About the Refuge

A flock of ducks swimming in the marsh with the mountains in the background

The gently rolling terrain of Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is dominated by native mixed-grass prairie and surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides: the Highwood Mountains to the east, the Big Belt Mountains to the south, and the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Benton Lake NWR is one of more than 550 national wildlife refuges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that were established to protect, enhance, and restore the Nation's wildlife heritage.  Covering 12,383 acres (19 square miles), the Refuge is located on the western edge of the northern Great Plains, 50 miles east of the Rocky Mountains and 12 miles north of Great Falls, Montana.  Despite its name, Benton Lake is actually a 6,000-acre shallow wetland created by the last continental glacier thousands of years ago.




During Montana's early development, Benton Lake was first viewed as a resource to be exploited.  In 1885, the government excluded the Benton Lake basin from homesteading so it could be used as a reservoir for irrigating lands to the east.  That plan proved to be impractical.  Early in the 20th century, several Montana businessmen planned to "reclaim" the wetlands for use as croplands.  A ditch 26 feet deep and 1 1/2 miles long was dug, but the drainage was ineffective and the project was abandoned.  This early drainage ditch is still visible from the blacktop road leading to the Refuge.


As surrounding land was settled, local sportsmen pushed for the establishment of a refuge to keep the area in public ownership.  By Executive Order of President Herbert Hoover in 1929, Benton Lake was set aside as a "refuge and breeding ground for birds."