This post includes recreation lakes, the national trail system, and the national wildlife refuge system and related federal areas on the Rocky Mountain front and valleys of Montana. There are 11 federally operated or licensed Recreation Lakes in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands ecoregion. In the Rocky Mountain front are the Milk River project to the north and the Sun River project west of Great Falls.
The Milk River project of the Bureau of Reclamation includes two facilities in the Montana Valley and Foothill grasslands ecoregion. St. Mary Diversion Dam, Montana (N48˚51’ W113˚25’) is along the Saint Mary River downstream of Lower St. Mary Lake on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Water is diverted into 29-mile-long St. Mary Canal, which discharges into the North Fork Milk River just before it flows into Canada (N48˚59’ W113˚3’). This water is captured 200 miles downstream at Fresno Reservoir where it is stored for irrigation use. Swift Current Dike, Montana (N48˚50’ W113˚26’) diverts water from Swiftcurrent Creek into the St. Mary Canal for use in the Milk River project downstream.
There are two facilities of the Sun River project of the Bureau of Reclamation in the Rocky Mountain front. Pishkun Dikes, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana (N47˚41’ W112˚28’) is an off-stream storage area receiving water from the Sun River and used for irrigation. Willow Creek Reservoir, Montana (N47˚33’ W112˚27’) stores water from Willow Creek and Sun River for later use in irrigation.
In the Missouri River valley are three recreation lakes. Holter Lake, PPL Montana, including Lower Holter Lake Special Recreation Management Area, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Montana (N46˚59’ W112˚0’), is a 27-mile-long reservoir on the Missouri River that includes the Gates of the Mountains (N46˚53’ W111˚55’), a narrow gorge that the river has cut through the Rocky Mountains. There is a boat-in campground at Beartooth Landing. Recreation sites on the lake are managed by the BLM, including campgrounds and hiking trails.
Upstream from Holter Lake is Hauser Lake,PPL Montana, including Hauser Lake SRMA, BLM, Montana (N46˚46’ W111˚53’), 15 miles northeast of Helena. The Prickly Pear Creek embayment, known as Lake Helena, contains marshland and riparian areas and is an IBA for passerines and waterfowl. Black Sandy State Park is south of the dam on the main channel of the Missouri River. Lake Helena Wildlife Management Area, on the west end of Lake Helena, is 175 acres. Reservoir recreation areas are managed by BLM.
Upstream of Hauser Lake is Canyon Ferry Lake, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana (N46˚38’ W111˚42’), an irrigation reservoir on the Missouri River east of Helena. A visitor center is at the dam. The reservoir is noted for eagles, terns, and pelicans. At the upper end near Townsend is Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area, an IBA for waterfowl. This was constructed to reduce blowing dust from reservoir drawdowns. Water is pumped from Canyon Ferry Lake to the Helena Valley Canal and its water is stored in the Helena Valley Reservoir. Reservoir recreation sites are part of the Uppermost Missouri SRMA of BLM Butte Field Office. Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana (N46˚38’ W111˚52’), receives water pumped from Canyon Ferry Reservoir into Helena Valley Canal, which carries water to the reservoir at mile 11. The canal continues for 20 miles to provide irrigation in the Helena Valley.
Upstream of the Three Forks of the Missouri in the Madison River valley is Ennis Lake and Madison Dam, PPL Montana, Montana (N45˚26’ W111˚40’). This four-unit hydroelectric plant at Bear Trap Canyon north of Ennis also is part of the Madison Valley IBA. The reservoir provides waterfowl habitat while the Madison River upstream to Ennis provides riparian habitat.
In the Beaverhead River valley are two reservoirs. Barretts Diversion Dam, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana (N45˚8’ W112˚44’), is at Exit 56 on I-15 on the Beaverhead River. The dam diverts water to the East Bench Canal, which delivers water for 61 miles in the Dillon area. Clark Canyon Reservoir, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana (N45˚0’ W112˚52’) is located on I-15, Exit 44 on the Beaverhead River. The reservoir delivers water 11 miles downstream to Barretts Diversion Dam for irrigation in the East Bench Canal. Camp Fortunate on the Reservoir is a site on the Lewis and Clark NHT.
West of the Continental Divide on the Flathead River is an additional dam in the Montana Valley and Foothill grasslands. Flathead Lake and Kerr Dam, PPL Montana, Montana (N47˚41’ W114˚14’) incorporates Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in North America; the lake was raised ten feet by Kerr Dam on the Flathead River five miles southwest of Polson.
The National Trails System in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands includes two National Historic Trails (NHTs) and four national recreation trails. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail passes through the ecoregion for a few miles where the trail crosses I-15 south of Butte at Exit 111 (N45˚52’ W112˚40’).
There are nine sites on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (NHT) in the Montana Valley and Foothill grasslands. Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, located near the Great Falls of the Missouri, serves as the trail headquarters and visitor center, managed by the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Six sites on the outbound journey are in the Montana Valley and Foothills grasslands. Gates of the Mountains, Holter Lake, Montana (N46˚53’ W111˚55’), a narrow gorge that the river has cut through the Rocky Mountains. The 1,200-foot cliffs towering above the Missouri River were seen by Lewis and Clark in 1805. A boat tour is offered from the marina at Exit 209 on I-15, 20 miles north of Helena.
Upstream of Canyon Ferry Lake on the Missouri is the Missouri Headwaters State Park, described under National Historic Landmarks. Further upstream on the Beaverhead River are Beaverhead Rock State Park and Beaverhead Rock Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Montana (N45˚23’ W112˚28’), is on State Route 41 at the Beaverhead River crossing; this rock formation is associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Sacajawea recognized the rock and thought she might be near her relatives, which led to a meeting with her brother and the securing of horses for the overland portion of the expedition.
Clark’s Lookout State Park, Montana (N45˚14’ W112˚38’) is on old US Route 91 one mile north of Dillon. This site provides a view of the Beaverhead Valley enjoyed by Captain William Clark during the Lewis and Clark expedition. A monument shows the three compass readings taken by Clark.
Camp Fortunate Overlook, Bureau of Reclamation, Clark Canyon Reservoir, Montana (N45˚0’ W112˚52’), is the famous site where Lewis and Clark met the Shoshoni Tribe, reuniting Sacajawea with her people. Supplies were stashed here for the return trip. The site is under the reservoir. Further west on the outbound trip, Travelers Rest State Park is described under National Historic Landmarks.
On the return journey, Travelers Rest was also a site passed by Lewis and Clark. Other sites associated with the return journey are Camp Disappointment, described under National Historic Landmarks, and the Museum of the Plains Indian, US Department of the Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Browning, Montana (N48˚33’ W113˚1’), at the junction of US Routes 2 and 89 west of Browning. The museum displays northern plains Indian traditional costumes, horse gear, weapons, household implements, and toys.
Nez Perce NHT, Montana, commemorates sites associated with the Nez Perce flight from the U.S. Army in 1877. Rather than be forced to live on a reservation, the Nez Perce began a flight from Idaho to Canada. In 1877, they crossed into the Bitterrroot Valley near Lolo and headed south through the Bitterroot Valley, with the Army and volunteer settlers in pursuit. An attempt by the Army to stop them was unsuccessful when they climbed a mountain to tht north of a barricade on Lolo Creek and avoided conflict. This site later became known as Fort Fizzle (N46˚45’ W114˚10’), today on US Route 12 in the Lolo NF. The Nez Perce later camped at Silverthorn Creek (N46˚30’ W114˚8’) west of Stevensville for several days in the Bitterroot Valley. The Army caught up with the Nez Perce at the site of today’s Big Hole National Battlefield, on the edge of the Anaconda Mountains. After the battle, the Nez Perce retreated and camped at Skinner Meadows (N45˚1’ W113˚31’), on Forest Road 381 in the Beaverhead NF. After obtaining horses in Horse Prairie, the Nez Perce are believed to have crossed into Idaho at Bannock Pass (N44˚49’ W113˚17’).
National Recreation Trails (NRT) in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands are grouped by the valley where they are located. In the Madison River valley upstream from the Missouri Headwaters are Bear Trap NRT, BLM, Montana, a nine-mile trail beginning at Madison Power Plant (N45˚29’ W111˚38’) and following the Madison River in Bear Trap Canyon downstream through the Lee Metcalf Wilderness to near State Route 84 (N45˚35’ W111˚36’). It is part of the Lower Madison SRMA.
In the Big Hole Valley is Big Hole Battlefield NRT, Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana (N45˚39’ W113˚39’). Approximately one-half mile of trails lead to important sites of the 1877 battlefield, including the Nez Perce campsite and the siege site where the soldiers were penned down.
In the Clark Fork watershed west of the Continental Divide are two NRTs. Garnet Winter NRT, BLM, Montana (N46˚53’ W113˚28’) is a 30-mile trail beginning on State Route 200 30 miles east of Missoula at the Greenough Post Office, offering views of the Blackfoot River Valley from the Garnet Range. Lee Metcalf Wildlife Viewing NRT, Lee Metcalf NWR, Montana (N46˚32’ W114˚6’), is a two-mile trail on the Bitterroot River with two loops off Wildfowl Lane in the southwest part of the refuge.
There are two National Wilderness areas in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands. Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Beaverhead and Gallatin NFs and BLM, Montana, is a 255,000-acre wilderness consisting of four separated units between US 287 and US 191 in the Madison Range. Bear Trap Canyon unit (N45˚31’ W111˚37’) is administered by BLM and is 6,000 acres in the canyon of the Madison River. It is part of the Lower Madison SRMA. Red Rock Lakes Wilderness, Montana, is described under National Natural Landmarks.
The National Wildlife Refuge System in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands is an extensive collection of refuges, waterfowl production areas (WPAs), and conservation areas. In the Rocky Mountain front are four areas. The Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area, Montana, is a conservation easement area with up to 295,000 acres of conservation easements between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation (N48˚20’ W112˚33’) on the north, Lewis and Clark NF on the west, U.S. Route 287 on the east, and the South Fork Dearborn River valley (N47˚10’ W112˚13’) on the south. It contains the largest remaining expanse of intact fescue grasslands in the northern Great Plains. Jarina WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District, Montana (N48˚11’, W112˚47’) is 6,400 acres of kettle lakes and native grassland at the base of the Rocky Mountains 14 miles west of Dupuyer on Swift Dam Road. Savik WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District Montana (N47˚57’ W112˚19’) is an alkaline wetland and native grassland area on U.S. 89 south of Bynum. Schrammeck Lake WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District, Montana, (N47˚14’ W111˚32’) is 400 acres including wetlands southeast of Cascade (exit 254 on I-15).
South of the Rocky Mountain front in the Missouri River watershed, Ennis National Fish Hatchery, Montana (N45˚13’ W111˚48’) is located at Blaine Spring in the Gravelly Range west of the Madison River. At the head of the Beaverhead Valley is Red Rock Lakes NWR and Wilderness, Montana (N44˚38’ W111˚47’), described under National Natural Landmarks.
West of the Continental Divide in the Clarks Fork watershed are sixxx areas. Blackfoot Valley Conservation Area, Montana, is along State Route 200 between Bonner (N46˚52’ W113˚52’) and Rogers Pass (N47˚5’ W112˚22’). It also includes State Route 141 in the Nevada Creek watershed (N46˚42’ W112˚40’) and Route 83 in the Clearwater River valley (N47˚23’ W113˚38’). The area contains a distinctive native bunchgrass prairie. Up to 103,000 acres of conservation easements may be purchased. The area contains sagebrush-grassland with glacial potholes and supports nesting Brewer’s sparrow and long-billed curlew and is an IBA. The area also supports grizzly bear and bull trout.
Blackfoot WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District, Montana (N46˚58’ W112˚58’) is 1,700 acres of native grassland in the valley, Douglas fir forest on Marcum Mountain, and wetlands on State Route 200 and the Blackfoot River east of Ovando. The rolling terrain was left behind by the Blackfoot Valley glacier. H2-O WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management Area, Montana (N46˚56’ W113˚2’) is in an old oxbow of the Blackfoot River in the Nevada Valley south of Ovando, containing 1,800 acres of grassland and wetlands. Kleinschmidt Lake WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District, Montana (N46˚58’ W113˚4’) is 1,100 acres of rolling grassland left by the Blackfoot Valley glacier in the Nevada Valley south of Ovando and is an IBA for Brewer’s sparrow and long-billed curlew. Upsata Lake WPA, Benton Lake Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚4’ W113˚14’) is a wetland and grassland area of kettle lakes left by a glacier at the south end of the Swan Mountain range. It is north of Route 200 at the north part of the Blackfoot Valley.
In the Bitterroot Valley is Lee Metcalf NWR, Montana (N46˚34’ W114˚5’). This is a 2,800-acre floodplain refuge along the Bitterroot River and contains a mosaic of forest, grassland, and riparian habitat. There are two trails for wildlife observation, including the Lee Metcalf NRT and Kenai Trail. Waterbirds, raptors, and songbirds may be seen. A 50-km stretch of the Bitterroot River from Woodside (N46˚19’ W114˚9’) to Lolo (N46˚45’ W114˚4’) including Lee Metcalf NWR is an IBA for Lewis’s woodpeckers, red-naped sapsuckers and other birds of riparian cottonwood habitat.
On the south side of Flathead Lake is the Mission Valley, which contains a number of refuge areas. National Bison Range, Montana (N47˚20’ W114˚13’), is 19,000 acres and maintains a bison herd of 350 to 500 animals on a low rolling mountain covered with native grassland and Douglas-fir forest. A driving tour ascends Red Sleep Mountain and there are four short trails. The range is an IBA for bald eagle, Lewis’s woodpecker, and red-naped sapsucker.
Between the National Bison Range and Ninepipe NWR are four WPAs. Herak WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚24’ W114˚10’) is 80 acres on West Post Creek Road west of US 93 between the National Bison Range and Ninepipe NWR. Sandsmark WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚25’ W114˚9’) is 400 acres in the Mission Valley between the National Bison Range and Ninepipe NWR, between Logan, West Post Creek, and Ninepipe Roads. Johnson WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚26’ W114˚12’) is 80 acres in the Flathead Valley west of Charlo southeast of the junction of Hall and Morris Roads. Montgomery WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚26’ W114˚10’) is 80 acres in the Mission Valley south of Charlo to the southwest of Logan and Olsen Roads.
Ninepipe NWR, Montana (N47˚27’ W114˚7’), is a 1,000-acre easement refuge on tribal lands located on a Bureau of Indian Affairs reservoir on US 93 in the Mission Valley. The refuge attracts waterfowl to the reservoir and surrounding grassland and prairie potholes, under easement of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The refuge adjoins Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area (N47˚28’ W114˚7’), a 3,880 acre area of numerous prairie potholes northeast and southwest of the reservoir. Together, the two areas are an IBA for breeding grebes and double-crested cormorant.
Between Ninepipe and Pablo NWRs are four WPAs. Kickinghorse WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚28’ W114˚6’) is a 170-acre pothole area in the Flathead Valley on US 93 north of Ninepipe NWR. Duck Haven WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚29’ W114˚7’) is a 700-acre prairie pothole area on US 93 and Duck Road in the Mission Valley. Anderson WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚29’ W114˚8’) is west of US 93 off of Piedalue Road in the Mission Valley. Crow WPA, Northwest Montana Wetland Management District, Montana (N47˚29’ W114˚12’) is 1,500 acres north of Charlo in the Mission Valley.
Pablo NWR, Montana (N47˚38’ W114˚9’), is a 2,500-acre easement refuge on tribal lands located on a Bureau of Indian Affairs reservoir on US 93 in the Mission Valley. The refuge is managed for waterfowl, under easement of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Pablo Wildlife Management Area (N47˚38’ W114˚10’, 416 acres) adjoins the refuge, mostly on the north. Together, the two areas are an IBA for shorebirds and redhead ducks.
Other federal sites in the Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands include specially designated areas of the Bureau of Land Management. In the Missouri Valley are Sleeping Giant ACEC and SRMA, BLM, Montana (N46˚56’ W112˚3’), on the west side of Holter Lake, accessible from I-15 north of Helena, exit 226. The 11,679 acres include seven miles of ridgeline hiking and recreation sites on upper Holter Lake. The Sleeping Giant rock formation is visible from Helena. Scratchgravel Hills SRMA, BLM Butte Field Office, Montana (N46˚41’ W112˚5’) is northwest of Helena and contains numerous former mines. The area is a mountain biking area. The mine shafts and adits are gated and used by bats. The Elkhorn ACEC, BLM, Montana surrounds the Helena NF south of Helena between Radersburg and Boulder (N46˚12’ W111˚53’) and northwest of Townsend (N46˚20’ W111˚39’). There is an elk herd and the designation also protects cultural resource sites. Uppermost Missouri SRMA, BLM, Montana, includes recreation areas along the Missouri River from Three Forks to Canyon Ferry Reservoir. There is a trail at Crimson Bluff (N46˚18’ W111˚32’), on the west side of the Missouri River south of Townsend. The Toston Dam area (46˚7’ W111˚24’) is known as the Little Gates of the Mountains.
In the Madison River valley is Revenue Flats Recreation Area, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N45˚32’ W111˚46’), with hiking and rock climbing west of US 287 at Norris. Upper Madison River SRMA, BLM, Montana (N45˚4’ W111˚40’), includes the palisades of the Madison River, visible from two campgrounds. West of the Madison River drainage are Ruby Mountains SRMA, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N45˚19’ W112˚14’), an area of frested mountains and trails west of Virginia City managed for non-motorized recreation.
In the Beaverhead Valley is the Beaverhead Sage-Steppe area, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana. This area includes basins and intermountain valleys along Grasshopper Creek west of I-15 (N45˚8’ W112˚56’), Sage Creek (N44˚26’ W112˚36’), and the Centennial Valley (N44˚38’ W112˚7’) between Lima and Red Rock Lakes NWR form an IBA for the sage grouse in the largest intact sagebrush habitat in Montana. Centennial Sandhills ACEC, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N44˚42’ W111˚48’) is a 1,000-acre sand dune complex just north of Red Rock Lakes NWR; the area hosts rare plants. Centennial Valley Wetland and Waterfowl Production Areas, BLM, Montana (N44˚38’ W112˚10’) are 17,000 acres west of Red Rock Lakes used by peregrine, trumpeter swan, and other waterfowl. There are also paleontological resources. The area is centered around Lima Reservoir and areas to the east along the Red Rocks River.
Big Sheep Creek Backcountry Byway, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana, is a loop from I-15 south of Dell which circles the Tendoy Mountains and includes Big Sheep Creek SRMA, a canyon (N44˚38’ W112˚47’) with trout and wildlife viewing opportunities. Everson Creek ACEC, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N44˚54’ W113˚20’), is north of Bannock Pass and west of Horse Pasture. The chert quarries here are believed to be the oldest archaeological site in Montana. Muddy Creek/Big Sheep Creek ACEC, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N44˚41’ W112˚51’) is 13,000 acres with high palisades and scenic canyons in the Tendoy Mountains. The area is also known for rock art. Rocky Hills SRMA, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N45˚4’ W112˚54’) is between Bannack and I-15; it is a wilderness study area providing hiking opportunities. Henneberry Ridge is in the center of the area. South Pioneers SRMA, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N45˚17’ W112˚48’) is west of Dillon and provides a mountain biking area along Rattlesnake Creek at the southeastern end of the Pioneer Mountains.
In the Big Hole River valley are more federal lands. Lower Big Hole SRMA, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana extends from near Twin Bridges on Route 41 (N45˚30’ W112˚27’) upstream to I-15 (N45˚44’ W112˚45’) and is a river recreation area. Block Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern, BLM Dillon Field Office, Montana (N45˚28’ W112˚33’) is on the Big Hole River between I-15 and Twin Bridges. The 8,661-acre site is visited by geologic field trips to study its fold and thrust belt feature. Upper Big Hole River SRMA, BLM Butte Field Office, Montana extends from near Wisdom (N45˚45’ W113˚23’) downstream to Divide Bridge (N45˚45’ W112˚47’) and provides river recreation and hiking areas. State Route 43 follows the river.