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Medicine Lake Wilderness

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The United States Congress designated the Medicine Lake Wilderness (map) in 1976 and it now has a total of 11,366 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Montana and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies within the glacial drift prairie of northeastern Montana. The gentle rolling hills and numerous shallow wetland depressions were created by repeated advances and retreats of glaciers. More than 12,000 years ago, a one to three mile-wide valley bordered by pre- and postglacial terraces was formed by a glacial front along the ancient route of the Missouri River. Several buried glacial outwash channels and the buried ancestral Missouri River channel created the Clear Lake Acquifer which lies under the eastern portion of the refuge. Medicine Lake is a large shallow lake which filled this ancient valley. The Medicine Lake Wilderness includes the main water body of the lake and the islands within the lake. The Sandhills Wilderness area is located southeast of the lake where large sand deposits formed from prevailing northwest winds which scoured sand from the lake bed. The sand deposits formed choppy sand dunes ranging between 20 and 40 feet in height.

The climate of this area is typical of the Northern Great Plans. Weather is extreme and variable with periodic drought, severe blizzards, great fluctuations in temperature, and frequent strong winds. With few natural land barriers the wind moves freely across the Plains. Wind chill values can exceed 40 degrees below zero during the winter. Average snowfall is 27 inches. Temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. Annual precipitation averages 13 inches, with the majority of moisture occurring during the spring and summer. Evapotranspiration losses average 50 inches per year.

The 31,660-acre Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge conserves diverse wetlands and grasslands to provide breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife. It has been designated 1 of the top 100 globally important bird areas in the United States by the American Bird Conservancy. Over 126 species of birds are documented to breed in the area, including an abundance of waterfowl, grassland birds and colonial nesting birds.

Foot and canoe/kayak travel in wilderness areas is restricted during certain times of year to protect migrating and breeding birds. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. Camping is not allowed. Stop by one of several kiosks located throughout the refuge or at the refuge headquarters for more information.

Planning to Visit the Medicine Lake 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 Medicine Lake 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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