The National Bison Range
in the National Bison Range. Mission Mountains
in the background
National Bison Range is one of the more unique wildlife
refuges in the United States. Tucked away in the southern
portion of the Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana, the
National Bison Range is a wonderful place to see beautiful
scenery, large herds of grazing buffalo, elk, antelope and
other prairie wildlife.
National Bison Range was established in 1908 and is one
of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States.
It was created to serve as a refuge for the Bison, also known
as a Buffalo. The refuge is relatively large – standing
at 18,500 acres.
Bison Range consists of a wide variety of habitats. The
primary habitat in the range consists of rolling prairie.
Large hills and small mountains form the heart of the range – with
prairie being the dominant feature – even on the taller
hills. But, in some areas of the refuge, pine forests are
also found, tucked away on more moist slopes. Additionally,
along the lower boundaries of the range, several small streams
create areas of small wetlands.
is little in the way of hiking in the National Bison Range.
Instead, a decent condition one-way gravel road makes
it way up and over the small mountains on the middle of the
range, and then traverses along its northern boundary. Only
a handful of short nature trails (from near the top of the
mountains) allow for off-road exploration. I suspect the
reason for this is because of the herd of 300 bison – the
refuge doesn’t want backcountry hikers stumbling into
other reason, of course, is that Bison are wild animals
- not enlarged horses. Unliked in Yellowstone National
Park, where it seems someone each year gets trampled around
by a Buffalo because the person got too close - the National
Bison Range has avoided this problem by keeping all visitors
in their cars. However, in the event you ignore their rules
and end up face to face with a Buffalo, here's how to determine
A bison's tail is often a handy warning flag. When it hangs
down and is switching naturally, the animal usually is unperturbed.
If it extends out straight and droops at the end he/she is
becoming mildly agitated. If the tail is sticking straight
up, they are ready to charge and you should be somewhere
else....but do not run.
grassland hills characterize much of the National
little day-use and picnic area exists right near the wildlife
headquarters. Additionally, the refuge headquarters
is full of fascinating information and exhibits about the
Bison and other wildlife in the refuge. Note, there is no
camping allowed on the refuge – and the refuge itself
is closed at night. Additionally, the road that goes up into
the mountains (Red Sleep Mountain Drive) is closed from mid-October
through mid-May (the lower portion of the road remains open
all year - called the Prairie Drive/West Loop).
Overall, the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge is a great
place to visit. Wildlife, especially Bison, are readily seen
on most days. Other wildlife, particularly deer and antelope,
are also frequently seen. On top of that, the beautiful scenery
of the range itself makes a visit to the range a definite
must for anyone venturing up into this part of Montana.
National Bison Range lies in the southern portion of the
Flathead Valley and lies within the Flathead Indian Reservation.
For anyone visiting Kalispell or Missoula, a side trip to
the refuge is easy.
Missoula : Travel north on US Highway 93 to Ravalli,
turn left(to the west) on to State Highway 200, travel
approximately 5 miles to the junction of Highways 200 and
212, turn right(to
the north) and travel approximately 5 miles to the entrance
of the Range at Moiese.
Kalispell : Travel south on US Highway 93 or State
Highway 35 to Polson, then travel
Highway 93 through Pablo
to the junction of Highway 93 and State Highway 212,
travel 12 miles (through Charlo) to the entrance of the
the west : Travel Highway 200 through Dixon to the junction
of Highways 200 and 212, turn left(to the
approximately 5 miles to the entrance of the Range at
Bison Range Website