While camping in Kalispell we read about a place to visit that was a long drive south of us.The National Bison Range is one of the oldest National Wildlife Refuges in the United States established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt to provide a sanctuary for the American bison. One afternoon we decided to take the long drive and see what all the hype was about. All I can say is what a cool place!
The National Bison Range has 18,766 acres of fenced land making it perfect to support 300 to 400 Bison. With many calves born each year the surplus bison are removed when necessary during a yearly roundup and normally relocated to other Bison herds to ensure genetic diversity. This wonderful place is not only home to Bison as there are many other species of wildlife here including Grizzly and Black Bears, Elk, Pronghorn and Bighorn Sheep.
When we arrived at the refuge we visited the very helpful staff at the visitor center who provided a map for the auto loop tour highlighting areas where we should see wildlife. The refuge is one of the largest remaining tracks of intermountain grassland and the first animal I spotted was a coyote running up a grassy hillside.. Not too far from where we saw the coyote we saw some Bison, the largest North American land mammal in existence. There were also a lot of young calves in the herd as well. We got pretty close in our car to some of these huge beasts and could really appreciate their size from this view.
Driving a little further on the loop we climbed to a high point where there were great scenic views of the Flathead River in the valley down below. We spotted both Mule deer and Whitetail deer further down the road but the Mule Deer were really abundant on this day. We stopped at the highest point to hike the short trails. There are only two trails allowing visitors to get out of the car onto the range so we took both trails and ate lunch while on the top of the hill.
As we started down the hill we were told to watch for Bighorn sheep in this area and we were rewarded with spotting two full horned male sheep lying in the tall prairie grass. They certainly are impressive animals with their circular horns outlining the side of their faces. As with the Pronghorn it easiest to spot them by looking for their white butts!
Before traversing back down by the river we saw a few Pronghorn Antelope who were also lying in the grass in the heat of the day. Although it was a mild day many of the animals were lounging while awaiting cooler temperatures.
We also saw one more Bighorn Sheep very close to our car, how cool!!! Near the river as we continued on we saw about four Elk moving through the woods. I was only able to snap off one photo (and not a very good one) but it was fun seeing these large animals for the first time in a very long time.
Although we didn’t spot any bear we were certainly pleased with our wildlife sightings that day. We decided we need to make a return trip as this may be the best park to easily see wildlife than any we have visited to date! What a great day visiting another of our national treasures on our road of retirement…
NOTE: We are in Kalispell Montana until September 12, 2016. Then we will head over toward Spokane Washington most likely…