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Lee Metcalf Wilderness

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A raft carrying two people hits rapids
Library image #4264: Two rafters on the Madison River dropping into some whitewater in the Beartrap unit


The United States Congress designated the Lee Metcalf Wilderness (map) in 1983 and it now has a total of 242,068 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Montana and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.


Established as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in November 1983, the Lee Metcalf Wilderness consists of 259,000 acres distributed across the Madison Range in southwest Montana. The wilderness contains four separate units. The Bear Trap Canyon unit of 6,000 acres is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The other three units are administered by the Forest Service and are in the Gallatin and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests. The three are Spanish Peaks, 76,000 acres; Taylor Hilgard, 141,000 acres; and Monument Mountain, 33,000 acres. The Lee Metcalf includes a variety of physical and biological communities ranging from the low-elevation Bear Trap Canyon on the Madison River (about 4500 feet) to alpine ridges and peaks above 11,000 feet. There are no active glaciers in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness although the high cirque basins and U-shaped drainages provide evidence of Pleistocene glaciation. The wilderness receives variable precipitation, from an average of 11 inches in the Bear Trap to over 60 inches in the Madison Range. Treeline is generally around 9,000 to 10,000 feet. Between treeline and the high rocky peaks alpine and sub-alpine vegetation is dominant. Wildlife is abundant throughout the wilderness and includes mountain goat and sheep, black and grizzly bear, moose, elk, cougar, and wolf. Cutthroat, rainbow, and brook trout can be found in the lakes and streams. There are 300 miles of trail and 28 trailheads that provide access to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Access to the west side is via U.S. Highway 287 south from Ennis toward West Yellowstone. The east side of the wilderness is accessed from U.S. Highway 191 between Bozeman and West Yellowstone.

Planning to Visit the Lee Metcalf Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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