group, and I believe that we paid $45-$90 a night to camp. But I can’t recall. Prices aren’t listed on the Nature Conservancy website, but if you are planning on trying to visit Tensleep Preserve, plan on bringing some cash for a potential entrance fee, with more to camp. You can also learn more about the Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Wyoming here: https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/WY_PreserveGuide_2022v2.pdf
Getting to Tensleep Preserve
When I traveled to Tensleep Preserve, I was warned before leaving to not follow Google’s directions to the preserve, because it was going to take me on a crazy dirt road through the mountains. So, I will share the same information with all of you if you are going to try to visit Tensleep Preserve.
Where ever you are coming from, use the 16 to get to the Tensleep area. From the west, this will take you through the town of Ten Sleep. And from the east, you will leave from Buffalo and go through the Bighorn Mountains on a paved road. From the 16, take county road 436 south. The 436 is a dirt road, but it is easily passable by car. You will take this for several miles until coming to a gate for the preserve.
Make sure to ask about passing through the gate when you call ahead.
You will then head up into the Preserve. There is an initial set of buildings with some information, but you will want to keep driving from here, unless there is someone manning the building. Drive until you come to a fork in the road, and follow the signs which should point you to the right. This road will take you to the learning center, the manager’s home, the campground, and a parking lot. Along the way, you will also pass a small trailhead. I’d suggest parking in the larger parking lot at the end of the road.
Be sure to stay on well-maintained roads.
Camping and Staying in Tensleep
The tent camp in Tensleep Preserve is very nice. They are large, canvas tents with two cots and some chairs. The learning center also has showers, bathrooms, and a kitchen. However, if you are planning on camping at Tensleep, you should definitely call ahead a make sure that you can stay at the camp and use all the amenities. As of 2022, they were still not fully open due to COVID-19 impacts and other considerations.
That being said, if you aren’t able to stay in the Preserve, but you really want to visit, there are other lodging and camping options in the nearby area. Although the town of Ten Sleep is very small, so there won’t be loads of options. Booking.com was mostly showing short term rentals when I looked, so you might consider reaching out directly to lodging options. In particular, the Carter Inn has good reviews and is right in the middle of town. There are also camping sites in the Bighorns close to Ten Sleep. You may look at Buffalo as well, and just plan your day around the drive. Plan ahead if you decide to visit Tensleep Preserve.
In town, there are a few small shops, including a convenience store named Dirty Sally’s with groceries, and some food options (including very tasty ice cream). There are also a couple restaurants and a gas station.
Hiking in TenSleep Preserve
The best thing you can do if you’d like to hike in Tensleep Preserve, is touch base with the site manager. There are many trails in the preserve. And only a couple short ones are apparent if you just try to follow trail signs.
That being said, the short hikes that you can do when you visit Tensleep Preserve, will take you to some very beautiful viewpoints. I would argue that these are hard to match. Even compared to the views that you can snatch while driving up or down Tensleep Canyon through the mountains, those in the Preserve are spectacular. They also have the added benefit of being far more wild. They lack the highway and established campgrounds that the main canyon sports. You can access these views by following the main trail from the trailhead just up the road from the parking lot. There are a few small signs along the way. However, hikers don’t heavily use this trail, so it can be hard to see at times.
You will walk through the forest, with a slight incline towards the canyon edge, and then the trail will end at the edge of the canyon. Take in the mountains, the forest, and the low lands to the south of the preserve while exploring this way.
I believe that there is also a much more challenging trail that will take you into the canyon. Personally, I would only give this one a try after talking to the manager. This will be much steeper and thus require more fitness to navigate comfortably. The conditions of this trail may change as well, potentially making it harder to follow, or increasing the potential for danger. Checking in with the preserve manager will make it clear if you need to worry about anything and to make sure you can do the trail at all.
Respect in Tensleep Preserve
There is much more than meets the eye in Tensleep Preserve. And that is saying something, because there is quite a lot that meets the eye here. Besides the natural beauty of this place, it is also somewhere that has frequented by people for thousands of years. That means that anyone exploring this area should be respectful of this place for many reasons. (1) We respect all places, especially natural ones here! (2) This is a storied place full of history and indigenous links to the land. (3) It is someone’s home – people, plants, and animals.
Please be sure to stay on the trails, and respect the quiet nature of this place. It is also important that if you visit Tensleep Preserve, you don’t take anything from the land. This includes anything from seemingly average rocks to any artifacts that you may fine. Furthermore, if you see any artifacts and photograph them, please do not post their location to the internet.
If you are curious to learn more about the history of the Preserve, you might consider stopping by the learning center if it is open, or inquiring with the Nature Conservancy.
Staying Safe in Tensleep Preserve
As I say in every post, your safety is your first responsibility and your safety is your responsibility alone. This guide is not a guarantee of your safety nor does it indicate that you will be safe traveling any of the trails or roads described.
This is a wild part of the world. There are not a lot of people out here, and if anything were to happen, it would be quite the ordeal getting you out. Furthermore, some of the trails are steep and can be hard to follow.
Bottom line, take care of yourself. It isn’t worth hurting yourself for any photo or view. For Tensleep Preserve, the best additional thing (along with normal safety precautions) to do is to check in with the preserve manager.
The Nature Conservancy
When you visit Tensleep Preserve, you will notice that this is a pretty unique place. Of course, that’s true because it is a beautiful and unique natural place. Additionally, however, it is different because it is one of a few preserves stewarded by the the Nature Conservancy. This conservation nonprofit works all over the world, doing a variety of different projects and activities to protect biodiversity everywhere.
When you visit these preserves, and contribute some money to visit and/or as a donation, you are supporting their work. In the case of Tensleep Preserve, this includes the livelihoods of the people that manage and take care of the preserve. When I visited, I had the opportunity to meet these folks, and I can say, they are kind, good people, with so much expertise. They help protect the plants and animals of this place, as well as its history and all the exceptional elements of the landscape that you hope to see when you visit Tensleep Preserve.
If you’d like to donate to the Nature Conservancy or to learn more about them start with their donation page: https://preserve.nature.org/page/119497/donate/
Other Nature Conservancy Preserves
In the past, I visited some other Nature Conservancy Preserves when I visited Molokai. Part of Santa Cruz Island of the California Channel Islands is preserved by the Nature Conservancy. And the Hassayampa Preserve in Arizona, which is now run by Maricopa County Parks and Rec, was previously a preserve run by the Nature Conservancy. And these are just the few of their preserves that I’ve visited. There might be some in your backyard as well.
In Wyoming, there are a total of four Nature Conservancy preserves in the state. These include Tensleep, Red Canyon Ranch and Preserve, Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve, and Sweetwater Preserve. Check out the Nature Conservancy’s guide to learn more about these preserves: https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/WY_PreserveGuide_2022v2.pdf
Planning Your Trip to Wyoming?
There is no shortage of things to do and see in Wyoming. If you are planning your own journey to this beautiful state, check out my Guide to Wyoming. All of my posts about the state are contained there, along with some information and resources on the nature and history of Wyoming.
Most recently, I also wrote about hiking at Devil’s Tower National Park and why its about time to restore the park’s more indigenous name – Bear Lodge.