Think you want to experience the joy of Wilderness Areas, but not sure you’re up to backpacking into the wild? We have a solution for you: Red Rocks Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the southernmost reaches of Southwest Montana. Although over 75% of the Refuge is protected by the Wilderness Area rules banning mechanized vehicles and development, the remaining area is accessible by dirt road, and the Refuge features two small, primitive campgrounds. In keeping with its Wilderness character, the Refuge only has two maintained trails, but there is plenty of room for responsible exploring.
Created in 1935, Red Rocks Wilderness Area was the lynch-pin in saving the majestic trumpeter swan from extinction. Today, the massive wetland complex and its surrounding prairies and forests, which sit over 6,000 feet above sea level, are home to over 250 species of birds, including trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, and even the occasional whooping crane. Many different types of mammals, including some of the state’s rarest, also roam the Refuge.
In addition to exploring, hiking, and camping in the refuge, there is a 56 mile long drive through the Refuge. The roads to and through Red Rocks are all gravel, and very susceptible to weather (closed in winter, and winter is long), you definitely want to check conditions before you travel. The official description of the roads says “fill your vehicle’s fuel tank up before leaving the paved highways” and “carry a good spare tire in your vehicle,” which, let’s face it, could you ask for a better advertisement? Primitive roads, un-trailed hiking, hundreds of species of birds, spectacular animals, and unimpeded views of the imposing Centennial Mountains.
Sign me up.
The campgrounds in the refuge are pack-it-in-pack-it-out, with fire rings and vault toilets. The Upper Lake Campground has potable water, but the Lower Lake Campground does not. Bear food storage is in effect. For restrictions, visit the Refuge website, you can also find more information, and directions from Lima or West Yellowstone at summitpost.org