Montana Wildlife Refuges

21 wildlife refuges call Montana home protecting birds, bison, elk, and moose. Benton Lake is a shorebird site. Red Rock Lakes is 45 mins from the Park.
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The big skies of Montana watch over 21 National Wildlife Refuges and five Wetland Management Districts. On each of these protected expanses of land lives hundreds of fish and wildlife species, many of which are endangered.

Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Marbeled Godwit at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Marbeled Godwit at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge is located at the western edge of the famed Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), an area characterized by millions of wetlands or "potholes" which serve as the breeding ground for most of the Nation's waterfowl. These wetlands also harbor scores of other wetland-dependent wildlife, including many endangered species. The PPR is characterized by boom and bust cycles tied to precipitation and runoff.

For more information about Benton Lake, visit

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bear

Red Rock Lakes, for one, is only about 45 miles from Yellowstone. Still part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, Red Rock Lakes offers mountains, wetlands and wildlife.

The scenery there is largely unadulterated by human impact, which provides a chance to see animals and vistas in an uncrowded setting. Located in a remote wilderness setting, there are minimal facilities, few roads and spotty (at best) cell phone coverage. Fill up on food and fuel before heading into the refuge, as there aren’t gas stations or grocery stores within its boundaries.

Rising more than 10,000 feet, the Centennial Mountains guard the refuge’s southern boundary, protect the area from the southern storms and winds. Upper and Lower Red Rock Lake give the park its name, creeks and rivers wind their way through the refuge and ponds dot the landscape.

The refuge plays home to many of the same animals found in Yellowstone National Park, its famed mammals among them. Grizzly bears use the refuge as a corridor for moving between Yellowstone and other parts of Idaho and Montana. Also keep your eyes open for wolves, moose, elk, river otters, deer and pronghorn. Many other smaller mammals live in the refuge as well, including coyote, fox, badger, skunk, cougar, lynx, bobcat, porcupine, wolverines, mink, marten, weasels, pika, and rodents like beavers, marmots, squirrels, porcupine, chipmunks and mice.

The plentiful forests and rich wetlands of Red Rock Lakes offer an ideal habitat for the feeding and breeding habits of birds. Most notable are the trumpeter swans, known for their distinctive call, which booms out like a French horn. Eagles, owls, falcons and hawks also roam the skies, scanning the grasslands for their next meal. A wide range of colorful and sweet-sounding song birds also live in the refuge, tanagers, grosbeaks, meadowlarks, horned larks, sparrows, mountain bluebirds, woodpeckers, magpies and swallows among them.

For more information on Red Rock Lakes, visit

Other Montana Wildlife Refuges

Bison Cow and Calf at the National Bison Range in Montana.

Bison Cow and Calf at the National Bison Range in Montana

If the wildness of Red Rock Lakes sounds intimidating, check out one of Montana’s other wildlife refuges. These links provide more information.


Trumpeter Swan by Jeff Vanuga

Idaho's Harriman State Park & Wildlife Refuge

A 16,000-acre wildlife refuge with moose, elk, sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans. Enjoy some of the nation's best fly fishing on Henry's Fork.

Wild horse at Wild Horse Island. Photo courtesy of Montana State Parks

Montana State Parks between Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

See a Native American bison jump, ancient rock drawings, and wild horses on your road trip between two of America's most popular national parks.

Sunrise over Fishercap Lake in Glacier National Park. Photo by Adam Jewell

Glacier National Park in Montana

Nicknamed the "Crown of the Continent," Glacier National Park sits in the northwest corner of Montana, just a scenic day’s drive north from Yellowstone.

Mountain Chickadee in Wyoming

Go Birding in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah

The beautiful trumpeter swans are the largest North American waterfowl and the world’s heaviest flying birds. Great birding abounds in Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and Idaho

Buffalo Bill State Park Reservoir

Visit a Wyoming State Park near Yellowstone

While in the Yellowstone region, visit any of the numerous state parks including the Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir, Sinks Canyon, and Hot Springs.

Migrating elk at the National Elk Refuge

National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole

Take a sleigh ride and see more than 5,000 elk when they migrate to this lower elevation during the winter near Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone Wildlife Bald Eagle

Yellowstone Wildlife Field Guide: Birds

Happily, many species of birds in Yellowstone today are success stories, having come back from zero or very low population levels just a few decades ago. Good examples are the osprey, bald eagle, and most recently, the peregrine falcon.

Yellowstone bison in spring

Scenic Drive: Wildlife Safari Loop in Yellowstone Country

Search for grizzly bears, moose, elk, black bears, bald eagles, wild horses, bison, and wolves on this driving tour through Yellowstone, Montana, and Idaho.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park in South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota

Get an up-close look at 1,300 wild bison and hike dramatic granite spires at this standout state park in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore.