National Bison Range


The National Bison Range is an 18,766 acre wildlife refuge located in the Mission Valley of Northwest Montana. It provides a safe habitat for a large bison herd and a variety of other wildlife.

The refuge includes a visitor center that provide information about the refuge's history and the wildlife that inhabits the area. While the visitor center is open from May through October, the refuge is open year round during daylight hours, weather permitting.

Typically, you explore the National Bison Range by car. You can only leave your car at areas designated for hiking or fishing. A number of these areas are in the refuge, so you won't really be confined to your car.

The National Bison Range provides excellent opportunities for wildlife photography, hiking, fishing, and simply enjoying scenic drives.
Exploring by Automobile

Scenic Drives

Red Sleep Mountain Drive is the longest of the three scenic drives in the National Bison Range and arguably the most interesting. It's 19 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, 10% grades, and numerous switchbacks. Because of the switchbacks and steep inclines, trailers and vehicles over 30 feet are prohibited. This road runs through the heart of the National Bison Range and has two walking trails along the way. It is closed during winter months. Watch for bighorn sheep at higher elevations.

Prairie Drive is a 14-mile round trip drive that allows you to visit Mission Creek and Alexander Basin. The gravel road is very narrow, and, like Red Sleep Mountain Drive, trailers and vehicles over 30 feet are prohibited. No walking trails are available on Prairie Drive. Keep an eye out for white-tail deer and pronghorn antelope along the way.

West Loop is a short one-mile loop close to the Visitor Center. Trailers and vehicle over 30 feet are allowed. On this drive, you'll have excellent opportunities to view and photograph bison, white-tail deer, and a variety of birds. 

Exploring on Foot

Hiking and Fishing

The National Bison Range has four trails available: Nature Trail, Grassland Trail, Bitterroot Trail, and High Point Trail. All are short, non-demanding trails, but they do offer a great way to enjoy the beauty of the range.

The Nature Trail, near the Day Use Area, is a one-mile trail along Mission Creek and various ponds. Along this trail, you'll see a variety of birds, including owls, wrens, and woodpeckers.

The Grassland Trail is a quarter-mile trail adjacent to the Visitor Center. It provides an opportunity to view prairie wildflowers.

Bitterroot Trail, off Red Sleep Mountain Drive, is a half-mile trail that also give you a chance to view wildflowers, as well as some wildlife.

High Point Trail, also off Red Sleep Mountain Drive, is a one-mile trail that includes the highest point in the refuge. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep from this trail.

Fishing in the National Bison Range is allowed along some parts of Mission Creek and Jocko River. These areas are easy to access. Note that a fishing permit is required.

Reviews

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We loved this drive and although we have been to Missoula many, many times this was our first time driving the National Bison Range. We love wildlife so seeing any wildlife would have been a bonus. We saw three lone male bison, deer and antelope. Our friends who drove the range in August saw herds and herds of Bison. That would have been nice but it was still great! It said to allow two hours but it only took us one hour. We will most certainly drive this Bison Range again on our next visit as we are sure every time will be different.
WONDERFUL! pupepause, Trip Advisor
It was a rainy Saturday when I visited. The visitor center was closed, but you could pick up a map and pay the $5. I took the longer 2-hour loop. I was lucky enough to see 2 bison, 4 or 5 antelope, several deer and 5 or 6 elk. One of the elk was a giant. It was amazing to see him. There are restrooms at the entrance and throughout the park. It was a beautiful drive through the reserve. Highly recommend a visit.
Must visit. traveling_with_kathy, Trip Advisor
Highly recommend a visit to this site. Start at the visitor center for an overview - it's small & well curated. Take the full drive - it's a packed earth dirt road, easy for any car to handle. The bison are either solo or in herds - we encountered them right next to the road. It's a great way to view these magnificent animals & help support the continuation of the species.
Enjoy bison at close range! cynthia h, Trip Advisor