Visitor Activities

Centennial Mtns Refuge Pan 512

Visitors to Red Rock Lakes NWR should be prepared for spectacular scenery in a remote wilderness setting. To maintain the wilderness and solitude sensation, facilities are minimized and recreation off the established roads involves non-motorized or non-mechanical means of transport. This approach provides wildlife and wildland viewing and enjoyment opportunities in an uncrowded setting.  All visitors are encouraged to use good wildlife viewing practices and ethics, especially when viewing species sensitive to human disturbance, such as trumpeter swans. You can find more information in our Red Rock Lakes NWR brochure

  • Resources


    In addition to knowledgeable staff and volunteers, the refuge uses a variety of exhibits, signs, brochures, and electronic media to communicate with visitors.  Printed information is available in the visitor center on many topics, including plants and animals, seasonal migrations, habitats, refuge management strategies, and endangered species. The refuge has several stuffed animals and birds on display.


  • Hunting


    Hunting is permitted for certain species on certain parts of the refuge. Please observe federal, refuge and Montana state hunting regulations at all times. Click on the LEARN MORE link below for specific information about hunting on the refuge.

    Learn More
  • Fishing

    Arctic Grayling

    Although many people think of Red Rock Lakes NWR as a bird refuge, we also manage a variety of fish. There are 12 species of fish occurring on the refuge. Game fish include arctic grayling, cutthroat trout, brook trout, and mountain whitefish. Other fish found on the refuge include mottled sculpin and mountain sucker.  Click on the LEARN MORE link for specific information about fishing in the refuge.

    Learn More
  • Wildlife Viewing


    Most visitors drive through the refuge, stopping to view and photograph scenery and wildlife. Others choose to observe wildlife by hiking the forested mountains or canoeing the wilderness lakes after opening dates. Wildlife viewing is best in the cooler portions of the day, such as morning or evening. However, many wildlife species are chance sightings. All visitors are encouraged to use good wildlife viewing practices and ethics, especially when viewing species sensitive to human disturbance, such as trumpeter swans. 

    Wildlife viewing sites are not specifically designated. Refuge wildlife, such as moose and eagles, roam freely throughout and visitors are encouraged to learn about the habitats that various wildlife species use. Knowing their habitats is the key to seeing wildlife in such a wilderness landscape. For example, moose are best seen in willow areas along creek bottoms or boggy areas. Eagle nests are high in trees, often near water.

  • Biking

    Visitor Biker

    Bicycles can travel the existing dirt roads. The low vehicle traffic makes for largely safe bicycling. Bicycles are not permitted on trails in the back country, and bicyclists may only be used on roads open to motorized vehicle use. 

  • Photography


    Red Rock Lakes NWR offers good opportunities to photograph scenery, wildflowers, and wildlife. Because of the increasing requests for information on photography, we have prepared the following guidelines.

    Photography is only allowed in areas open to the general public (see Home Page Visitor Map). 

    Refuge regulations prohibit any harassment of wildlife. Harassment includes (but is not limited to), causing wildlife to flush or run or to leave its nest or young. Do not approach nesting trumpeter swans or other birds. Many photographic opportunities are available from the roads.

    Some wildlife (i.e., cow moose with calves) are potentially dangerous. Photographs of these animals should be taken from a distance using a telephoto lens, if possible. Wildlife here has not acclimated to humans, as in many National Parks. If these species feel threatened or startled, they may run (which is harassment) or they may attack. Use extreme caution. Commercial photography/videography requires a permit that can be obtained from the refuge headquarters.

  • Hiking


    There are few developed trails in Red Rock Lakes NWR to compliment the undeveloped wilderness setting.  There are two maintained trails, Sparrow Pond Trail and Odell Creek Trail. Sparrow Pond Trail is an abandoned 2 track road now open to foot traffic only that crosses Odell Creek and ends at Sparrow Pond and Sparrow Marsh. Odell Creek Trail  connects to the Continental Divide Trail in the Centennial Mountains.  Once off refuge, there are few bridges spanning creeks, plan accordingly.

  • Birding

    Hawk Swainsons Closeup

    Because of its outstanding habitat diversity, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a unique and exciting place to birdwatch. A total of 232 bird species have been recorded at Red Rock Lakes and in the Centennial Valley.

    Bird diversity is highest where several habitat types are found together. One of the best birding spots on the refuge is the Upper Red Rock Lake Campground. This site has large open water, mudflats, aspens, willows, grass, sagebrush uplands, and stands of evergreen trees all nearby. Other popular places to birdwatch include the Lower Lake Water Control Structure, Idlewild Road, Odell Creek to Sparrow Pond, between Shambow Pond and the Upper Lake Campground, along Elk Lake Road, and Pintail Ditch West.

  • Camping

    South road 150

    Two primitive campgrounds are maintained within the refuge. The Upper Lake Campground has trees, toilets, potable spring water, fire rings, and picnic tables and is close to mountain hiking and aspen grove related wildlife viewing. The Lower Lake Campground is in an open grassland with toilets, picnic tables and fire rings, and is the best place to see water birds. There is no electrical power at either campground.  Campsites are available for a minimal fee on first come first serve basis.  Contact the refuge for specific details and costs. Download a PDF file with a description of the current camping fees.

  • Boating

    Canoeing on Upper Red Rock Lake 200x150

    On the Upper Red Rock Lake, non-motorized boating season is open from July 1 to freeze up. Non-motorized boating is allowed on the Lower Red Rock Lake from September 1 to freeze up. Boat launching sites are available at both Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes.  Swimming on the refuge is prohibited.

  • Tours

    Road in Fall 150

    The refuge has few roads, all of which are constructed and maintained with gravel. There are several short drives through the refuge that give you an idea of its beauty. Note that some drives are restricted to dry times and some may require 4WD high-clearance. There are no service stations with gasoline or tow trucks within at least 45 miles, so please be careful. Click on the LEARN MORE link for a list of these tours with maps.

    Learn More
  • Snowmobiles, ATVs and Other Recreational Use Vehicles


    ATVs, dirtbikes, motorcycles, snowmobiles and other utility vehicles are allowed ONLY on maintained roads open to passenger vehicles. These roads include South Valley Road, North Valley Road, Elk Lake Road and the two track roads to Culver Pond, Idlewild, and Lower Lake Dam. Operating off the maintained roads is NOT allowed and is strictly enforced. All motor vehicles must be street legal and licensed properly per Montana State Law. Winter use of snowmobiles is limited to South Valley, North Valley and Elk Lake Roads. Snowmobiles may not be operated off these roadways.