Red Rocks Lakes

National Wildlife Refuge

The Centennial Valley lies along the Idaho-Montana border and in summer, is home to thousands of trumpeter swans. An easy day trip from the lodge, this National Wildlife Refuge offers wildlife viewing against a backdrop of rugged, snow capped mountain peaks.

A series of shallow lakes and marshes chained together by creeks and the Red Rocks River draw waterfowl to the area. Pack a picnic lunch, point the car south, this is going to be a great day.

Red Rocks Lake Refuge Sign

Red Rocks Lake Refuge

Wigeon Pond 2 Red Rock Lakes Refuge

Wigeon Pond Reflecting Taylor Mountain

The valley is alive with wildlife, waterfowl, and wildflowers. Here you’ll find moose grazing in the marshes, sandhill cranes in the meadows, and a multitude of ducks and geese.

The trumpeter swans are the main attraction. Shorebirds such as blue heron, willets, avocets, and long-billed curlews nest here.

May to September is the best time to visit. Bring along binoculars for best viewing of the sensitive swans.

Wildflowers at Red Rock Lakes Refuge

VIew Wildflowers May Through Mid July

Cattle graze in the Valley

Cattle Graze in Centennial Valley

Enjoying the Refuge

The Refuge Headquarters is open to visitors from 8:00 am to 4:30 daily. The refuge welcomes hiking, biking, and fishing is designated areas. Try fishing Red Rock Creek on the eastern edge of the preserve after the turn to Elk Lake.

You’ll find picnic tables at the sporadically used campsites which are perfect stops for lunch.

If you are looking for a scenic, uncrowded, non-touristy Montana day trip destination, Red Rock Lake Wildlife Refuge should be at the top of the list.

Upper Red Rock Lake at Refuge

Upper Red Rock Lake

Road Sign at Refuge

Road Sign at Refuge

Getting there

Plan on a two hour drive from the ranch to get to Red Rock Lakes. Take I-15 south to exit 0 – Monida, Montana. Drive east 28 miles on a good, improved dirt road. Stop by Refuge Headquarters and pick up a map. Staff are always eager to share ideas on places to see.

To plan your day, leave the ranch after breakfast, it will take two hours to reach the Refuge. Bring a camera – it is amazing here. Many of the photos in this article were taken by the eastern edge of the refuge.

The Continental Divide and the Idaho border lies to the east of the Refuge. The road can be rough near the Divide. It makes for a great place to stop for a photo and turn back for the ranch.

If you didn’t bring a lunch, drive up to Elk Lake Lodge in the northeast corner of the valley for a bite to eat.

Be sure to fill up with gas in Dillon or Lima before heading into this remote area.

Elk Lake

Elk Lake

Continental Divide near Red Rock Mountain

Continental Divide near Red Rock Mountain