Skip Navigation

Plan Your Visit

Visitor Center Bill West 512Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge provides wildlife based recreational opportunities to thousands of visitors every year. People enjoy viewing the unique geology and diverse wildlife, whether by boat, automobile or foot. The refuge elevation spans from 6,600 feet in the valley to 9,400 feet in the Centennial Mountains, creating diverse habitats and weather conditions.  We recommend sturdy footwear, warm clothing, rain gear, and a camera, good binoculars or spotting scope for optimum enjoyment. Please read this section carefully to plan your visit to increase your enjoyment and safety.  Remember, weather is unpredictable on the refuge and extreme variations in precipitation and temperature can exist from day to day and week to week.

Best Time To Visit: 

The best time to visit the refuge is from May through September. The refuge can receive a lot of snow during the winter months from as early as October through April that makes it much more of a challenge to visit. In winter, the only access from the east is via snow machine and travelling from the west is sometimes limited to a 28 mile snowmobile ride from Monida, Montana. June and July are best for wildflower viewing. May and June will find many birds, and mammals (like the Pronghorn) giving birth. Fall provides opportunity for viewing colorful willows and aspens as they ready for winter.

Weather: 

Be prepared for cool summer temperatures, frigid winters, and sudden rain or snow storms during any season. Mosquitoes are abundant from early spring through late summer. Weather in the refuge is like most places in the Rocky Mountains. It can be warm one day and very cold the next day. However, the trends are predictable. Winter can be as cold as -50F but is normally in the sub-teens. It begins to warm up in April and May, reaching daytime temps of 60 to 70F and nighttime temps of 35 to 40F. August can be as warm as 75-88F with nights at 45 to 50F. Fall begins to become more moderate with daytime temps from 55F to 70F and 28F to 37F during the night. Plan accordingly to ensure you have the proper clothing and footwear. Click HERE for the current weather and forecast at the refuge.

Roads:  

There are few roads through the refuge and those are all rough gravel/dirt roads. The main road is South Valley Road and virtually goes from Monida (I-15, exit 0) through the center of the refuge and on to US20 in Idaho (as Red Rock Road), a total of 56 miles. The North Valley road has numerous sandy areas. The roads may be impassable at any time, but typically during summer the roads are easy to travel for any type vehicle, but rough.  In early spring (April/May) roads may be difficult or impossible to pass due to the ground thawing, snowmelt and spring rains, creating muddy or flooded conditions. Fill your vehicle's fuel tank up before leaving the paved highways, for it is nearly 50 miles to the nearest gas station, so plan accordingly. Dirt and gravel roads are rough and flat tires are not uncommon. Be prepared and carry a good spare tire in your vehicle. Keeping your speed down can avoid flats.  Check the inflation of your spare tire prior to entering the valley, the only area with consistent cell phone coverage in the valley is on the North and Northeast side of the valley through Verizon.  A flat tire with no operable spare can lead to a long wait for a passing by vehicle, if one does pass by, or a long walk to find reception to call a tow truck. 

Camping and Lodging: 

Many people travel here in small motorhomes, camping trailers, pickup campers or autos with their own tent. The refuge has a maintained primitive campground (without hookups) at  both Upper and Lower Red Rock Lake. There is a modest nightly fee. Be prepared for cold weather, especially in April/May/June and after August. The only nearby lodging is a very small private resort off the refuge at Elk Lake that requires advance reservations. There is lodging in Lima (43 miles west) and Island Park (35 miles east).  There is potable artesian spring water at the Upper Lake Campground, no water is available at Lower Lake Campground.  Trash must be packed out when you leave.  Bear food storage requirements are in effect, and Upper Lake Campground has bear-safe food storage containers available.

Food: 

There are no commercial places at the refuge to buy food, (prepared or otherwise), except near Elk Lake (and only by reservation, if available). Plan to bring enough food and water for the length of your stay. A trip to the nearest store may be 100 miles or more round-trip. Spring water is available at the Upper Red Rock Lake campground and there is a drinking fountain at the visitor's center.  There are no vending machines in the valley.

Restrooms: 

Each campground has a primitive toilet. The visitor center has a primitive toilet outside for use when the center is closed and an indoor restroom with water when open. Please DO NOT put anything other than toilet paper in the toilets. 

Medical Facilities: 

There are no medical facilities within at least 55 miles of the refuge, and those are not easy to reach quickly from the primitive refuge roads. If you visit the refuge and suffer from a chronic medical condition, bring the appropriate medications and supplies as it will be difficult or impossible to obtain them here in a timely manner. Also note that the altitude could adversely affect existing cardiac or breathing conditions if you are not acclimated to 6600 feet.

Please dial 911 if you have a medical emergency. NOTE: Cell phone coverage is not available in all places throughout the refuge. If the visitor center is open there is a land line available for emergency use. Some cell coverage is available on the north and east end of the refuge through Verizon.  Due to the distance to the nearest hospital with an ER and terrain (creating for a potentially dangerous rough ride for the patient), any medical emergencies usually results in the dispatch of air medical flight services.  

Exploring: 

You will find abundant opportunities to hike, fish, hunt, take pictures, and observe a variety of wildlife and flowers at the refuge. While visiting the refuge, feel free to stop by the visitor's center and headquarters in Lakeview, Montana for information and to see our wildlife displays.  We have many bones, skulls, and animal pelts that may be handled and touched, along with cased body mounts of a trumpeter swan and cygnet along with other birds and mammals.

Wildlife observation, hiking, and photography are permitted on the refuge, except in areas designated as closed to public entry. The area around Shambow Pond is closed to the public year-round and there are other small areas with seasonal closures. To preserve the wilderness explorer spirit, there are few hiking trails. To download a list of our birds in PDF format, click here.

 

For an up-to-date report on the road conditions on area roads outside of Red Rock Lakes NWR, view the Montana Department of Transportation Traveler Information website. Montana Department of Transportation also has a camera at Monida Pass on I-15 near the turn-off to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to show real time conditions, which can be viewed here.  For refuge road reports please contact the refuge at (406) 276-3536

Last Updated: Mar 28, 2014
Return to main navigation