Celebrate Spring in Montana

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When it comes to Montana, one of the most overlooked seasons to explore is spring. While winter and summer tend to take center stage, spring offers an entirely different perspective on Big Sky Country. This time of year, Montana turns into a bird and wildlife lover’s delight, as many birds return for the summer or make various points in the state part of their annual migration route.

Situated in the northeast corner of the state, with plenty of room to roam, is Montana’s Missouri River Country. Over 200 species of birds make this area their home, including great blue herons, bald and golden eagles, sandhill cranes and American white pelicans. Birding and wildlife-watching locations in Missouri River Country include the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge.

While all three offer incredible opportunities, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge—also known as the American Serengeti—encompasses 1.1 million acres of wild and untouched country, including part of the Missouri River Breaks and Fort Peck Lake. In addition to being a birding paradise, it’s a great location for wildlife lovers to see elk, bighorn sheep, antelope, deer and more.

Southeast Montana is home to vibrant cities and charming towns, including BillingsGlendiveMiles CityEkalaka and Wibaux. This region also offers a variety of ways to experience the beauty of this season outdoors. Birds and wildlife are abundant in this corner of the state, with species like antelope, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, black bears, elk and moose. While spring is a beautiful time of year to view wildlife—especially as animals are active in lower elevations—be sure to give them plenty of space.

If you don’t want to see wildlife in the wilds of Montana, visit ZooMontana in Billings. Home to more than 80 animals of 56 different species, ZooMontana is the only zoo of its kind in the North Rockies. It provides a way for visitors to see animals in a natural setting, while also learning about the importance of conservation.

Located in Central Montana is one of the state’s most stunning spring birding destinations, Freezeout Lake. During spring, hundreds of thousands of snow geese land at the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area—located between Choteau and Fairfield—to rest as they make their way from California to Alberta and Saskatchewan. With the Rocky Mountain Front in the background, the spring migration is one of Montana’s not-to-be-missed natural attractions.

Additional birding hotspots include the Blackfoot Valley near OvandoRed Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge near LimaKing Hills Scenic Byway in Central Montana and the Bitterroot Birding and Nature Trail in western Montana.

For travelers wanting to explore beyond the spring migrations, there are several scenic drives that will take you through lush valleys, across high plains and along rivers, all ideal for soaking up the state’s quietest season.

In eastern Montana, the Big Sky Back Country Byway spans over 100 miles between Wolf Point to Terry, taking travelers through vast terrain that includes farmlands, rolling grasslands, buttes and some of the state’s most jaw-dropping badlands. This area is known for big game viewing, as well as incredible fishing and birding along both the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

As you travel through Montana, be sure to keep your eyes open for wildflowers that bloom along roadways, in open meadows and in alpine valleys. Wildflowers typically start blooming at lower elevations in early May, while higher elevations often see blooms into July and August. Some of Montana’s most notable wildflowers include the Indian paintbrush, bitterroot, beargrass, arrowleaf balsamroot, fireweed, lupine and bluebells. To enjoy an abundance of spring wildflowers and other seasonal plant species in one place, spend an afternoon at Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum near Helena.

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