Acquired in 1997 by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), this former working ranch offers a unique recreational opportunity in the Laurel, MT area.
Named by high school students from Laurel High School, the name of this special use area comes from the Crow word Ashkisshipouoo, which generally translates to “Where the Sun Lodge was run over.”
Today, the Sundance Lodge Recreation area is a special recreation management area that is managed by the BLM, Pheasants Forever, and the Nature Conservancy.
This day-use area is intended to provide a dispersed recreational area for the communities of Billings, and Laurel. The area also provides public access to the Clarks Fork River and the Yellowstone River.
The Recreation Area is located near the confluence of the Clarks Fork River and the Yellowstone River, providing unique opportunities for recreation and a place to observe and protect unique habitats in the area.
The Sundance Lodge Recreation Area also provides visitors access to sections of the Nez Perce National Trail and the Lewis and Clark Expedition trail.
Sundance Lodge Recreation Area Stats
- Size – 380 acres
- Season – All year
- Largest Lake/Forest – Yellowstone River
- Number of campsites – 0
The main attractions in Sundance Lodge Recreation Area include:
With a long history, and some of the most beautiful scenery, the Yellowstone River is the centerpiece of the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area.
Once used by fur trappers for transporting their goods, and by Lewis and Clark to move their expedition closer to the Missouri River, the river today provides excellent opportunities for wildlife watching and amazing views that are popular with bird watchers.
Look for the outcropping of rock within the Recreation Area that has the words, “Wm Clark July 25,1806.”
Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone
A tributary of the Yellowstone River, the Clarks Fork River joins the Yellowstone within the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area.
It runs through Montana and Wyoming, cutting a path through the Beartooth Mountains and the Absaroka Range. The river is famous for its many recreational activities including fishing, water sports, and outstanding wildlife and bird watching.
The headwaters of the Clarks Fork are near the town of Cooke City, that sits 12-miles north of the Wyoming border.
For many miles, the Clarks Fork River and Yellowstone River run parallel to each other, after the Clarks Fort turns east around the town of Rockvale. The land around the Clarks Fork River is used for agricultural activities.
Nez Perce National Historic Trail
The Nez Perce National Historic Trail follows the route that was taken by a large group of Nez Perce to avoid being forced onto a reservation by the US Calvary.
The trail today was constructed beginning in 1986 through the National Trails System Act. The trail is 1,170-miles long and crosses through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
The Nez Perce crossed into Montana traveling south and east where they crossed the Lolo Pass, and fought a significant battle at what is known today as Big Hole National Battlefield.
From there the Nez Perce entered Wyoming near the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area by following the Yellowstone River to where it crosses into what is now Yellowstone National Park.
A portion of the trail passes through the Sundance Lodge National Recreation Area
Open year-round, the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area is a day-use area only.
In the recreation area, you can enjoy activities such as hiking, mountain biking, photography, and wildlife watching. Horseback riding is also allowed within the recreation area, but only on designated roads and trails.
Private vehicles are not allowed on roads or trails in the recreation area beyond the parking lot. Some permitted hunting is allowed in the Recreation Area through limited archery and shotgun licenses.
These are allocated each year through a lottery system through the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks.
Visitors to this area can walk the paths of Lewis and Clark or the Nez Perce tribe. The day use area has plenty of additional hiking trails as well, providing visitors with views of the Yellowstone and Clarks Fork Rivers.
Trails wind through cottonwood groves and meadows that are typical of the plains ecosystems found throughout the northern Great Plains of North America.
Fish two rivers without having to move, or at least not move too far. Within the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area, you can stand at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Clarks Fork Rivers and cast in your lines.
Fly-fishing is popular in the recreation area since motorized boats are not allowed on the rivers within the recreation area.
You can however launch non-motorized boats like canoes and kayaks if you prefer to fish away from the shore. Most anglers look for a variety of trout species that live in the rivers, however, there are other species that are also popular for anglers.
Bird Watching Trails
The confluence of two rivers offers a unique opportunity for bird watching. The Sundance Lodge Recreation Area has a number of short walking trails that are ideal for watching birds.
Keep your eyes open for ducks, pelicans, pheasants, songbirds, hawks, owls, and eagles. The area is also great for spotting deer, fox, coyotes, and other wildlife.
Sundance Lodge Trail
Length: 1.8 mi The longest of the trails within the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area is the Sundance Lodge Trail. This is a very easy trail and is accessible to most visitors.
It is a loop trail that passes through forested areas and open meadows between the Clarks Fork River and the Yellowstone River. This is a quiet trail with few people so it’s a perfect walk if you want a bit of serenity.
The small number of visitors also makes this trail an optimal spot for bird and wildlife watching.