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Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge

The Missouri River flows through the 1.1-million-acre refuge’s southern section, passing stands of stately cottonwoods, willows, dogwoods, and scattered Green Ashes. The final 149-mile stretch above the Fred Robinson Bridge, about 9 miles of which lies within the refuge, is designated a Wild and Scenic corridor and is as close to pristine as any area on the river today, allowing visitors to experience it as explorers Lewis and Clark did in the early 1800s.

Upslope, the refuge lands are a mixture of sagebrush grasslands with scattered copses of Ponderosa Pine and juniper, along with smaller areas of Chokecherry and snowberry shrubs and Douglas Fir. The western side of the refuge supports more forested areas, while grasslands and shrub lands hold sway toward the east. This is Missouri Breaks country, where the land falls away into a labyrinth of steeply eroded draws, drainages, and coulees; it’s like a mountain range turned upside down. Pines, sagebrush, and junipers cloak the slopes and bottoms to create ideal travelways for the abundant Mule Deer population.

Roads are hard to come by here. The gravel auto tour route, which begins and ends on Highway 191, provides one of the better ways to get a glimpse of the refuge’s 3,000-head Elk herd; another good place to view Elk is just downriver from the Fred Robinson Bridge on Highway 191. Jeep trails crisscross the area; these are best negotiated with a four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle. All unimproved roads are clay. If it looks like rain, by all means leave the area -- even the stoutest four-wheel-drive vehicle is useless in the muck known locally as “gumbo.”

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  • boating
  • fishing
  • hiking
  • paddling
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