Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Centennial Valley, Montana
The road to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the Centennial Valley
Whooping cranes

The 44,963 acres of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge are located in the high altitude of Centennial Valley, just north of the Centennial Range in southwestern Montana. This is a very remote area of high altitude prairie and forested uplands.

Red Rock Lakes NWR was established in 1935 and is the site of the original effort to save the endangered trumpeter swan from extinction. In 1932 there were less than 200 known trumpeters in the wild and the effort to save them was so successful that by 2002, an estimated 3,000 trumpeter swans were wintering at Red Rock Lakes NWR.

Red Rock Lakes NWR contains one of the few marshland Wilderness Areas in America and is a designated National Natural Landmark.

The altitude of the property varies from a low of 6,600' to a high of almost 10,000' in the Centennial Mountains. More than 250 species of birds have been documented using the lakes and cold water marshlands that make up this uncommon wetland environment. There are at least 20 pairs of nesting Bald Eagles in the area and endangered peregrine falcons and whooping cranes are often seen here.

Refuge staff manage the property primarily for its wilderness value. There are no designated or maintained trails on the property so if you go hiking here, you're probably going to be walking game trails made by the deer, elk and moose. If there's no snow on the ground (and it can snow here any time of year), you might even be cursing the clouds of mosquitos in the air. If you should somehow venture unknowing into a wet area, you might be in serious trouble: hazardous bogs and sinkholes are almost everywhere.

Camping is only permitted in established campgrounds with a stay limit of 14 days and a minimal camping fee is charged. The established campgrounds are Upper Lake and River Marsh. Both campgrounds offer fire grates and toilets but only Upper Lake offers picnic tables, drinking water and wheelchair-accessible facilities and restrooms. The campgrounds are almost never filled. Dead and downed timber can be collected for firewood but chainsaws are not allowed. Fishing is permitted from the end of May to the end of October in certain areas but be aware of special regulations (usually posted at the kiosks at the campgrounds).

To get there: from the I-15 at Monida, go east on County Road 509 for 28 miles. CR 509 is an improved dirt road that is partially graveled.

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge area mapHarriman State ParkHenry's Lake State ParkCentennial Mountains
Red Rock Lakes National Wildife Refuge area map logo
Upper photo of the Centennial Valley courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.
Photo of the whooping cranes courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Lower map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!
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