The rugged Centennial Mountains, rising to more than 9,000 feet, hang above the Centennial Valley wetlands and provide a dramatic backdrop for the remote Red Rock Lakes Wilderness. It was here, in the early 1930’s, among the inherent solitude and expansive wetlands that the last remaining trumpeter swans (thought to be extinct) were found nesting. Shortly thereafter, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established and today, a little over 60% of the Refuge is Wilderness. Red Rock Lakes Wilderness is a part of the largest wetland complex within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and contains a myriad of other habitats. Although many visitors come solely to catch a glimpse of the elegant trumpeter swans or a moose, this Wilderness often surprises visitors with its remoteness and fantastic scenic and wildlife viewing opportunities.
The diverse habitats in this area attract a variety of birds, including sandhill cranes, sage grouse, great blue herons, willets, avocets, long-billed curlews, grebes, short-eared horned owls, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, marsh wrens, mountain bluebirds, tree swallows, western meadowlarks, vesper sparrows and 18 species of duck, to name a few. Elk, deer and pronghorn return to the valley in the spring, just in time for the wildflower bloom and impressive mosquito hatch. Year-round residents include moose, wolf, red fox, badger, coyote, pika, raven and grizzly bear.
Historically grazed by bison, prescribed grazing by cattle and prescribed burning help maintain a mix of shrubs and grass structure for nesting birds and forage quality for big game grazing. Red Rock Lakes is a highly productive, high elevation (6,600 feet) intermountain wetland habitat. In recognition of these lush, vegetated mountain meadows, the Refuge goal is to maintain dense vegetation which provides hiding cover for a balanced predator/prey coexistence. This results in viewing opportunities for fox, coyotes, wolves, badgers, and other predators, as well as prey species. The denser cover also maintains populations of rodents which provide prey for numerous hawks, eagles and owls. The riparian and riverine habitats on the Refuge are some of the most vegetated and diverse in the western states.
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 Red Rock Lakes Wilderness.
The Refuge headquarters can be reached from the west by turning off Interstate 15 at Monida (Exit 0), Montana, and driving 28 miles east over an improved dirt road. If approaching from the east, follow U.S. 20 southwest from West Yellowstone, Montana for about 17 miles to Red Rock Pass Road, just south of Henry's Lake River. Turn west onto Red Rock Pass Road. Follow this road for 30 miles (22 miles of dirt road) to reach the Refuge headquarters and visitor contact station. South Valley Road from Interstate Highway 15 to Lakeview is periodically closed during the winter and is closed throughout the winter to the east of Lakeview. North Valley and Elk lake roads are not plowed during the winter and are closed until about late-April. These roads can still be hazardous and may be impassable for passenger cars until mid-May. Please cal the Refuge staff to inquire about road conditions before proceeding on to the Refuge. Cell phone Service is spotty.
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
Physical facilities are limited and commercialism is minimized, creating a rare un-crowded do-it-yourself experience. In keeping with the wilderness spirit, visitors are free to explore the country the way wildlife see it, following in the trails and tracks of moose, elk, and deer. Outside the designated Wilderness Area there are two maintained trails to experience all that the refuge has to offer.
The Refuge has two campgrounds, but no camping is allowed in the Wilderness. Hiking is permitted everywhere except for a limited number of closures during periods when wildlife are most sensitive to human disturbance. Boating is limited to canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts and other non-mechanized vessels in designated areas during certain times of the year. Fishing is not permitted in Swan Lake, in Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes, or in the River Marsh in between the lakes. In other parts of the Refuge, fishing regulations apply. Hunting is permitted but restricted to designated areas during certain times of the year. Please consult the Refuge for detailed information on these activities.
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.