- Bighorn National Forest, north-central Wyoming
- Historical Site
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is the most important of several medicine wheels in the American West. Constructed around 700 years ago and aligned with the stars, it is an important sacred site for local Indians as well as New Age practitioners.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is located in the Bighorn National Forest in north-central Wyoming, at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet on Medicine Mountain. Its elevation makes the medicine wheel inaccessible much of the year due to snow pack.
The wheel is made simply of locally gathered rocks. From a central cairn (pile of stones) of about 10 feet across and 2 feet high, 28 spokes radiate out to a rim of about 80 feet in diameter and 245 feet in circumference. Six smaller cairns are spaced along the rim.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is astronomically aligned: four of the outer cairns line up with the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice, and the others with the three bright stars that fade as the sun rises on summer mornings: Aldebaran, Rigel and Sirius. The 28 spokes are likely to correspond with the days of the lunar month.
Today, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is protected by a wire fence with wooden posts, to which prayer offerings are often found attached. Offerings are still left in the cairns of the wheel as well.
Several contemporary related sites can be found in the vicinity of the wheel, including ceremonial staging areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars, offering places and vision quest enclosures.
Around 100 medicine wheels have been identified throughout North America, including examples in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is considered the type site.
Highway 14A is closed from October through May.
The road that leads up to the Medicine Wheel itself, from the interepretive site, no longer permits motorized vehicles, except for handicap accessibility. You will have to walk the last 1.5 miles, so bring a lot of water.
Forest Road 12 is often closed due to snow until mid-late June.
The Medicine Wheel is closed for short periods for Native American ceremonies.
A fence surrounds the Wheel and Native Americans have placed prayer cloths along with other sacred symbolic items on the fence. It is expected that visiting tourists respect these items and not disturb them.