One of the Bureau of Land Management's Backcountry Byways, the Big Sheep Creek Canyon offers the opportunity to observe the majestic bighorn sheep in their spectacular natural habitat. The 50-mile byway begins in Dell, Montana, on I-15, 24 miles north of the Montana-Idaho border, and passes beneath the high rock cliffs of Big Sheep Canyon to the head of Medicine Lodge Creek. From here, it's just a short drive down to the Medicine Lodge Valley to Mont. 324, just west of Clark Canyon Dam.
Clark Canyon Recreation Area, a man-made lake 20 miles south of Dillon on I-15, is a popular spot for water-skiing or trout fishing. Lewis and Clark's Camp Fortunate is located on the northwestern shore of the reservoir, where camping and boat-launching facilities are also available.
Two Dillon-area landmarks are designated state parks because of the historical significance attached to them as a result of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Clark's Lookout (tel. 406/834-3413; www.fwp.mt.gov) provided the explorers with a vantage point from which to view their route and is reached by taking the Dillon exit from I-15 and then following the signs. Beaverhead Rock, 14 miles south of Twin Bridges on Mont. 41 (tel. 406/834-3413), was a tribal landmark recognized by expedition scout Sacajawea. Both parks have no admission charge and are day-use only.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge: A Haven for the Trumpeter Swan
Though well off the beaten path in the Centennial Valley, 28 miles east of Monida (about an hour south of Dillon), the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is often called the most beautiful wildlife refuge in the United States. The refuge was established in 1935 to protect the rare trumpeter swan, and it is here that the endangered species has been brought back from near extinction after a century of being hunted for their meat and feathers (quill pens were a hot item in the 1800s). It was feared that these beautiful creatures, which have wingspans of 7 to 8 feet, had been completely wiped out, until biologists discovered several dozen here in 1933. (They're also found along the Pacific coast and in Alaska.)
This is the largest population in the Lower 48 states -- 300 to 500 of the rare birds winter in the area, with about 100 calling the refuge home. They mate for life and often return to the exact same nest each year to tend their eggs and cygnets. The best place to view the trumpeters is in the open areas near Upper Red Rock Lake, from late April to the end of September.
In addition to the swan population, the 40,000-acre refuge is home to moose, deer, elk, antelope, foxes, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, ducks, and geese; more than 50,000 ducks and geese may be seen during times of migration.
The multiuse refuge is a popular spot for hiking, mountain biking, and canoeing; check with the refuge (tel. 406/276-3536; http://redrocks.fws.gov) for regulations concerning these activities within refuge boundaries. To reach the refuge, take I-15 to the town of Monida, then drive east on a gravel-and-dirt road 28 miles to the refuge entrance. If you are coming from West Yellowstone, travel west on U.S. 20 for about 12 miles to Mont. 87. Travel northwest on Mont. 87 for 5 miles and turn south at the Sawtell historical marker. Follow the paved road around the west shore of Henry's Lake for approximately 5 miles and then turn right at Red Rock Pass Road (an improved dirt road), following it west for about 25 miles to the refuge entrance.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.