Freezeout Lake, Montana

Freezeout Lake is the leading snow goose staging point in Montana. It’s located in Teton County between Chouteau and Fairfield, 40 miles west of Great Falls.

Visitors can use US Highway 89 from Great Falls or Frontage road from the town of Fairfield to access the area. The lake is one of Montana’s small recreation areas, boasting over 1,500 acres of water and 3,000 acres of land.

Different stories explain the source of the name “Freezeout.” One report claims that some soldiers in the late 1860s stationed at Fort Show were stuck in a howling and blinding blizzard that came through the flats. From then on, that area got its name “Freezeout Flat.”

Another version claims travelers could spend bitter cold nights in a stage station established in the area in 1885. The travelers spent the cold nights playing a poker game called “Freezeout,” thus, the station got its name.

“Camp Freezeout,” also referred to as “Freezeout Way Station.” Charles M. Russell and Brother Van were early visitors to the Freezeout Way Station.

Freezeout Lake is best known for its snow geese migration that attracts hundreds of wildlife birdwatchers. The Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area is home to over 200 migrating bird species. Bird lovers visit this area to enjoy year-round bird viewing and hunting.


Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area

freezeout lake
Image: J. Stephen Conn

Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area is Montana’s main waterfowl viewing and hunting area. The area is over 12,000 acres comprising Freezeout Lake, Priest Butte Lakes, and several interconnecting ponds, ditches, and dikes.

This area is home to wildlife that lives in wetland areas, including upland game birds, waterfowls, and marsh-dwelling birds, among other species.

The Freezeout Lake Management Area was bought in 1953 and developed as a habitat for seasonal birds and a delight for birdwatchers.

The Montana Department of Fish and Game developed a series of dikes and ditches to control water levels. They also constructed islands where waterfowls can nest and roost. The land around Freezeout Lake WMA has several plant species such as wheat and barley cultivated to provide food for waterfowl.

Over 300,000 snow geese and tens of thousands of tundra swans gather in this area to rest before migrating to other regions.

Snow geese arrive here in early March to rest after flying about 1,000 miles from California. Once Spring arrives, the snow geese migrate to Central Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada to meet other snow geese migrating from Texas and the Gulf Coast States.

Visitors can use certain dikes and roads to access the best viewing points. They can also access several parking lots, picnic areas, and sanitary facilities.

Old Trail Museum

old trail museum inc
Image: david

Old Trail Museum is about 5.2 miles (7 minutes) northwest of the Freezeout Lake Management Area. History buffs who want to combine birdwatching and Montana’s history can use US Highway 89 to access this site.

The museum is one of Montana’s “Dinosaur Trail” stops out of the 14 other dinosaur museums. Old Trail Museum features artifacts of Montana’s fossils and dinosaurs, local wildlife such as grizzly bears, and Native American Communities.

Visitors can explore Montana’s prehistoric artifacts in the museum’s main building, which harbors the Two Medicine Paleontology Gallery. This gallery features a Maiasaura (the Montana State Fossil), a meat-eating dinosaur, babies, dinosaur eggs, and nests

More artifacts are present along the outdoor boardwalk with several historic buildings. These buildings include Jesse Gleason’s art studio, the Schoolhouse, Grizzly Cabin, and the Metis Red River Cart.


Wildlife Viewing

Outdoor enthusiasts visit Freezeout Lake throughout the year for wildlife viewing. Waterfowl migration during March and April attracts hundreds of visitors.

Spring is the best time for bird mating and nesting activities. Spring travel allows birdwatchers to see waves of snow geese, easy to identify due to their black-tipped white wings.

When summer comes, snow geese, upland birds, and ducks migrating from Canada start to arrive, offering spectacular views.

Fall migration begins in September, with pintails and teal arriving first. Winter allows visitors to observe various birds such as rough-legged hawks, snowy owls, and gyrfalcon.

The best time to observe birds in Freezeout Lake is from sunrise to around 10:00 am, when they fly to feed in the nearby grain fields. More birds can also be seen from 4:30 pm until sunset.

Nearby roads and trail routes offer great views of the birds. Good binoculars or telescopes, warm clothing, and a light lunch make viewing more enjoyable. The most common birds to see include snow geese, ducks, shorebirds, and herons.

Besides birds, visitors can spot white-tailed deer, pheasants, coyotes, jackrabbits, mule, red fox, and Hungarian partridge.


Freezeout Lake and the entire Wildlife Management Area offer excellent hunting sites for waterfowl and upland game birds.

Hunting snow geese is available from October to the onset of the severe winter weather. Visitors require a permit to hunt swans in the area. Upland game bird hunters can have an opportunity to hunt Hungarian partridge, pheasants, and sharp-tailed grouse.

Hunting on this area’s southern and southwestern edges is seasonally closed to public use. These areas serve as security sites for migrating waterfowls. However, sportspeople can hunt waterfowl along the boundaries of these closed areas.

The closed areas reopen each fall, allowing visitors to hunt upland game birds. Usually, these areas and the surrounding wildlife management area are frozen during winter, and only a few waterfowls are available.


Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area offers a 1.8 miles trail that’s great for wildlife viewing. It’s a family-friendly trail that takes around 45 minutes to complete. The trail is beautiful to explore and is open throughout the year.

Visitors can hike along the route with their dogs that must be on a leash. Other nearby trails include:


Free camping is available at Freezeout Lake Campground. Toilets, picnic tables, and sunset areas are available. Mosquitoes are plenty, so night campers should come prepared. The campground is adjacent to the lake, allowing visitors to enjoy great views of the lake and wildlife.

Other nearby campsites include:

Accommodation Near Freezeout Lake

Birdwatchers, hunters, and hikers to Freezeout Lake, Montana, can stay in hotels and lodgings in Choteau, Augusta, Fairfield or Great Falls.

Some of the best nearby hotels and lodgings include:


Can you fish at Freezeout Lake, Montana?

Fishing is allowed in Freezeout Lake, Montana. Anglers can reel in Yellow Perch, Rainbow Trout, White Sucker, Longnose Dace, Carp, Brook Stickleback, and Lake Chub.

When should I go to Freezeout Lake?

Freezeout Lake is open to visitors all year round. The best time to visit the lake is early March when snow geese are arriving from California.

September is also an ideal time to visit the lake to see teal and pintails, among other birds arriving. Birdwatchers should visit the lake from sunrise to 10:00 am or from 4:30 to sunset.

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