Favorite Montana Birding Locations, Destinations & Birdwatching Clubs

December 17, 2021 // 20 minute read

Birding Locations » US » Birding In Montana

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Living in Montana means having the opportunity to experience bird watching at the highest levels. This state spans a large portion of the Northwest, which covers the peaks of the Rocky Mountains as well as arid grasslands. And in the eastern portion of the state, there are rolling prairies for miles and miles. And when you’re visiting the West, there are rivers, mountains, and more that are absolutely perfect for hiking and birding.

Montana is a wonderful state that is also home to Glacier National Park, which is a destination most famous in this wonderful place. It has more than 260 documented bird species and you are bound to find some of your all-time favorites when you visit for the day while bird watching with family and friends.

And, if you are visiting any of Montana’s neighboring states and have a hankering to birdwatch, check out our destination resources for those states here: North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho.

You may also want to get involved with local bird-watching organizations to become an even bigger member of this community. The National Audubon Society has chapters in Montana and there are other private birdwatching organizations as well. Join one or more of these clubs to become a more active member of the birding community. They typically focus on conservation, environmentalism, protecting natural habitats, birdwatching, hiking, educational experiences, and much more. You should check out a local chapter or birding club soon if the idea seems like an interesting proposition.

Bird Watching Destinations in Montana: Free Destinations

Are you looking for a few free bird-watching destinations to visit the next time you’re in Montana? Or maybe live here and you want to know about the best local birding hotspots in your area. No matter which situation best suits you, I’m here to tell you about my all-around favorite free destinations for birdwatching in Big Sky Country.

So, the next time you’re here whether it’s just passing through or you actually live in this gorgeous state, please remember to pay a visit to some of these amazing bird watching destinations because they are the best that Montana has to offer.

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge – Free Admittance

Originally established in 1964, the Lee Metcalf NWR was first designated as a habitat because it’s the perfect spot for migratory birds to land along their travels. They named this refuge after Lee Metcalf, a US senator who was committed and passionate about lifelong conservation. He was also an instrumental figure in establishing this refuge as well as many other refuges throughout the US.

Location:

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge
4567 Wild Fowl Ln.
Stevensville, MT 59870

Phone: 406-777-5552

GPS: 46.5397° N, 114.0932° W

Hours Of Operation:

The Lee Metcalf NWR is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. They also have a visitor center on premise that maintains different hours.

The visitor Center hours are as follows:

  • Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Pied-Billed Grebe
  • Pygmy Nuthatch
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Wood Duck
  • American Bittern
  • California Quail
  • American White Pelican
  • Red-Naped Sapsucker

Hiking Trails:

I’m happy to say that there are some really great hiking trails for everyone to travel upon when they visit Lee Metcalf wilderness and national wildlife refuge. The bad thing unfortunately is that these are very long and often difficult hiking trails, so please keep this in mind.

The names and other important details include:

  • Deer Creek Trail to Lava Lake Trail – hard difficulty, 16 ½ miles, nine hours and 40 minutes to complete
  • Bear Trap Canyon – hard difficulty, 15 miles, seven hours and five minutes to complete
  • Koch Basin Via Tumbledown Creek Trail – hard difficulty, 10 ½ miles, five hours and 50 minutes to complete
  • Alp Lake Via Lightning Creek – hard difficulty, 15.1 miles, seven hours and 55 minutes to complete
  • Blue Danube Lake Via West Fork Beaver Creek Trail – hard difficulty, 11.9 miles, six hours and 25 minutes to complete
  • Table Mountain from Lava Lake Trail – hard difficulty, 16.3 miles, 10 hours and five minutes to complete
  • Dudley Lake via Dudley Creek Trail – moderate difficulty, 11.4 miles, six hours and 35 minutes to complete
  • Deer Creek Trail to Deer Lake – hard difficulty, all 11.8 miles, seven hours to complete

Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge – Free Entrance, No Permit Required

This stunning location is nestled right in the northeastern region of Montana and it’s filled with endless rolling grasslands. It’s truly a dream location for birders looking for the ideal destination to visit on their next bird watching excursion. It’s filled with prairie birds, migratory birds, waterfowl, and many other gorgeous bird species. You’ll also discover many flocks of ducks, geese, and a plethora of other bird types as well along your travels.

Location:

194 Bowdoin Auto Tour Road
Malta, MT 59538

Phone: 406-654-2863
Fax: 406-654-2866

GPS: 48.3957° N, 107.6483° W

Hours Of Operation:

The refuge remains open to the public on most days from sunrise to sunset, with one major exception. During hunting season, the hunters are given reasonable amounts of time to use the hunting areas prior to dawn and after dusk. The gate that allows entrance into the refuge is on an automatic timer that opens at sunrise and closes at sunset.

  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Western Grebe
  • GadwHiking Trails
  • Black-Crowned Night-Heron
  • Long-Billed Curlew
  • Lark Bunting
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Black-Necked Stilt
  • American Avocet
  • Eared Grebe
  • Ruddy Duck

Hiking Trails:

As far as hiking goes, there aren’t necessarily any hiking trails in the Bowdoin NWR, but there is one trail that I’ll tell you about in the city of Malta, MT. But before I get to that, I’d like to mention a few things about the wildlife rescue itself.

This is a great place to visit when you want to look at wildlife. They have a 15-mile-long self-guided Auto Tour Road. The tiny walking trail in the area is only 0.4 miles long and it has an overlooked deck, a photo blind, and you can even launch boats on the river. So there’s a tiny bit of hiking, but it basically takes you to the observation deck, which you should use for an amazing birding and wildlife viewing experience.

The name of the hiking trail in Malta, MT and other important info include:

  • Trafton Campground Trail – this trail is an easy hiking experience because it’s relatively short and it’s definitely well-maintained near the campground itself. The total length of the trail is 1.3 miles, which the average individual should have no problem finishing in 30 to 35 minutes.

Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area – No Fees, Free Bird Watching

This area is made up of 35 miles of wetlands just northwest of Great Falls. While visiting here for a bird watching experience like no other, you’ll discover gigantic flocks of Ross’s geese and snow geese during the months of March and April if you’re here at that time. This is a truly spectacular event to see, but there’s a lot more to this wonderful area as well. And you’ll love discovering all the beautiful shorebirds, waterfowl, and migrant birds in the area as well.

Location:

US-89
Choteau, MT 59422
Phone: 406-467-2646

GPS: 47.7621° N, 112.1175° W

Hours Of Operation:

The wildlife management area itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it remains open 365 days a year even on holidays. Visitors can stop by anytime during the day or night, but if you’re here for birdwatching you should obviously choose daylight hours is your best bet to see your favorite birds in their natural habitat.

  • American White Pelican
  • Western Grebe
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Chestnut-Collared Longspur
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Northern Harrier
  • Forster’s Tern
  • White-Faced Ibis
  • Eared Grebe
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Horned Lark

Hiking Trails:

In the area, there is only one hiking trail located in and around the Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area. So, if you enjoy hiking for miles and miles, this isn’t necessarily going to be the best location. But if you’re here for birdwatching, you’re in luck because this is one of the most beautiful places to visit and so many birds flock to the region each year.

The name of the trail and other info include:

  • Freezeout Lake Trail – all in all, this is a really easy hiking trail to travel upon because the area is well-maintained and well-kept, so you’re never going to run into any unwanted obstacles in your path. The total length of the trail is 1.8 miles long, which the average person should have no problem finishing in about an hour. This is a great trail to take some time to stop and smell the roses, view beautiful birds, and enjoy the majestic scenery.

Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge – Free Entrance, No Permits Required

Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge encompasses an enormous 31,700 acres of pristine land in northeastern Montana. It’s located just off the coast of Canada and it’s only 35 miles away. This beautiful glacially shaped landscape has abundant wetlands, shallow ponds, and gorgeous rolling plains. Medicine Lake covers 8200 acres of land right in its center. There is an ample amount of bird life in the area, so visiting this remote region will lead to a very rewarding trip for birders who love spending time in nature.

Location:

223 North Shore Rd.
Medicine Lake, MT 59247

Phone: 406-789-2305 

GPS: 44.9991° N, 93.4192° W

Hours Of Operation:

The wildlife refuge is open during the day from sunrise to sunset. There is a wildlife observation platform that’s perfect for birdwatching and wildlife viewing named Pelican Overlook. I highly recommend checking it out the next time you visit.

  • Northern Harrier
  • American White Pelican
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Western Grebe
  • Burrowing Owl
  • American Avocet
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Chestnut-Collared Longspur
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Marbled Godwit

Hiking Trails:

Hiking is a fun and rewarding activity in Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Between here and Glacier National Park, there are more than 150 different hiking trails for you to enjoy, experience, and truly appreciate the wonder and beauty that they provide. I’m going to share five of my favorite hiking trails in the area with you below.

The names of my five favorite hiking trails along with other important information include:

  • Two Medicine Lake Loop – this hiking trail is moderately difficult and it takes you in a loop going around the lake, so it’s relatively long as well. The total length of the trail is 9.7 miles, which the average person should finish in four hours and 25 minutes.
  • Baring Falls via Piegan Pass Trail – this trail is easy and the terrain is very well kept and easy to walk upon, plus the trail itself is a lot shorter than the previous one because it is only 3.7 miles long. I believe the average person hiking at a regular speed can finish this trail in one hour and 55 minutes flat.
  • Florence Falls Trail – this beautiful area is absolutely stunning as you can imagine. The area is moderately trafficked, so you’re going to come across other hikers and others enjoying nature trips. This moderately difficult trail is 9.2 miles long, which an average person walking at a moderate pace can finish in 4 ½ hours.
  • Sperry Chalet Trail – this trail has a hard difficulty rating, but so many people love the beauty and splendor of this trail as you walk along Medicine Lake. The total distance is 13.6 miles, which is nothing to sneeze at my friends. If you decide to walk the entire length of the trail, it will take seven hours and 55 minutes to get from one end to the other.
  • Running Eagle Falls Trail – this is the shortest trail that I’m going to share with you right now and it’s also the easiest. The entire length is 0.6 miles, which the average person should easily finish in 20 minutes or less. You’re really going to enjoy these stunning views and the spectacular birds in the area!

Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge – Free Admittance, No Passes Required

Benton Lake NWR is a rewarding place for visitors to go if they want to discover a diverse number of grassland and wetland birds in one area. Viewing these birds is a given when you’re spending time in the mountains and Lake regions of Montana. This refuge is just 10 miles north of Great Falls, and it’s filled with many beautiful birds as well as coyotes, deer, badgers, porcupines, and pronghorn. Please pay them a visit the next time you’re birdwatching in the area.

Location:

Great Falls, MT 59404

Phone: 406-727-7400

GPS: 47.6863° N, 111.3643° W

Hours Of Operation:

The national wildlife refuge is open every day from dusk until dawn. The refuge also has a visitor center that is open from Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4 PM. The center remains closed on weekends and all federal holidays.

  • Western Grebe
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Northern Harrier
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • American Avocet
  • American White Pelican
  • White-Faced Ibis
  • Marsh Wren
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Common Tern

Hiking Trails:

The area around Benton Lake NWR is huge, it technically only represents one hiking trail. But it’s a relatively large trail that I’d like to tell you more about below.

The trails name and other valuable details include:

  • Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge Trail – there’s good news and bad news about this trail. The good news is that the trail itself is very well maintained and easy to navigate so you would not have to deal with rough terrain when hiking in the area. The bad news is that the trail is long because it’s 13.9 miles in total, which will take you a while to complete. In fact, if you decide to walk the entirety of the trail, it will take roughly 5 hours and 45 minutes at an average pace. So, get ready for some fun-filled birdwatching and hiking the next time you’re in the area.

Bird Watching Destinations in Montana: Paid Destinations

Glacier National Park – Paid Admission

Birdwatchers are going to love the spectacular scenery in this beautiful park that is sculpted by glaciers. This is considered one of the most popular national parks all throughout the United States of America. It has gorgeous legs, aspen forests, rugged peaks, red cedar woods, beautiful Engelmann Spruce, and so much more. Plus, there are a plethora of different bird species for you to enjoy, appreciate, and experience in living color.

Location:

Glacier National Park Headquarters
64 Grinnell Dr.
West Glacier, MT 59936

Mailing Address
PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone: 406-888-7800

GPS: 48.7596° N, 113.7870° W

Hours Of Operation:

The park itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it’s open all year long including holidays. But the main headquarters and the visitor center have different hours that include:

Glacier National Park Headquarters – open on Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM and close on Saturday and Sunday.

Apgar Visitor Center – open seven days a week from 8 AM to 5 PM, although it may close or have different holiday hours. You should call ahead of time to find out.

  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Red Crossbill
  • American Dipper
  • Steller’s Jay
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Golden Eagle
  • Black Swift
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Bald Eagle
  • Western Tanager
  • Olive-Sided Flycatcher

Entrance Fees:

  • Individual Entrance Fee – $20, the winter rate is $15 from November 1 to April 30
  • Private Vehicle Entrance Fee – $35, the winter rate is $25 from November 1 to April 30
  • Motorcycle Entrance Fee – $30, the winter rate is $20 from November 1 to April 30

Hiking Trails:

Just like one of the other locations mentioned, there are more than 150 hiking trails in this area. I am going to narrow it down to five of my favorite trails that I think you’ll enjoy.

The names of these trails and other valuable info include:

  • Piegan Pass Trail – this trail has a hard difficulty rating and it’s quite long because the total distance is 12.4 miles. If you have the guts and the wherewithal to attempt to walk the entirety of the trail, you should expect to spend a good portion of the day because it will take six hours and 20 minutes to complete.
  • Scenic Point – this is another mountainous trail with a hard difficulty rating, but it’s definitely a bit shorter than the previous trail, although it’s relatively long nonetheless. The total distance is 7.4 miles long, which a person walking at a moderate pace can complete in four hours and 35 minutes if they give it their all.
  • Granite Park Trail – this is another hard trail because the terrain is a bit rough in this area. The total length of the trail is 8.1 miles, which the average person can finish in five hours and five minutes if they walk from beginning to end.
  • McDonald Creek Via Johns Lake – so far, this is the simplest trail that I’m going to recommend today because it’s still somewhat difficult but it’s only moderately difficult. And it isn’t nearly as long as the previous trails because the total length from start to finish is 1.9 miles. If you walk in a fairly brisk pace, you should have no trouble finishing the trail in its entirety in an hour.
  • Johns Lake Loop – and we’ll finish it off with the easiest trail that I’d like to tell you about today. This well-maintained and simple to navigate trail is 1.9 miles long, just like the previous one. But you’ll probably finish it 10 minutes quicker because the terrain isn’t as rough, so it should only take about 50 minutes to complete.

Montana Birdwatching Clubs

If you live in Montana, better known as Big Sky Country, you’ll definitely want to get involved with one of the local chapters of the National Audubon Society. After performing online research, I haven’t been able to find any local bird watching clubs, but the NAS has many chapters throughout the state and they host local events, birdwatching trips, educational experiences, and much more.

Becoming a member of one of these local chapters is always a good idea. It makes it possible to connect with other birdwatching enthusiasts just like you. You’ll meet friends, participate in fun filled activities, and get to know the birding community much better in your area.

Consider joining one or more of the following chapters of the National Audubon Society.

Five Valleys Audubon Society

The Five Valleys Audubon Society is all about conservation, education, birding, and protecting local wildlife habitats. This chapter was originally established in 1977, and they are dedicated to encouraging the enjoyment of wildlife, experiencing our natural heritage in real time, educating others about birds and other wildlife, and living in harmony with nature.

One of the best things about this group is they regularly participate in birding activities and conservation efforts. You’ll always find something to do with the members of this group on a weekly or monthly basis.

Contact Info:

Five Valleys Audubon Society
PO Box 8425
Missoula, MT 59807

Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • Mission Valley Field Trip – this trip is going to take place all day on December 5, 2021 beginning at 8 AM. This is a driving trip, but the group is going to stop frequently to get out of the car and look at the birds in the wild. This exciting trip is free, but it’s also going to be very cold outside, so please prepare for the cold weather.
  • Lee Metcalf NWR Field Trip – this trip previously took place on November 6, 2021. The group visited Lee Metcalf NWR and met up at 9 AM. It was a fun-filled day and an exciting hiking trip, where the participants had the opportunity to see many beautiful birds along their travels. This event was also free for all who joined in.

Membership Fees:

Joining Five Valleys Audubon Society is incredibly easy to do. They really appreciate your support by signing up to help reduce the $3000 annual expense for their newsletter. You can sign up to the email newsletter or the paper newsletter depending on your preference.

To join this wonderful organization, please click this link and follow the on-screen instructions.

To join the National Audubon Society, please visit this page here and follow the on-screen instructions to become a new member or to renew your past membership.

Sacajawea Audubon Society

Like most chapters of the National Audubon Society, the Sacajawea Audubon is dedicated to conservation, education, birdwatching, field trips, and they even have a monthly book club and monthly meetings as well. When you join this group, you’re going to become a valuable member of an organization that really cares about its members and so much more.

You’ll get involved with group meetings, wildlife conservation efforts, bird habitat conservation, and so much more. Plus, you’ll make great friends and you’ll feel good getting to know other members of the birding community in your area.

Contact Info:

Mailing Address

Sacajawea Audubon
PO Box 1711
Bozeman, MT 59771-1711
Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • SAS Monthly Board Meeting – this board meeting takes place every month, and lately because the coronavirus pandemic’s been happening virtually. The last meeting was on November 4 and it took place from 6:30 PM to 8 PM. All members of the board were requested to attend. 
  • SAS Book Club – the book club meeting happened on Wednesday, November 17 from 6:30 PM to 7:15 PM. Also, because of the coronavirus that is still causing problems for everyone, this event was held online via a virtual meeting.

Membership Fees:

They make it very easy to join the Sacajawea Audubon Society by becoming a local member. You can sign up to a local membership by visiting this page here and filling out the online form to complete your membership.

Membership levels are as follows:

  • Basic Membership – $25 per year
  • Supporting Membership – $50 per year

Birding in Montana: Final Thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to read and learn about the top free and paid birding destinations in Montana, along with the top birdwatching clubs in the area. We hope you found this information useful and informative.

Before you go:

Do you know of any other important birding areas, clubs, or bird watching destinations that need to be added to our Montana resources? Feel free to send us a message and tell us about your resource so we can add it to this page. 

We’d like to be the best birdwatching resource in Montana and your help is appreciated!

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