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Visitor Activities

Front view Visitor Center.  Photo by NBR/USFWS

The Visitor Center is a good place to begin a visit to the National Bison Range. Knowledgeable staff is on hand and eager to help you have a great visit. Information about current wildlife sightings, flowers in bloom, photo opportunities, and other activities is available.

Numerous exhibits cover the natural history and conservation of bison. Local and Native American history is also covered, as is the history of the Refuge, which turned 100 in 2008. There is a nice skull and skin collection for viewing. An orientation video is shown upon request.

  • Wildlife Viewing and Photography

    Closeup of wildlife photographers with cameras and lenses on tripods.  Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick, USFWS volunteer

    For those who enjoy getting outdoors and looking for wildlife, the National Bison Range provides some of the best wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities available.  Wildlife is well acclimated to vehicles and if you follow the tips and hints offered, you will improve your success.  Plus it will be more enjoyable for fellow visitors.  And, best of all, it will reduce stress and disturbance of wildlife.

  • Scenic Drives

    Vehicles parked along Prairie Drive, with view of nearby bison herd.  Photo by NBR/USFWS

    The primary means of traveling through the National Bison Range is via personal vehicles. Although the roads are gravel, they are graded and well maintained. Please give yourself enough time to enjoy the trip at a leisurely pace. 

    West Loop and Prairie Drive (year round) 

    These short drives (about 5 miles total) are located in the flats and have large turnarounds. They are open to trailers and large vehicles over 30 feet long. Bison are typically found here in the summer as well as white-tail deer and numerous grassland bird species. 

    Red Sleep Mountain Drive (mid-May to early-Oct) 

    This 19-mile, one-way loop road gains 2,000 feet and there are many switchbacks and 10% grades along the drive. For safety reasons, no vehicles over 30-feet long nor any trailers are allowed on this drive. Visitors may leave their trailers at the Visitor Center Parking Lot. Allow at least 1 ½ to 2 hours to travel. Watch for bighorn sheep at the higher elevations. Two walking trails are located along this road.  

    Winter Drive (early-Sept to mid-May) 

    This 10-mile roundtrip is an extension of the Prairie Drive, allowing visitors to access Mission Creek during the winter. It is open only during the winter season – please obey the Do Not Enter signs when posted. Trailers and large vehicles are allowed on this route but the only large turnaround is at the end. White-tail deer frequent the creek bottoms in winter and wintering rough-legged hawks hunt the prairie.


    To promote viewing along Mission Creek, the Service has opened the Winter Drive to two-way traffic after Labor Day. This allows for access to the creek from either direction (coming off the one-way Red Sleep Mountain Drive or “backwards” from the Visitor Center area).

     

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  • Trails

    Nature Trail Kiosk with Map of trails, near parking area and trailhead.  Photo by NBR/USFWS

    Although limited in number and short in distance, the trails at the National Bison Range can provide visitors with a way to slow their pace and enjoy nature in a more relaxed manner. 

    Located in the Day Use Area, the 1-mile Nature Trail is open year-round and parts of the trail are paved and accessible. It travels around ponds and along Mission Creek. Large cottonwoods and dense junipers provide excellent habitat for cavity nesting birds, including woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, and pygmy and northern saw-whet owls. Signs along the trail help interpret the plants and animals living here. 

    The short 1/4 mile Grassland Trail accesses the area behind the Visitor Center and is also open year round. Although very short, it does provide access for viewing prairie wildflowers in the spring. 

    During the summer season, visitors along Red Sleep Mountain Drive can choose to walk two trails. The 1/2-mile roundtrip Bitterroot Trail is fairly flat but also fairly rocky. As it names suggest, it is a great place to see the Montana State Flower, the bitterroot, in bloom in June. Wildflowers are prominent along the trail and dusky grouse sometimes display in the area during the spring.

    Visitors can hike to the highest point of the Refuge (4,885 feet above sea level) along the 1-mile roundtrip High Point Trail along the Service Road starting from the Geology Display, which presents background on Glacier Lake Missoula. This trail does have a steep incline but views from the top take in areas not seen from the drives. Bighorn Sheep can sometimes be seen from this trail. 

  • Fishing

    Two People fishing along Mission Creek.  Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

    Fishing on the National Bison Range is a relaxing and scenic activity. Fishing is permitted along designated portions of Mission Creek. Visitors can access fishing from the Nature Trail (located in the Day Use Area) where there is an accessible fishing pier trail. Parking and access to the other walk-in area is located east of the day use area. Access to the fishing area is only permitted at these areas and visitors may not access Mission Creek from the scenic drives. Please watch for and obey signs designating closed areas. 

    The Jocko River also provides fishing opportunities. A short but rough trail leaves from the parking area along Highway 200. 

    In accordance with State law and the Joint State/Tribal Agreement, anglers must possess a joint Flathead Reservation Use and Conservation Permit and Fishing Stamp. For limits, seasons and other regulations, refer to the Flathead Indian Reservation Fishing Regulations.

    While fishing in Refuge waters, there is the potential to catch bull trout, which is listed as a threatened species. To learn more about identifying a bull trout, you can take a short tutorial at Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks website .

    In order to protect migratory birds, the Refuge has prohibited the use lead sinkers or lead-based lures.
     

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Page Photo Credits — Credit: USFWS
Last Updated: Sep 02, 2014
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