Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge


(406) 789-2305

Map Directions

Things To Do


Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1935 to provide breeding habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. It is situated in the heavily glaciated rolling plains of northeastern Montana known as the prairie pothole region, a transition zone between the mixed and short grass prairie dotted with numerous lakes and small wetlands. A valuable part of protecting that heritage includes providing opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife through photography, observation, hunting, fishing, and environmental education. The annual migration of hundreds of thousands of birds makes Medicine Lake a premier destination for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. Waterfowl and upland bird hunters also find quality opportunities. Winter brings ice fishing opportunities for northern pike in Medicine Lake. The 31,660-acre Refuge contains 22 natural and artificial lakes and managed impoundments, along with numerous small wetlands or "potholes" encompassing more than 13,000 wetland acres. The dominant feature of the Refuge is the 8,213-acre Medicine Lake. The rest of the Refuge consists of gently rolling mixed-grass prairie with a few trees found along riparian areas.

Map of Medicine Lake NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 48.468141, -104.374580



  • Boating

    Due to the wilderness status of Medicine Lake , power boats are not allowed, nor are powered augers during the ice-fishing season. Canoes and rowboats are permitted on Medicine Lake , but few people use them because of the high winds that can arise at any time, creating safety concerns.

  • Bird Watching

    The Refuge has an observation blind near a sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground, providing an excellent opportunity to get an up-close view of this fascinating ritual of nature.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    The wildlife drive begins on the entrance road to the refuge headquarters which follows the north shore of Medicine Lake heading east from Highway 16. The drive traverses 14 miles of wetland and grassland habitat. As you travel east, you will pass by lakes and ponds that support many different species. Placards are positioned along the drive to give visitors more information on natural and cultural resources as well as management practices.

  • Fishing

    Northern pike inhabit Medicine Lake and some of the surrounding lakes and ponds. Fishing for these predatory fish is best from late fall through the early spring. Fishing or spearing from inside an icehouse is preferred during winter, but fishing from shore or non-motorized boat is a good option in other seasons.

  • Historic Sites

    Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge makes a great outdoor classroom for your school, scout, or civic group. Refuge staff can assist group leaders in planning a trip to the refuge, and depending on availability may be able to accompany a tour.

  • Hunting

    Hunting is allowed on designated areas of Medicine Lake NWR and on all Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). The most common game species hunted are ducks, geese, ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, and white-tailed deer. The hunting of swans and sandhill cranes is prohibited on Medicine Lake NWR. Hunting is permitted in accordance with State seasons and bag limits.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Viewing wildlife is one of the most popular activities within the refuge complex. A 99-foot-high observation tower is located at the refuge headquarters. It provides visitors a unique vista to the western half of the refuge. It is open most of the year, but closes when climatic conditions prohibit climbing the 135 steps to the top.



Medicine Lake NWR is located north of Culbertson, Montana. From US 2, travel north on Montana Highway 16 for 25 miles to the Refuge entrance. Turn east on North Shore Road and travel 2.3 miles over a gravel road to the headquarters.

Phone Numbers


(406) 789-2305