Red Rock Lakes is a great place to connect children with nature and the great outdoors!
Wildlife viewing and the scenery can be great from motor vehicles, while short trails to Sparrow Pond and boat launches at both Upper and Lower Lake, along with the Lower Lake water control structure, offer great views of wetland and grasslands areas with relatively easy access (trails are not ADA compliant). For a more stringent activity, take the Odell Creek Trail into the Centennial Mountains. This trail meanders through the forest, crossing many small streams with footbridges with views of forest openings and glimpses of the valley. The trail eventually connects with the Continental Divide Trail. All creek crossing on refuge lands have bridges. After departing refuge lands you will meet Odell Creek. Odell Creek may not be passable after heavy rains or spring snow melt, be prepared to wade across this wide creek! After the creek, the trail enters the interesting and unique Odell Canyon. While no negative encounters have been reported in recent times, this is grizzly bear country and it is highly recommended that bear spray be carried as a precaution. Keep your eyes open for bear signs, it is not uncommon to find bear scratch marks on trees or prints in the mud!
Bicycles are a good way to see the refuge since it has few roads and the ones that are here are not frequently traveled. Bikes are only allowed in campgrounds and on maintained roads open to motor vehicles. ATVs are not the best way to enjoy the refuge since animals are scared, dust coats the wildflowers and dust and noise disturb the other visitors.
Wildlife and Bird Sightings:
Ask your children to make a list of all the animals they see. See who can locate the most and name them properly. Look for birds too! Look for pronghorn (most common), deer (Mule and white-tailed), moose, elk, badger, otters, muskrats and bear (least common). Look for swans, white pelicans, gulls, ducks, and songbirds. Get a bird list from the visitor center or print one from here and bring a bird book to help identify birds. Visit the Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird website for more information. The National Wildlife Federation has a great site for kids too. Check out the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks portal for kids and education.
Use a wildflower book and let the children roam along the meadows at the base of Taylor Mountain and Sheep Mountain. Ask them to identify the wildflowers. Print the list of flora on the refuge to help in your search.
Have Mom or Dad teach the children how to fish in Red Rock Creek. Fishermen and kids must have the proper permits and licenses to fish (see Fishing Regulations), but you'll find no better place to fish than here with the scenic beauty all around. (See Go Fishing at the Montana State Fishing website)
If you camp overnight here you'll notice the incredible dark skies, especially when the moon is absent. The refuge is at least 50 miles from any small city and a hundred from any larger cities so the light pollution is minimal. Use a smartphone or tablet app to let children point at the sky to identify constellations, or better bring a sky chart and let them find the stars themselves. Locate the North star and go from there. A telescope would be an even better way to introduce them to astronomy if an adult is familiar with its use. Check out the StarDate beginner's webpage for some great tips for kids.
Allow your children some time to paint, draw or photograph the scenic beauty at the refuge. Bring along some paints and paper, or drawing books and pencils and/or simple cameras or smartphones. The earlier the children learn to express their artistic talents using nature as a subject the better stewards of the environment they will likely become as an adult. Encourage them to share their creations with others. For those that are more literary in their talents, encourage them to take notes and write a short story about something at the refuge, or write a description of something they find really interesting.
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In 1932, fewer than 70 trumpeters were known to exist worldwide, at a location near Yellowstone National Park. This led to the establishment of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in 1935. Red Rock Lakes is located in Montana's Centennial Valley and is part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Nearly half of the known trumpeter swans in 1932 were found in this area. Warm springs provide year-round open waters where swans find food and cover even in the coldest weather.
Today, estimates show about 46,225 trumpeter swans reside in North America, including some 26,790 in the Pacific Coast population (Alaska,Yukon, and NW British Columbia) which winter on the Pacific Coast; 8,950 in Canada; about 9,809 in the Midwest; and about 487 in the tri-state area of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana (including the Red Rock Lakes refuge flock).