Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Overview
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is located in the scenic and isolated Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana, approximately 50 miles west of Yellowstone National Park. The refuge has a vast array of habitats, ranging from high elevation prairie at 6,600 feet, to the harsh alpine habitat of the Centennial Mountains at 10,000 feet above sea level. It is this diverse, marsh-prairie-montane environment that gives Red Rock Lakes its unique character.
Because of this habitat diversity, Red Rock Lakes is a unique wildlife area. The rugged mountains bordering the valley catch the heavy snows of winter that replenish the vast Red Rock marsh. The Red Rock Lakes ecosystem is one of the most important trumpeter swan breeding areas in North America, and for this reason the refuge was established in 1935. But Red Rock is more than trumpeter swans; it is a unique birding area. Sandhill cranes can be seen on the refuge from April to September. The refuge is also home to a variety of mammals native to the region.
A total of 232 species of birds have been recorded at Red Rock Lakes and the Centennial Valley. A small percentage of this total is year-round resident birds. Because of the short summer season, most birds migrate out of this area to winter/spring, and migration is very slow. Many migrants pass over Red Rock Lakes without stopping due to the harsh conditions. Fall migration, however, is much more spectacular.
Visiting the Refuge
Wildlife observation, hiking, and photography are permitted, except in areas designated as closed for the protection of swans and other sensitive wildlife. Commercial photographers must obtain a permit at Refuge headquarters.
Trumpeter swans are extremely sensitive to disturbance and may abandon nests or young if disturbed. Please do not approach nesting swans. Pets must be kept leashed at all times. Horses are permitted only for access into mountainous areas south of Red Rock Pass Road. Feed must be weed-free.
Be prepared for cool summer temperatures, frigid winters, and sudden rain or snow storms during any season. Hazardous bogs and sinkholes are found throughout the Refuge. Caution is advised when traveling through wet areas. Mosquitoes are abundant from early spring through late summer.
Vehicles are restricted to maintained Refuge roads, parking areas, and "through" roads (roads that originate outside the boundaries and pass through the Refuge). Snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are not permitted on Refuge roads; however, they are allowed on through roads, in accordance with State law. Gasoline is not available locally but can be purchased in West Yellowstone, or Lima, Montana.
Refuge Roads: Lower Lake Road is open May 15 through December 1; Culver Road is open July 15 through September 30; Idlewild Trail is open to vehicles September 1 through December 1 and for hiking only December 2 through August 31.
Through Roads: Red Rock Pass, North Side, and Elk Lake Roads are open all year, as weather permits.
Camping is permitted, free of charge, for a maximum of 14 consecutive days at the Upper Lake and River Marsh campgrounds. Camping is not permitted outside established campgrounds. Grates and toilets are available at both campgrounds; tables and water are available at the Upper Lake Campground only.
Fires are permitted only in campground grates. Firewood is not provided; however, dead or downed timber can be collected. Chain saws are prohibited. Please pack out your trash.
Boating is limited to canoes in designated areas, except as permitted during the waterfowl hunting season. Boaters are urged to use caution on Refuge waters as sudden storms, high winds, cold temperatures, low water levels, and muddy conditions are common. On-board, approved floatation devices are required for each occupant.
State regulations apply to all Refuge waters.
Fishing is permitted from the third Saturday in May through the end of November on Odell Creek, Red Rock Creek, and Elk Springs Creek west of Elk Lake Road.
Wigeon Pond, Culver Pond, MacDonald Pond, Picnic Creek, and Elk Springs Creek east of Elk Lake Road are open July 15 through September 30.
Other Refuge waters are closed to fishing. To prevent waterfowl poisoning, lead sinkers are prohibited. Tubes and other floatation devices are prohibited on Refuge waters unless specifically posted as open at parking areas. Artificial lures and flies are required at Culver and MacDonald Ponds. Bait fishing is allowed on other Refuge waters opened to fishing.
Red Rock Lakes NWR
Monida Star Route, Box 15
Lima, MT 59739
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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Articles & Advice on Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
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- Upper Red Rock Lake Map