Wildlife & Habitat

Shambow Pond and Upper Red Rock Lake

There are few places where the only sounds you hear in the still of a moonlit night are calls of the trumpeter swans flying overhead. Or, where you might witness at the break of a day a bull moose appearing out of the early morning mist.  This is a a place where creeks flow freely, wildlife thrives, and a soul can get lost in solitude and wildness.  This is Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, is bounded by high mountains, with wetlands, wildflower filled meadows, grasslands, marshes, aquatic plants, and sagebrush communities, plus sand dunes, and forests. This rich system nurtures many mammals, waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, a variety of fish and of course invertebrates such as butterflies and other insects. The climate here varies throughout the year from extreme cold with deep snows to spring and summer rains with moderate temperatures with brilliant sunshine to high desert-like conditions. We are fortunate to have such an magnificent area with limited surrounding human development. 

  • Mammals

    Moose Head

    Mammals enjoy the many sources of food, shelter and water available in the Centennial Valley. Forest at the northern edge of the Centennial Mountains allows elk, moose, bear and pronghorn plenty of munching and hiding places. The grasslands allow badgers, squirrels, marmots and other smaller rodents plenty of digging space for their homes.

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  • Birds

    Swan and Cygnets

    Birds have adapted well to the varied habitats of the Centennial Valley, including the many small islands in the lakes, the ponds and the creeks. Trumpeter swans, waterfowl, song birds and raptors all live here during at least some part of the year.

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  • Flora

    Crocus and Mountains

    The Centennial Valley is covered with snow for most of the winter. When the snow melts, the land becomes flooded for a time. This is an ideal habitat for many sedges and grasses. The slopes of the mountains drain enough to host many wildflowers during the spring and into the summer. The grasslands provide habitat for small rodents that are food for the raptors and badgers as well as cover for many bird nests.

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  • Mountains and Geology

    Mountain Thumbnail

    The Centennial Valley is surrounded by mountains of the Rocky Mountain range. The Centennial Mountains are the only major east-west trending range of the Rockies. They rise to about 10,000 feet on the south. The north has the lower trending mountains of the Gravelly and Snowcrest ranges, with the Lima Mountains to the west and the Henry's Lake mountains to the east. These mountains provide shelter for a variety of wildlife, create unique weather patterns, and are very scenic! They are young mountains and have a very interesting geologic story intertwined with the geology of Yellowstone. Visit our Centennial Valley Geology web page for more information. 

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  • Lakes, Ponds and Creeks

    Culver Pond

    Water abounds in the Centennial Valley, thanks to the heavy snows in winter and the many springs that help to bring the water into the valley from above. The two major lakes in the refuge are the Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes. They are shallow but provide the perfect environment for many of the waterfowl found here, including the trumpeter swan. Red Rock Creek flows through these lakes, from the utmost source of the Missouri River in the Centennial Mountains. Water plays a large part in the ecosystem of the refuge. Several ponds provide food and breeding areas for waterbirds and waterfowl, including Culver Pond, Widgeon Pond, Swan Lake, Sparrow Pond, and Shambow Pond.

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  • Fish

    Fish in the refuge

    Both native and non-native fish inhabit the streams and creeks of the refuge. The native Arctic grayling breeds in Red Rock Creek but its numbers are dramatically diminishing. A project at the refuge has been underway to reverse this trend. The other native fish is the whitefish. Non-native species are the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, the Rainbow Trout and the Brook Trout. Fishing is allowed at designated times and places within the refuge.


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