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Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge | Charlo, Montana

Natural Area, Fish and Wildlife Reserve or Sanctuary

Photographers, like birds and birders, flock to Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Fishing is allowed – with the proper state and tribal licenses – and anglers often hook yellow perch and largemouth bass.

Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge at sunset. – Sheena Pate

At the southern most point of the Rocky Mountain Trench, where the Pleistocene’s glacial assault ground to a halt, the receding ice bled into rich terminal moraine. The melt left behind a vast stretch of bogs, fens and marshes, scattered between pot-holed ponds and islands of grassland.

Today, this place is known as the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Located within the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, the 2,062-acre sanctuary hosts a biotic party of plants, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals and birds. The revelry includes megafauna celebrities such as mountain lions, grizzly bears and Rocky Mountain elk, right alongside bald and golden eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons, and the festivities even boast a restored population of trumpeter swans.

Following the Trench through the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, this riparian corridor offers critical nesting habitat, and provides a significant “flyway” for migrating raptors, as well as hundreds of other bird species.

Established in 1921 “as a refuge and breeding ground for native birds,” Ninepipe has no developments or facilities, but apparently mallards, northern shovelers, gadwalls, redheads and ruddy ducks find the accomodations suitable. The sanctuary also serves as a critical staging and breeding area for Canada geese, and provides secure nesting for song sparrows, yellow-headed and red-winged black birds, and pheasants. Others species often spotted include American bitterns, osprey and sora rails.

Driving Directions to Key Access Points

The Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Mission Valley of northwest Montana, 55 miles north of Missoula, Montana on Highway 93.

Hunting is not allowed, but the refuge periphery is surrounded, in part, by a 3,420-acre state game management area. There, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks staff manage habitat to support upland game birds and waterfowl, and to provide seasonal hunting opportunities for ducks, geese, partridges and ring-necked pheasants. Season dates vary by flyway and species, so please check state regulations for complete season dates and details. Residents must purchase the appropriate conservation, fishing, and hunting licenses at an FWP office.

Also ringing the refuge are 3,000 acres of tribal lands and about 2,000 acres of FWS conservation easement lands, making Ninepipe the core of a sprawling habitat oasis, including critical wetlands, as well as hundreds of acres of upland habitat.

Key Access Points to this Fish and Wildlife Reserve or Sanctuary

The wildlife refuge boasts a short, accessible trail along Ninepipe Reservoir, complete with interpretive signs, and a “watchable wildlife viewing area” located just off Highway 93.


Best Seasons or Dates to Visit

Year around.