A rolling plain with a massive drainage basin, the Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge was created to protect water supplies, brood-rearing habitat, and nesting grounds for migratory birds.
It has become a very important stop in the spring and fall migrations and is an integral part of preserving these species.
The refuge is located very near to Canada, northeast of the Missouri Breaks. It’s accessible from State Road 241 which breaks off from Highway 2.
This part of Montana is very sparsely populated and only a few towns and villages dot this region, so be sure to grab any gas or supplies you might need in Malta or Harlem before making the trip north.
Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge is overseen by the Bowdoin Wetland Management District as an unstaffed site, so there isn’t anything by way of tourist information or facilities once you arrive.
In addition, motor vehicles are not permitted on the grounds, so you’ll have to park at the gate and venture the rest of the way inside on foot.
There are no designated trails within the refuge, but visitors are permitted to roam freely across the plain.
Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge Stats
- Day Use Fees: Free
- Size:1,308 acres
- Season: Year-Round
- Major Feature: Black Coulee
Main Attractions in Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge
Though the refuge is in a sparse region of northern Montana, it’s hardly desolate. This part of the state contains many types of flora and fauna dispersed throughout a myriad of ecosystems.
A water-filled natural basin in a glacially carved valley, Black Coulee can have wildly fluctuating water levels depending on the year and season.
In the spring, it can swell to nearly the capacity of a lake, and attracts a bunch of species of ducks and other waterfowl.
Unfortunately, fishing and boating are prohibited on the coulee.
Anna Scherlie Homestead Shack
A historic cabin that still sits on this vast northern Montana plain, the Anna Scherlie Homestead Shack was originally built in 1913 and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1998.
The Homesteading Act of 1909 brought an influx of settlers to the region, and this 40-acre plot was claimed by Scherlie who maintained flax, oat, and wheat farm and built the cabin that still stands here today.
Activities in Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge
Hunting is permitted in the refuge, especially in the fall when waterfowl season is in full swing. Ducks in particular are a big draw for hunters to the refugees who come for canvasbacks, redheads, mallards, and wigeons.
You must have a Montana hunting license and adhere to all regulations during your visit.
Many species of birds either live locally at Black Coulee or use it as a stopping point during their migrations.
In addition to the ducks and waterfowl that convene around the water, you’ll find several species of sparrows and larks, and maybe even a bald eagle.
There are no designated, maintained trails within the Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge, but visitors are free to roam the grounds as they please, provided they do no damage to these habitats.
Because it is a popular place for hunters especially to visit, you will find a handful of way paths worn by those who have come before you. You are free to use these or find your own way.