More Scenic Byways

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge Auto Tour in Central Montana

The wildlife-refuge land has changed little since the days of Lewis and Clark, except for the highway that allows visitors to make the trip in a couple of hours. The tour starts 55 miles south of Malta off of US 191 and exits back onto 191 a half mile north of the Missouri. It covers 20 miles through the second largest wildlife refuge in the continental United States. These grasslands preserve the now-dwindling prairie habitat that once covered a quarter of the nation. It is a prime location for wildlife viewing.

Pronghorn antelope, deer, and prairie dogs share the landscape with one of the largest remaining prairie herds of elk. Raptors and other birds are readily seen, including eagles, hawks, grouse and quail.

The refuge is also home to one of the world's last free-roaming black-footed ferret populations. Diseases and massive hunts to eliminate prairie dogs from the prairies and plains reduced the black-footed ferret's main food supply. The ferrets dwindled in number and when the last of nine captive animals died in 1978, they were thought to be extinct. In 1981 biologists found and rounded up 18 in Wyoming. Now, in isolated areas in several western states, both captive and free-roaming colonies are being transplanted and nurtured.