The National Bison Range at Moiese


The gray rainy Missoula skies makes one wonder if spring will ever get here.  Fortunately for Zoo Town residents the National Bison Range is the perfect place to find spring in all its glory and it’s only a 45 min drive from town.

A recent trip to the Range was no exception.  The flowers were magnificent with the deep blue lupine greeting us along the one-way19 mile long Red Sleep Mountain Drive road. Chokecherry, serviceberry and mock orange were all sporting fragrant white flowers along the creek and fence posts.

The rolling green hills, lush with bunch grasses and thriving wheat grasses, covered the range providing beautiful scenery and valuable forage for the grazers.

A short walk along the Bitterroot Trail near the top of the road revealed acres and acres of brilliant yellow Arrowleaf balsamroot, a member of the sunflower family. My kids used to call this large yellow sunflower the mega sun. Deep violet Larkspur flowers scattered among the yellow Arrowleaf balsamroot created one very large bouquet across the hillside.

At the highest point of the drive, appropriately named High Point Trail at 4,885 ft, one can see forever — or so it seems.  Green valleys stretching out far below us with tiny new white phlox flower right at our toes.  New life is invigorating providing hope and optimism.  The hawk, the sage hen and the pronghorn were all out looking for food, and starting the process to rebuild their bodies after the long winter.  The pronghorn babies pranced around in the wide-open space while mom grazed steadily.  Eating for three takes up much of the day.

The Bison were busy mowing down the lush greenery of the range, their large heads close to the ground, only looking up to find the next hot spot for lunch. Like us, they are shedding their winter coats — in big raggedy patches.  At least I can take my whole coat off in one motion where the Bison looks like the hulk, with half the clothes ripped off and a few pieces left clinging to its sides.

The bison calves are as cute as a baby can be.  The wildest of animals can look so tame when they are first on their feet. Unsure, soft fur, and no fear of humans.  There is something irresistible in babes of any species.

We were lucky to catch a glimpse of a bull elk with a very large, velvety rack crossing Mission Creek.  Imagine carrying a very large heavy rack on your head for over half the year.

The deer, bison and pronghorn move among the grass and fields in comfort knowing spring is here, food and water are abundant and life goes on, gray skies or not.  They are also in the comfort of the National Bison Range, where human intrusion is managed to a minimum.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in earning more about other Missoula area attractions. For more information about wildlife in Western Montana, be sure to visit our page about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its popular visitor center.

Photos by Bruce Costa.


Margie Ewing is a Missoula writer and traveler who enjoys exploring Montana as much as she does the rest of the far corners of our world.