Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, Montana

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is a place in Montana’s Red Lodge where visitors can experience wildlife up close.

The refuge is host to an amazingly diverse range of mammals and birds that all belong to the complex Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—a focal point of the center from an educational perspective.

The Wildlife Sanctuary is a non-profit organization located in the small Montana community of Red Lodge, just outside the northwest entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The sanctuary’s mission and purpose are to provide lifelong sanctuary to wildlife that for some reason cannot be re-released into the wild, as well as strengthening messages of information and conservation.

The refuge presently serves as a refuge for more than 40 different types of animals that as a whole are representative of the Greater Yellowstone Region. The animals end up in the care of the sanctuary lead fulfilling and happy lives outside of the wild.

All of the animal residents in the facility are native to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so they don’t have to adapt to any unfamiliar aspects of the environment.

The animals end up at the refuge because they have been orphaned, injured, or habituated, and because of its efforts so far the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary became the first animal sanctuary in Montana to earn the prestigious AmericanSanctuary Association accreditation in 2019.

After the Red Lodge Zoo closed in 1983, a group of locals made the decision to start their own, non-profit facility to take in and care for any injured, orphaned, and habituated wildlife that was found and couldn’t be released back into the wild for any reason.

The facility was initially known as the Red Lodge Zoological Society, then the Beartooth Nature Center, before the founders settled on Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012.

The refuge is located within close proximity to the northeast entrance of the national park, at the base of both the Beartooth Highway and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

This facility is the ideal stop-off point for anyone on their way to the park to learn about some of the amazing Yellowstone wildlife at close range.

The center opens daily between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm except for Tuesdays and can be reached along the I-90 from a northern direction, and from the south via Highway 212.

Image: petechar

Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary Stats

  •  ASA-accredited sanctuary
  • Yellowstone Park Northern Entrance
  • Open year-round except Jan/Feb
  • Entrance fees apply

Main Attractions and Things to Do at the Sanctuary

Individual, Private, and Group Tours

Tours and educational programs are available. Call ahead or use the website for reservations, and individual, private, and group-guided tours are available to make for a memorable visit.

A themed educational experience at the sanctuary can be put together to be suitable for the ages involved. Much of the background information given relates to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and how the residents of the refuge figure there.

The tours are typically scheduled for between 60 to 90 minutes, according to the number of questions. Larger groups containing more than 30 people are usually divided into smaller groups so there is more than one guide and everyone gets to see and hear more.

Guided tours start somewhere in the region of $25 for groups, on top of the admission fees.

Animal Encounters

You could opt for the more personal experience of an ‘Animal Encounter’ for somewhere between $20 and $35, depending on whether you want to meet one of the center’s ambassador animals.

During the 15-minute encounter, the animal is brought out of its usual enclosure so you can get up close. A keeper and a staff member are present to answer questions about the animal while complying with safety procedures.

Keeper Talks

Between June and August at 11.00 am and again at 2.00 pm some of the keepers at the facility put on special talks related to the animals and the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

This is the perfect opportunity for any questions that you may have about the animals or the area, and to hear some of the keepers’ stories about the animals and the region.

Educational Programs

Providing lifelong care and habitat for the different bird and animal species under its wing, the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary also hosts a decent education program for visitors, which is particularly useful for and favored by local schools.

There is a center curriculum featuring various classes that aim to raise awareness in terms of human-wildlife interaction.

The program looks at the ways we live and act around animals and wildlife, including the behavior that could prevent animals from a life in a sanctuary, as well as animal care practices and the often fragile relationship between ecosystems and conservation.

The programs at the sanctuary aim to inform and inspire, helping to cultivate a more caring approach to strengthen the human-nature connection through a variety of educational experiences. They certainly make for a decent field trip as part of any wildlife or nature studies.

For those who can’t make it to the sanctuary but would still like to find out more, off-site programs can also be planned with the refuge.

Virtual tours and online programs are made available by the refuge including free, downloadable lessons.

The Wildlife

the wildlife
Image: wallyg

All of the animals living within the refuge are native to the local environment, which means that they don’t have to adapt to a different climate and other conditions. The animals are basically surrounded by the same trees, plants, weather, and other wildlife as they would be in the wild.

There is a fairly huge range of animals that includes everything from bison and black bears to snakes, falcons, and salamanders. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds have all taken up residence within the facility.

The best time to catch sight of the animals is generally in the morning when they’re more active. On hot days it is quite likely they’ll likely be taking a siesta in the afternoons and you may not be guaranteed to catch a glimpse of them.

The center’s current longest-standing resident is a bison named Speedy who was raised on a farm after her parents rejected her until she was too big to look after and was brought into the refuge.

You’ll also get the chance to meet other interesting mammals like the orphaned black bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, and raccoons. There are various birds like hawks, ravens, and owls, and on top of that, you’ll find snakes and salamanders amongst the many other species resident in the refuge.

So there is plenty of diversity and plenty to find out about in the wonderful wildlife center on the doorstep of one of the most famous, rugged, and naturally beautiful national park areas on the planet!

Check out this MAP of the sanctuary to help find your way around and see what else is on offer. Also, make sure you check out their YouTube Channel for videos highlighting the various ‘residents’ of the sanctuary.


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