Medicine Lake Wilderness lies within the glacial drift prairie of northeastern Montana. The gentle rolling hills and numerous shallow wetland depressions were created by repeated advances and retreats of glaciers. More than 12,000 years ago, a one to three mile-wide valley bordered by pre- and postglacial terraces was formed by a glacial front along the ancient route of the Missouri River. Sitting at about 2,000 feet in elevation, Medicine Lake is a large, shallow lake which filled this ancient valley. The Medicine Lake Wilderness includes the main water body of the lake, the islands within the lake, and a portion of land southeast of the lake. Receiving 12.83 inches of precipitation, annually in the Wilderness, average temperatures range from 55 to 84 degrees F in July, but can rise above 100 degrees in the summer. Summer nights almost invariably are cool and pleasant. In January, average temperatures range from -2 to 23 degrees.
The Medicine Lake Wilderness conserves diverse wetlands and grasslands to provide breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife. Over 126 species of birds are documented to breed in the area, including an abundance of waterfowl, grassland birds and colonial nesting birds. The most common grasses are needle and thread grass, blue grama, western wheatgrass, prairie junegrass, and prairie sandreed. Four state-listed noxious weeds are found on the Wilderness: leafy spurge, Canada thistle, spotted knapweed, and dalmation toadflax. These noxious weeds are being intensively managed.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Medicine Lake Wilderness.
Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately two miles south of the town of Medicine Lake, MT on Montana State Highway 16. The wilderness portion of the Lake is on the east side of Highway 16. The Sandhills Wilderness Area is located southeast of the main lake along Lakeside Road.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates Fish and Wildlife Service wildernesses) - Public law 94-557 (10/19/1976) To designate certain lands as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System and to provide designation for certain lands as Wilderness Study Areas
The refuge headquarters is located on North Shore Road, which is the first road north of the main lake. The town of Medicine Lake is located near the northwest boundary of the refuge. The towns of Plentywood and Culbertson are about 20 miles equidistant north and south, respectively, along Montana State Highway 16.
The wildlife drive begins on North Shore Road, then heads north of the refuge headquarters. The drive follows the north shore of Medicine Lake heading east from Highway 16 to East Lake Highway. The drive traverses 14 miles of wetland and grassland habitat. As you travel east, you will pass by lakes and ponds that support many different species of wildlife. Visitors can continue along a 1.2 mile trail leading to Pelican Overlook, where an elevated platform with fixed binoculars provides a view of a breeding colony of pelicans, cormorants, and herons on Bridgerman Point and Big Island.
Stop by one of several kiosks located throughout the refuge or at the refuge headquarters for more information.
Foot and canoe/kayak travel in wilderness areas is restricted during certain times of year to protect migrating and breeding birds. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. Camping is not allowed.
Hunting is allowed on designated areas of Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The most common game species hunted are ducks, geese, ring-necked pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, and white-tailed deer. The hunting of swans and sandhill cranes is prohibited on Medicine Lake NWR. Hunting is permitted in accordance with State seasons and bag limits.
Fishing is allowed at certain times in accordance with state regulations. Refuge specific regulations are included in the state fishing regulations. No motors or power augers are allowed in the wilderness area.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The climate of this area is typical of the Northern Great Plans. Weather is extreme and variable with periodic drought, severe blizzards, great fluctuations in temperature, and frequent strong winds. With few natural land barriers the wind moves freely across the Plains. Wind chill values can exceed 40 degrees below zero during the winter. Average snowfall is 27 inches. Temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. Annual precipitation averages 13 inches, with the majority of moisture occurring during the spring and summer. Evapotranspiration losses average 50 inches per year.
Safety and Current Conditions
The condition of the gravel roads throughout the refuge is usually good, but we may issue temporary closures if rain or snow cause the roads to become hazardous. During the hunting season (Sept 30 - Jan 1), a portion of the Wildlife Drive is closed to travel to protect migratory birds. During this time you may still access the east section of the wildlife drive via East Lake Highway and Lakeside Road.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.