Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Montana

(406) 276-3536

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is primarily a high elevation mountain wetland-riparian area. Red Rock Creek flows through the upper end of the Centennial Valley, within which the Refuge lies, creating the impressive Upper Red Rock Lake, River Marsh, and Lower Red Rock Lake marshlands. The rugged Centennial Mountains border the Refuge on the south, catching the snows of winter that replenish the Refuge's lakes and marshes. Red Rock Creek is near the headwaters of the Missouri River. This minimally-altered natural and diverse habitat provides for species such as trumpeter swans, moose, sandhill cranes, curlews, peregrine falcons, eagles, numerous hawks and owls, badgers, wolverines, bears, pronghorn, and wolves (in the backcountry). Native fish such as Arctic grayling and west-slope cutthroat trout thrive in this environment. Red Rock Lakes NWR is designated a National Natural Landmark, as well as one of the few marshland Wilderness Areas in the country. As such, it is managed for primitive wilderness values where humans are visitors with minimal permanent impact on the landscape, and where wildlife moves throughout the Refuge with minimal human interaction. Formal trails are not designated or maintained. In keeping with the wilderness spirit, visitors are free to explore the country and follow numerous game trails and tracks made by moose, elk, and deer, and see the country the way wildlife sees it.

Map of Red Rock Lakes NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 44.632505, -111.782455

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Activities

  • Boating

    Boating is limited to canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, and other non-motorized vessels in designated areas. On the Upper Red Rock Lake, boating season is open from July 1 to freeze up. Boating is allowed on the Lower Red Rock Lake from September 1 to freeze up. Boat launching sites are available at both Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes. Boaters are urged to use caution on Refuge waters as sudden storms, high winds, cold temperatures, low water levels, and muddy conditions are common. Be aware also that waterfowl hunting is allowed on the Lower Red Rock Lake. On-board, approved flotation devices are required for each occupant.

  • Bird Watching

    Because of its outstanding habitat diversity, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a unique and exciting place to birdwatch. A total of 232 bird species have been recorded at Red Rock Lakes and in the Centennial Valley. One of the best birding spots on the Refuge is the Upper Red Rock Lake Campground. This site has large open water, mudflats, aspens, willows, grass, sagebrush uplands, and stands of evergreen trees all nearby. Other popular places to birdwatch include the Lower Structure, Idlewild, Odell Creek to Sparrow Pond, between Shambo Pond and the Upper Lake Campground, along Elk Lake Road, and Pintail Ditch West.

  • Bicycling

    Bicycles can travel the existing roads. The low vehicle traffic makes for largely safe bicycling. Bicycles are not permitted on game trails in the backcountry.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Most visitors drive through Red Rock Pass Road, stopping to view and photograph scenery and wildlife.

  • Camping

    Two primitive campgrounds are maintained within the Refuge. The Upper Lake Campground has trees, toilets, potable spring water, fire rings, and picnic tables and is close to mountain hiking and aspen wildlife viewing. The Lower Lake Campground is an open grassland with toilets and fire rings, and is the best place to see water birds. There is no electrical power at either campground.

    Wheelchair-accessible facilities and toilets are available at the headquarters and Upper Lake Campground. Camping is permitted for a maximum of 14 consecutive days at both campgrounds. Camping is not permitted outside established campgrounds. Fires are permitted only in campground grates. Firewood is not provided; however, dead or downed timber can be collected nearby. Chain saws are prohibited. The campground is rarely filled. The Refuge does not take reservations; camping is on a "first come, first serve" basis. There is a charge for camping.

    Please pack your trash.

  • Fishing

    Fishing on designated areas of the refuge in accordance with State fishing regulations is permitted. To protect swans and other waterbirds Swan Lake, River Marsh and Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes are not open to fishing.

  • Hiking

    Visitors are free to hike cross-country or follow any of numerous trails created by big game into the backcountry of the Centennial Mountains.

  • Historic Sites

    The Centennial Valley was well known to the Shoshone-Bannock, the Nez Perce, and other nomadic tribes as a favored travel route between the headwaters of the Big Hole River and the Yellowstone country. The wide stretches of uninterrupted native grasslands provided grazing bison with ample feed and served as their traditional summer range. Settlement by Euroamericans did not occur until 1876. Red Rock Lakes NWR invites you to view and enjoy the nearby historic buildings and artifacts.

  • Hunting

    Antelope, elk, deer, and waterfowl hunting is permitted in designated areas. Be sure to check regulations before you arrive.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Wildlife viewing is best in the cooler portions of the day, such as morning or evening. However, many wildlife species are chance sightings. All visitors are encouraged to use good wildlife viewing practices and ethics, especially when viewing species sensitive to human disturbance, such as trumpeter swans.

  • Winter Sports

    Winter use of snowmobiles is limited to the existing Red Rock Pass and Elk Lake Roads, which exist as primitive backcountry routes. Unlike snowmobiling in nearby Yellowstone National Park, the Refuge's big game are hunted populations, and can be more sensitive to certain types of human contact than non-hunted animals. Winter uses are therefore limited.

Directions

Driving

From Interstate 15 at Monida, Montana, the Refuge headquarters is 28 miles east on an improved (partially graveled) dirt road. From West Yellowstone, follow U.S. 20 for about 12 miles west to the junction with Montana Highway 87. Travel northwest on Montana 87 for 5 miles, and turn south at the Sawtell historical marker. Follow the paved road around the west shore of Henry's Lake for approximately 5 miles onto Red Rock Pass Road (improved dirt road), following it west for about 25 miles to the Refuge entrance. Fill your tank for the 100-mile round trip to the Refuge.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(406) 276-3536

Links