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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