Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area (WPA)

Smith Lake WPA duck nest 512x219

Ground nesting Mallards are a common duck on Smith Lake WPA.


Smith Lake WPA was purchased in 1973 and consists of both the approximately 750 acre wetland complex around Smith Lake as well as the 180 acres of forested uplands on the south side of Smith Lake Road. The wetlands are dominated by reed canary grass, bulrush and cattail. It was established for nesting waterfowl. Smith Lake WPA is also an important migratory bird resting area. The Smith Lake WPA wetland complex is used by tens of thousands of migratory birds. The sounds of calling and singing birds is deafening during these spring and fall migrations as the birds refuel in order to complete the rest of their journeys either north for nesting in the spring or south to their wintering areas.

As Smith Lake progressively thaws in the spring, migrating waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds and swans fill every inch of open water. As early as the first weeks in March, Mallards, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Canada Geese arrive at Smith Lake WPA. Incredibly, this early in spring most of the lake is still frozen and the uplands are still covered in snow. But - waterfowl easily spot the first small areas of open water of the spring and begin to congregate at the outlet of Ashley Creek on the east side of Smith Lake. Large flocks of Ruddy Ducks, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Common Goldeneye, and American Coots soon follow. May duck pair count surveys have recorded 500 to 700 ducks present during early nesting seasons. The majority of these ducks are divers including Redheads, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Ducks. Black Terns and grebes also nest at Smith Lake. By mid-May Canada Goose goslings can be spotted feeding with their parents in the wet marshes. Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons are also commonly seen feeding throughout wet areas of the WPA. 

Although Smith Lake WPA itself is closed to the public during this very important nesting time, you can still bring your binoculars and spotting scopes to view the wildlife. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks maintains a boat and fishing access site with access to Smith Lake on the south side of the WPA. You can also view Smith Lake on the north side of the WPA from Rails to Trails trail. 

Please note that Northwest Montana Waterfowl Production Areas are closed to all public access from March 1st to July 15th each year to limit disturbance to nesting birds.  

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks maintains a boat and fishing access site with access to Smith Lake.
Rails to Trails Web Page.
Learn more about the wetland birds of Smith Lake WPA