The National Bison Range


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We drove south from Columbia Falls on Day 5 of our Montana trip to see a few places off the beaten path. We traveled down the length of Flathead Lake and kept going until we arrived at the National Bison Range. Established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, the National Bison Range is one of our country’s oldest National Wildlife Refuges.


The refuge’s mission is to provide sanctuary for the American Bison. Driven to the brink of extinction by the late 1800s, the bison have made a successful comeback due to the Bison Range and other public lands. There are about 400 bison roaming the refuge today.


The visitor center is open Thursday through Monday and we were there on a Tuesday. In the parking lot, there was a large educational exhibit about the types of animals found in the refuge, a lock box to place our $5 fee in and printed materials with which to take a self guided tour of Red Sleep Mountain Drive.


There was also a huge pile of antlers collected from the refuge’s animals as they shed them each year.


Red Sleep Mountain Drive is a one-way mountain road that climbs through grasslands into an alpine woodland and then has steep downgrades as it loops around to meet Prairie Drive. The loop is about 19 miles long with 10 points of interest featured on the self-guided tour.


We stopped frequently to take photos of the bison visible from the wildlife drive. They are used to cars and so were often pretty close. It is not advisable to get out of the vehicle while on the wildlife drive.


At sign number six on the drive, there is a small lot with a few displays about Glacial Lake Missoula which formed the valley below. There is also a restroom at this stop and a trailhead for the 1/2 mile High Point Trail.


The High Point Trail leads to a point 4700 feet above sea level and has some views we wouldn’t have seen from the road. It wasn’t too steep and wildflowers were blooming in the fields around us as we enjoyed the lovely walk to the top.


In addition to the herds of bison, the refuge is home to many other animals. We saw an elk, a pronghorn antelope and a few deer on our drive around the loop.


The last spot on the loop tour is the bison corral. The bison are rounded up once a year for identification and health checks.


Location: 58355 Bison Range Rd, Charlo, MT 59824

Designation: National Wildlife Refuge

Date designation declared: 5/23/1908

Date of my visit: 6/26/2018



25 thoughts on “The National Bison Range

  1. It’s on our list–for a Saturday in June. I hope we see some wildflowers. Thanks for the heads up about VC hours and the hike on High Point Trail. May the sun shine on our visit as it did on yours!

    1. Oh yay! Hope you enjoy it. Do check the website closer in because the snow sometimes blocks the main drive well into June. We were there end June and had no problem. Stay tuned for Grant Kohrs site post…that was the next stop on our road trip and we loved it!

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  3. I find bison so inspiring. I particularly like the photo with the birds on the bison’s backs. Hard to believe that people shot at them “for fun,” and to deprive Plains Indians of their way of life.

    1. I figured you’d like the birds 🙂 Our next stop after the bison range was the Grant Kohrs Ranch (post coming soon). Based on what we learned there, I’d say the near extinction of the bison was due more to greed than anything else…they wiped them out for the grazing lands.

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