Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, covering 13 square miles, is an oasis of native grasslands and wetlands in a sea of agriculture. Over 240 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge. The scenic drive from Great Falls to Benton Lake NWR is relaxing and along the way, you’ll see the dramatic scenery along the Rocky Mountain Front. The 9-mile Benton Lake loop takes you from one end of the refuge to the other. It is an amazing loop to stop, take pictures, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. When you’re ready to stretch your legs and enjoy the spectacular views, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk allows you to walk out to the marsh and up to the lake.

The Benton Lake NWR is open from one hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset year-round. Visitors can walk or bike the loop, and dogs on a leash are welcome. There are several parking areas along the loop for bird watching, photo taking, and walking. With the help of the Great Falls office of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, here are views you can experience at Benton Lake National Refuge year-round.

You know it is winter when the White-tailed Jackrabbits look like this!Photo credit: Neal Mishler

This Rough-legged Hawk doesn’t mind the ice as he waits for a Peregrine Falcon to stop harassing him.
Photo credit: Neal Mishler

 

The Northern Lights put on a spectacular display over Benton Lake NWR.Photo credit: Amy Graham

 

Sunlight brings out the gorgeous colors of a tree swallow at Benton Lake NWR.
Photo credit: Neal Mishler

When the Refuge gets rain, you are sure to see a dramatic and vibrant rainbow!Photo credit: Neal Mishler

The refuge attracts teenage birds, including Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. In May, males set up territory and squawk their best song, like this Yellow-headed Blackbird.Photo credit: Neal Mishler

Another beautiful morning at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge as the rain clouds break up and leave cool, fresh air. In late summer the birds are concentrated near the water.Photo credit: Neal Mishler

Canada Geese returning from the fields. This is a common sight every autumn.Photo credit: Neal Mishler

The open water attracts geese, swans, and goldeneyes. Peregrine Falcons like this one prowl the refuge in search of an early Thanksgiving dinner.Photo credit: Neal Mishler

Great Falls, as Montana’s Basecamp for Art & Adventure, holds unique and un-spoiled scenery, with Benton Lake NWR at the top of the list. The first day trip my husband and I took when we moved to Great Falls was to Benton Lake NWR. The late-spring weather was perfect for a walk on the boardwalk, a leisurely drive around the loop, and to take in birds and other wildlife I had not seen before. I especially liked the telescopes that allowed me to see birds up-close without disturbing them; I watched as ducks swam, geese flew overhead, and falcons fed their young.

Photo credit: Neal Mishler

 

When you’re ready for dramatic scenery, ample photo opportunities, and an outdoor adventure you won’t forget, find your way to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Special thanks to Nicole Prescott, Neal Mishler, Amy Graham, and the Great Falls off of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for their help in creating this article.