Wildlife Viewing Area

WVA in Fall Colors 512 x 219

 "The mixed landscape of the place, an outstanding western view shed of the big peaks and canyons of the Bitterroot Range coupled with a preserved homestead and the rich, historical stories from when the Corps of Discovery, first in September 1805 and then again in July 1806, passed through here, all give it a special flavor" (Rick and Susie Graetz writing about the Refuge in their book, This is Montana).


Trail Restoration Efforts
Flood Damage           Wildlife Observation & Photography
FishingEnvironmental Education & Interpretation


WVA Education ShelterThe main public use area on the Refuge (digital copy of general brochure) is the Wildlife Viewing Area (WVA), open dawn until dusk everyday. The WVA is about 188 acres and has a trail 2.5 miles long (figure 23). The trail passes through different vegetation communities, specifically riverfront and gallery forest and persistent emergent wetland. There is excellent wildlife watching here, e.g. over 140 species of plants have been collected here. Interesting data from recent WVA tree mapping efforts are summarized on the WVA Tree Mapping webpage  

The WVA is open year-round and is probably the most popular public use area with refuge visitors. Parking at the trailhead is very spacious; motorhomes or buses can easily enter and exit. Dogs on leashes are allowed here but not bicycles or horses. Several wildlife-compatible activities occur here and are highlighted below. 


WVA Porta PottiesSeveral sections make-up this trail that is designated as a National Recreation Trail. The first section encountered is 0.5 mile in length, 10-foot-wide paved path that is considered accessible for visitors with disabilities. This paved section of trail starts immediately at the trailhead/large gravel parking area, and ends at a turn-around point at a designated education shelter at the edge of the Bitterroot River.  

2014 Flooding Damage

River flooding from spring 2014 eroded the midsection of just this trail section and has rendered this section not-accessible in parts. Please follow this link for more up-to-date/status report of this trail section. 

Other sections of the trail are soil or gravel and have not been affected by river flooding. Facilities at the trailhead include an information kiosk and restroom facilities (“porta-potties”). There is also an accessible fishing platform about 75 yards south of the kiosk. 


WVA Fishing PlatformCompatible and accessible recreational fishing opportunities are available at Francois Slough (North Burnt Fork Creek) and the Bitterroot River, both within the designated WVA. The remainder of the refuge is closed to fishing, except for special events. Remember there is no boat launching or take out of any kind allowed on Refuge land. Review the Refuge Hunting and Fishing Regulation brochure for specifics and/or visit the Refuge 'Fishing' webpage.

Restoration Efforts Here for Bull Trout

WVA-Fish Trap Sampling on Francois SloughFishing opportunity will change in Francois Slough/North Burnt Fork Creek as it undergoes restoration to a cold water fishery. The creek is a mountain and terrace derived tributary to the Bitterroot River. This stream channel has been altered both off and on the refuge through installation of culverts, bridge crossings, and artificial channels and from using the creek to transport water. The refuge has installed water control structures in the WVA to provide fishing opportunities and has impounded water for waterfowl. Undesirable species, such as cattail and reed canarygrass, have formed monocultures along the stream, crowding out and preventing the regeneration of native riparian vegetation such as cottonwood, willow, and dogwood. Strategic removal of water control structures in the WVA and other areas along the creek will deepen and narrow the streambed. This reconnection will encourage riparian ecological processes to become reestablished. To further encourage riparian habitat restoration, the refuge will plant native vegetation, such as willow and cottonwood, on restored sites. Monitoring water chemistry (temperature, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids), streamside vegetation, and target species response will help to determine the success of management techniques.

Wildlife Observation and Photography

WVA Information KioskThe Refuge is a core area for the Bitterroot River Important Bird Area; 240 species of birds have been observed of which 115 breed. Two in particular are of continental concern, Lewis's Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker. Eighty percent of the bird species found in Montana are dependent in some way on riparian corridors such as the Bitterroot River. The Refuge species list (CCP) also details the possibilities of seeing 41 mammal species and eleven species of amphibian/reptile.

Even with the recent lateral migration of the Bitterroot River into the WVA, Refuge staff will maintain and create additional facilities and programs for wildlife observation and photography for visitors of all abilities. Additional opportunities (information through the internet via the refuge’s homepage, blog, and social media sites) will provide visitors with a new and exciting perspective that will enhance the visitor’s appreciation and connection to the wildlife and the habitats of the refuge and the Bitterroot Valley.

Environmental Education and Interpretation

WVA-STOKED EE programSince today’s children are tomorrow’s land stewards, it is essential to help them become aware of the natural world and how they can protect and restore it. Today, most students learn about their natural world online, through books, or highly structured programs. These methods do provide educational benefits, but it is also effective simply to allow students to explore on their own. Refuge programs must not be so rigid that children cannot learn by using their own imaginations and senses. Here at the WVA, students and adults have an opportunity to explore self-guided or be led by Refuge staff.

Interpretation is the identification and communication of important messages about natural and cultural resources to diverse audiences. Interpretation is designed to reveal relationships about the nature, origin, and purpose of a resource, landscape, or site in a way that forges connections between the interests of the audience and meanings inherent in the resource (National Association for Interpretation 2011). Refuge staff look forward to providing interpretive materials addressing WVA resources in a digital format as outlined in the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan.